Making a movie of a hugely successful book is always fraught – if it is faithful to the book, it is criticised as too derivative and unoriginal, if it diverges, it is damned for breaking the spell by adding new and extraneous material.
The 2006 film of Perfume sticks pretty closely to Patrick Süskind’s novel of the same name, (originally written in German) which has sold over twenty million copies in 49 languages. There is also a German Netflix TV series of Perfume released in 2018. I haven’t checked that out yet, but it sounds very postmodern (the protagonists have read Süskind’s book!)
This 2006 film features a stellar cast, who do a pretty great job with it. Hard to go wrong with Dustin Hoffman and the sadly missed Alan Rickman, and you will also recognise Ben Wishaw as the main character, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. It is directed by Tom Twyker, and who can forget his Run Lola Run? Since Grenouille doesn’t say much, we have a narrator, and who can fault the pipes of the late, great John Hurt – you may remember him giving birth through his chest in Alien.
The lead character, Grenouille (Ben Wishaw), is a kind of supervillain, whose superpower is, wait for it, his nose. Grenouille is born in eighteenth century France in the worst circumstances – his mother drops him in the muck under her fish stall, assuming he will be stillborn like all her previous births. But he survives, and turns out to have the most sensitive nose ever – he can identify any smell, good or bad. He is raised in an orphanage and sold to a tanner, who eventually takes him to town, where he discovers the ‘scent of a woman’ (not to be confused with Al Pacino’s rather better behaved but still slightly creepy obsession). Young women are all too often the victims in modern movies, but usually they are desired for sex or (in cannibal movies) for nutrition. These young women just smell good. Grenouille is obsessed with capturing that scent, and thus their beauty.
One of the great teachers of Cannibal Studies is a certain Doctor Hannibal Lecter, seen sniffing Will Graham in the episode Coquilles. He taught us, among other things, that
Well, a whole lot of cannibal movies concern the taste of humans (short summary: we taste somewhere between wild boar and veal). But smell, that primal sense that so many animals rely on, is usually neglected. Not so in this movie. If cannibalism is the consumption of another member of one’s own kind, then it can involve the devouring of any part, and that includes their odour.
Grenouille sniffs people, a bit like Hannibal, but with a different appetite. He terrifies a young woman by sniffing her, then unintentionally smothers her as he tries to silence her screams. He is horrified to find that her scent disappears as her body cools, and he becomes obsessed with the craving to recreate that smell. He decides that his life mission is to learn how to preserve scent,
He persuades a creator of perfumes, Baldini (Dustin Hoffman), to teach him the trade, in return for creating perfumes that make Baldini rich and famous.
But Grenouille cannot distil the essence of a person (or a cat in a particularly objectionable scene). For that, he needs to go to the perfume capital, Grasse, and learn their art of enfleurage. Baldini has told him that a great perfume has twelve different components, and a thirteenth scent that must be exquisite. On the way to Grasse he sees a young woman, Laura (Rachel Hurd-Wood) who he realises must become his thirteenth scent.
Her father Antoine (Alan Rickman) disagrees. He guesses the murderer’s motive.
Of course, killing the other twelve girls for the first twelve scents throws the town into panic, and in a startling recreation of 2020’s COVID-19 headlines, the town is closed down and the economy devastated as the murderer (he is variously described as a plague, a madman, an angel and a demon) is sought.
There’s a chase, Antoine leaves a false trail, but hey, you can’t hide from Supernose. He’s out to create Love Potion No. 9.
“This is a dark, dark, dark film, focused on an obsession so complete and lonely it shuts out all other human experience. You may not savor it, but you will not stop watching it, in horror and fascination.”
But his long-term co-host on Ebert & Roeper, Richard Roeper, said “Hated this movie. Hated it.”
Look, I try to avoid spoilers, but I will mention that absorbing the scent of beautiful women is not the only kind of cannibalism in this movie. The ending has some of the more traditional kind but, to me, this would still have been a cannibal movie if he had only incorporated scents. Cannibalism is about voracious appetite, but not necessarily for food. We never see Grenouille eat or drink – scent seems to be all he needs, like the Astomi peoples who, according to Pliny, had no mouths and lived on odours. Furthermore, Grenouille has no scent of his own, this makes him an outsider, an alien, and explains why he seems invisible to others and can sneak past guard-dogs (who would understand, with Grenouille, the importance of smell). The modern cannibal, from Jack the Ripper to Jeffrey Dahmer, is typically invisible, unidentifiable, blending in with the crowd. Grenouille, though, is appalled to find that he has no identity to others in the only way that matters to him – through smell. He seeks to steal that identity from his victims, and incorporate the essence of their beauty into himself. The scent he creates is distilled beauty, with a menacing power – it can command love, leading to a mass orgy at what was supposed to be an execution.
Absence is one thing, surfeit another, but both can be lethal.
Incorporating the other, be it through eating, smelling, farming, enslaving or invading, is cannibalism.
Finales have an obligation to tie up loose ends, answer questions, bury the bodies. It’s the showdown, the shootout, the denouement. But they don’t have to spell it all out too clearly, particularly for the more discerning audience who watch artistic masterpieces like Hannibal. Hannibal Lecter always leaves us thinking.
Yes, Dr Lecter, we will think about you. What you have to teach us about lots of things, not just about cuisine.
In the first episode of Season 1, the serial killer and cannibal Garrett Jacob Hobbs kills his wife and slits his daughter’s throat because Hannibal has warned him that the FBI “knows” about him. Will shoots him several times, but as he dies, or even as he lies there dead, he smiles at Will at asks:
Each episode of this extraordinary show has had a theme that can be teased out – some more obvious than others. The theme of this one is multifaceted; it is about life, death, growth, conspiracy and betrayal. The plot is convoluted: the serial killer Francis Dolarhyde has faked his death but has revealed that he wants to meet, greet and eat Hannibal. Hannibal is locked up in The Baltimore Asylum for the Criminally Insane because of his own cannibalistic serial killing events. You will perhaps remember Hannibal gave himself up at the end of episode 7, so that Will would always know where he is. That, my friends, is love, Hannibal-style. But he is not enjoying the rigors of asylum living:
The FBI wants them both dead, and conspire to “fake” Hannibal`s escape to lure the Dragon.
Will doubts that he will survive this conspiracy and betrayal
Everyone else is terrified of Hannibal really escaping and coming for them. Hannibal`s former psychiatrist and, well, housemate, Bedelia, is convinced this is a terrible idea. She quotes Goethe’s Faust, a work much loved by Hannibal as well:
Will has no sympathy. He knows Hannibal will also come for Bedelia if (when) he escapes, because she is on his menu.
Alana knows Hannibal is going to kill her, because he has promised to do so, and reaffirms that promise:
Will knows The Dragon will free Hannibal, and then try to kill him, change him, absorb him, as cannibals are so often accused of doing to their victims. We absorb the nutrition of our food, why should cannibals not absorb the strength, spirit and experiences of their victims? And Hannibal is willing to play along, as long as Will asks nicely:
The climax is at Hannibal`s house overlooking the “roiling Atlantic”, where the Dragon takes on Hannibal and Will takes on the Dragon. Who has conspired with whom, and who is being betrayed?
“If you’re partial to beef products, it is inconvenient to be compassionate towards a cow”.
The battle is epic, brutal and bloody, and we expect no less. Will learns his lesson at last, that blood really does look black in the moonlight, as Hannibal told him in episode 9. That life and death are not opposite or even separate but part of the “becoming”. That his extreme empathy and Hannibal’s cruelty are one and the same.
That murder and mercy, as Thomas Harris told us at the end of Red Dragon, are just human constructions, and mean nothing to nature, “the Green Machine”, which is indifferent to who lives and dies, and to conceptions of right and wrong. When we inevitably die, someone will eat us, and nature cares not a whit the species of the eater or eaten. Natural selection means that the Dragon, with the gun and the knife, will kill and absorb Hannibal. The Green Machine doesn’t care. This is what Hobbs was trying to tell Will in the first episode, and what Hannibal has shown him, 38 episodes later.
But then, there’s love and compassion, the emotion that makes a rat fight a snake to protect her young. Will and Hannibal – together at last, covered in blood, cut to ribbons, but feeling the love.
Is Hannibal dead?
Remember how Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty fell to their deaths into the Reichenbach Falls in 1891, causing a massive public outcry among their avid fans, only to see Sherlock reappear in 1894, explaining that he had faked his death to fool his enemies? Well, Bryan Fuller has given us a pretty great clue, as in the final scene we see Bedelia sitting at a table with three settings, about to enjoy a sumptuously prepared meal, the centrepiece being her leg, roasted to perfection.
We hope, we conspire, we betray, we demand Season 4. Remember that this whole story, the three seasons, has been a prequel to the book and film that made Hannibal famous, The Silence of the Lambs. There is plenty of material in there with which to continue the story, or reimagine it as Fuller does so very well, perhaps, as he suggested, with “Margot Verger taking down the meat industry as a hot, powerful lesbian” and turning them over to PETA.
Pigs and people. Are they identically different, like Hannibal and Will?
Why do we consider pigs uncontroversially edible, and yet are so shocked at Hannibal or Mason eating human? [If you have the answer to that, please let me know – I’m up to 65,000 words and still haven’t come to a conclusion]. We use them in gruesome experiments because they are like us, but then justify it by saying they are not really like us at all. This episode is all about pigs and people interchangeably being used, abused, and prepared for dinner.
Pigs of course are remarkably similar to humans – have you ever seen a butcher carrying a pink corpse into the shop and wondered for a moment who he has killed? Geneticists have proved the similarity:
“We took the human genome, cut it into 173 puzzle pieces and rearranged it to make a pig. Everything matches up perfectly. The pig is genetically very close to humans.”
The episode is called Digestivo, which in Italian is an after-dinner drink, usually a liqueur or bitter, which is meant to settle the stomach. We have, in this episode, finished consuming the plot of the book and movieHannibal, which follows Mason’s quest for revenge. Next episode, we go to the central plot of Red Dragon, which of course pre-dated the other books but, by the brilliance of Bryan Fuller, is readily reimagined as a later time in this new universe.
Mason always carries a little knife that belonged to his father. Perhaps it’s the same one that he used to slice off his face. His father would test the depth of fat on a pig’s back by poking him or her with this knife, something neither the pig nor farmer found terribly acceptable. Now he is doing it to Hannibal. It’s clear that he is planning to turn Hannibal into a pig before he eats him.
Of course, there’s many a slip, as they say, or as Nick Cave says:
“If you’re gonna dine with the cannibals, sooner or later baby you’re gonna get eaten”.
Or as Alana warns:
To the sublime tones of the Mozart Piano Concerto 21, Hannibal and Will are dressed and brought to Mason’s table. In the opulent dining room of Muskrat Farm, Mason tells Hannibal that “I snatched Will Graham right out of your mouth.” He is referring to Hannibal’s plan to eat Will’s brain, foiled by the arrival of the Italian police, who were in Mason’s pay.
Hannibal and Mason compare their depth of reading, as Hannibal reminds Mason of the biblical story of Jezebel, who was, like Mason’s face, eaten by dogs. Mason in return spouts a news story he read about “that German cannibal” (he can’t remember the name of Armin Meiwes?) who advertised on the Internet for someone who wanted to be eaten.
The cannibal and the intended meal ate the man’s penis together before the latter died and was packaged up in the freezer. Mason’s assistant, Cordell, arrives hilariously at that moment with some pork sausages, thus emphasising the human/pig parallels.
“Go to all that trouble to eat a friend and you overcook his penis. They ate it anyway, they had to, they committed. But they didn’t enjoy it.”
Mason reveals part of his plan – he likes Will’s face, and intends to graft it onto Hannibal before he eats him. The rationale is that Will and Hannibal were both there watching as the dogs ate Mason’s face. They banter pleasantly (Hannibal shows no fear) about the order in which Mason will eat the various parts of Hannibal’s body. Everyone loves to chat about cannibalism! Will’s banter is a little less polite, as he takes a healthy bite of Cordell’s cheek, much to Hannibal`s amusement, and is left with a bloody chin, reminiscent of Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. Will has become at least a functional cannibal.
Cordell sews up his own face, then advances on Hannibal with the Verger branding iron. He brands Hannibal with the Verger emblem.
Hannibal is being turned into an edible pig, because as Mason admitted, he did not really fancy eating human flesh. Much easier to eat the animal that daddy made his fortune exploiting, than to eat the man who consistently outsmarted him.
“Mason would have preferred to brand your face. He fought bravely, and with his own funds, against the humane slaughter act, and managed to keep face-branding legal.”
Part of what supposedly makes us superior to other animals is the power of speech. Pigs can grunt and scream eloquently, but they can’t form their words into either maxims or complaints. The tongue is crucial, and Cordell tells Hannibal he intends to
“…boil it, slice it very thin, marinate it in olive oil, garlic, parsley and vinegar.”
Cordell describes the rest of his plans, in something almost out of a cooking show. But looking down appreciatively, he adds
“Every day I’ll feed Mason some new part of you. And don’t you worry Dr Lecter, you will always be cooked to perfection.”
Anyway, we know that nothing like that is going to happen, because we still have six episodes to go. AND SEASON 4 [please?] The rescue involves Alana and Margo, who find that Mason kept Margo’s eggs and that there is a surrogate having her baby.
A pig, of course. Not too successfully; the baby is dead, which makes her fighting mad. They head off to kill Mason. First, they release Hannibal, because he has to save Will (about to have his face cut off without anaesthetic). Alana knows that Hannibal promised to kill her at the end of Season 1. But she has no other choice if Will is to survive.
“You’re the only one who can save Will. Promise me you’ll save him?”
The “abyss” that Heidegger described between human and animal is further breached as Mason is eaten by his pet eel. Or chokes as he eats the eel. All lines are crossed.
Having saved Will, Hannibal finally meets up with Chiyoh. She is willing to watch over him, but not in a cage: “Some beasts shouldn’t be caged.” Her obsessive hunt, she tells him, was motivated not by his plight or hers, but Mischa’s.
“Yes,” says Hannibal, “but I did not kill her”.
We see the broken teacup that has bothered Hannibal throughout the books, movies and this TV series. Can time reverse? Can we undo what has been done?
As he waits for Will to recover and awake, Hannibal is working on some higher level calculus, presumably still trying to work the maths on how to reverse time.
But Will is having none of it.
“I miss my dogs. I’m not going to miss you. I’m not going to find you. I’m not going to look for you. I don’t want to know where you are or what you do.”
“You delight. I tolerate. I don’t have your appetite.
The digestivo here is a bitter drink – look at Hannibal’s face. Takes a hell of an actor to portray strong emotion so simply. Will has divorced Hannibal. But Hannibal is not giving up – he never does. He escapes before the FBI arrive, but then returns and surrenders.
Next episode, Will takes on the Red Dragon, but – can he do it without Hannibal? Silly question really, don’t know why I bothered asking it.
Cannibalism is at its heart all about food, food from a particular species of animal. This episode, Contorno (Italian for side dishes) is also about food – our choices, our enjoyment, how food affects us and how it identifies us.
We start with Chiyoh and Will on a train to Italy. Chiyoh fills in a little bit of what we don’t know about the early Hannibal. Chiyoh was sent to be attendant to Hannibal’s aunt, Lady Murasaki. The young Hannibal was there, an orphan. He was meant to be with his sister, but he was alone. We don’t know why, although we will be told (episode 7) that Hannibal ate, but didn’t kill, his sister, Mischa.
They get talking about snails, a side dish of which we know Hannibal is inordinately fond, particularly when they have been snacking on human flesh. Chiyoh observes:
“Birds eat thousands of snails every day. Some of those snails survive digestion and emerge to find they’ve travelled the world.”
Then we see Hannibal feeding snails to Bedelia – he explains that, as a young man, he kept sea-snails to attract fireflies.
“Their larvae devour many times their own bodyweight. Fuel, to power a transformation into a delicate creature of such beauty.”
Snails, Hannibal tells Bedelia, follow their nature. She dismisses his metaphor: fireflies live such brief lives. A bit more evidence follows that Hannibal is a Nietzschean:
In a scene in which Hannibal is clearly checking whether Bedelia is ready for dinner yet (his), they move on from snails and fireflies, a story about transformation, to a discussion on Hannibal’s other main interest: Will Graham. In particular, Will’s fascinating struggle to retain his ethical certainty in the face of Nietzsche’s amor fati – the love of fate, and his true nature as a hunter.
Bedelia protests: “Almost anything can be trained to resist its instincts. A shepherd dog doesn’t savage the sheep.”
Still on the food theme, Alana has laid out Hannibal’s table setting for Mason Verger – she has worked out that he can be traced through his exquisite purchases, just the way Clarice did in the book Hannibal. She has tracked him to Florence through receipts for Bâtard-Montrachet (Chardonnay) and tartufi bianchi (white truffles). Mason, never one for social niceties, observes that Hannibal must have liked the taste of her too, and perhaps she enjoyed her own taste of him. He offers a double-entendre that the Guardian critic described as
“actually the most disgusting part of the episode. That’s pretty impressive given the extreme close-ups on snails and Pazzi’s bowels flopping to the ground as he is hanged from a window”.
Chiyoh is not really getting Will. She cannot seem to see the attraction between the men, just the shared aptitude for violence: “If you don’t kill him”,
He agrees. So she pushes him off the train. As you do.
No humans were eaten in the making of this episode; snails are the man-eaters. But we do get the gory killing of police inspector Pazzi, who goes as his ancestor went – hanged with his bowels out as punishment for treachery. His ancestor tried to kill Lorenzo the Magnificent in 1478; this Pazzi recognised Hannibal and tried to sell him to Mason Verger rather than turn him over to the FBI.
Hannibal shows Pazzi a woodcarving of his ancestor’s death, and mentions that the Archbishop bit Francesco.
Running out of time, Hannibal just tells Pazzi “I’ve been giving very serious thought to doing the same” (although in the book and film Hannibal, this line was “I’ve been giving very serious thought to eating your wife”).
No one actually gets eaten, but Hannibal gets a solid beating from Jack Crawford, who has just dumped his wife’s ashes in the Arno and is fighting mad, particularly after spending the afternoon with Pazzi’s soon-to-be widow. Some readers interpret this scene as Hannibal finally discovering he is not as smart and invulnerable as he thinks, but I hold to the oft-stated theme that Hannibal is always way ahead of the plot. The beating that Hannibal takes is almost without resistance; as if he somehow feels that he owes Jack a chance at revenge for betraying his friendship, a chance to grow into a predator.
So Jack pushes Hannibal out the window, but he catches himself on Pazzi’s corpse and limps off. The inspector is without his bowels, but not without his uses.
Season 3, and particularly this episode, is presented as Gothic horror. There are dark churches, gloomy castles, even Hannibal’s shadowy kitchen, where he is removing a hand from the Sunday roast.
This episode is all about identity. All our protagonists (if still alive) have gone through trauma, Will and Jack were clinically dead for a while, and such trauma usually leads to questioning – who am I, what am I doing, and what is this on my plate?
It’s the third episode of the final season (looking forward to being proved wrong here), and we still don’t know what happened to many of the victims of the last series. Hannibal of course is doing nicely in Florence under the name of Dr Fell, Curator at the Palazzo Capponi. Bedelia is living with him, a somewhat nervous room-mate, pretending to be Mrs Fell, but there is no sign of intimacy, and some definite portents of doom. Last episode, she witnessed the murder of Anthony Dimmond. Dimmond knew Hannibal was not Fell, and was duly killed with a bust of Aristotle (was it really Aristotle?) Hannibal, who believes Bedelia betrayed him, explained to her that she was not just observing the murder, she was participating. She knows, Dimmond knew, we know, that she is slated to be one of his next courses.
They speak, somewhat obsessively, about betrayal (not just Bedelia’s, but Will’s) and forgiveness. Hannibal forgave Will last season. Will forgave Hannibal last episode. Bedelia points out that betrayal and forgiveness are
Hannibal is looking wistful. It is possible that he has not experienced love before, or at least not since the happy time before he ate his sister, Mischa. This is his search for identity – Hannibal as lover.
Will has two searches. He is of course searching for Hannibal, for love of for revenge is not clear to us, or to him. He is also searching for his own identity – is he a lawman or an acolyte of Hannibal? Where will he look?
Will is in Aukštaitija, Lithuania. It’s the Lecter castle, which we last saw in the movie Hannibal Rising. Bryan Fuller, in his incomparable way, has brought to life a character who had a minor role in the book and no part in the movie – Hannibal’s aunt’s protégé, Chiyoh.
Will walks past the grave of Mischa. He treads Hannibal’s sacred ground.
He imagines a conversation with Hannibal, who tells him
“It’s not healing to see your childhood home – but it helps you measure whether you are broken, how and why, assuming you want to know… Its door is at the centre of my mind, and here you are feeling for the latch.”
Hannibal’s identity is all tied up with the tiny girl who someone killed, and Hannibal ate.
We see Chiyoh shoot a bird and cut off the bird’s feet. The scene switches to Hannibal cutting off a human hand, presumably Dimmond’s. Then he is making cocktails for Professor Sogliato, the epitome of rudeness and intellectual pretension. The cocktail is Punch Romaine, a drink, he tells Sogliato, served to first class guests on the Titanic during their last dinner. Not a good omen. Sogliato has bad timing, and makes his one snide comment too many just as Hannibal is wielding the cocktail ice-pick.
Sogliato, his frontal lobe partly destroyed, can only stutter and giggle. Bedelia, even though she is a trained doctor, pulls the ice pick out, and Sogliato immediately collapses on the table.
Witty as ever. Bedelia asks if Hannibal is longer interested in “preserving the peace you found here?” Hannibal understands physics as well as medicine.
Hannibal grows through conflict and engagement; it’s all a giant game of life and death to the evolving Übermensch. But it was far from impulsive. Bedelia sees what he is doing: the Titanic cocktail was a giveaway.
He is drawing Will, who is of course in Lithuania, when Jack arrives in Italy. Jack is seeking not Hannibal, but Will. He has broken Will, perhaps turned him into Hannibal’s disciple, and while he would like the Italian police to find Hannibal, his main concern is Will.
Chiyoh is guarding a man, a wild, Robinson Crusoe type figure who, she says, is the one who ate Mischa. Fed her to Hannibal we suppose (that’s how it went in the movie). Hannibal is serving dinner to another couple from the Studiolo, who are lamenting the absence of Sogliato (who is probably at, or on, the table, unbeknownst to them).
Hannibal wanted to kill the dude in the cage, but Chiyoh wouldn’t let him, so he left her to guard the man, for years and years. Will sets the man free, but he returns to his cage and tries to kill Chiyoh, and she then kills him. She accuses Will of doing it for the same reasons as Hannibal would – to see if she would kill. But he says he just wanted to set her free.
But here’s the thing. Our motivations for our actions come from our stories. As Will says:
“We construct fairy tales and we accept them. Our minds concoct all sorts of fantasies when we don’t want to believe something.”
Chiyoh believes Hannibal’s story about the man in the cage. She believes that his cannibalism is simply a re-enactment of what he saw happen to his sister. Will has doubts.
What makes Dr Lecter into “Hannibal the Cannibal”? Was it watching his sister slaughtered and eaten? Will argues this does not “quantify” him. Remember an earlier Hannibal who objected to being “quantified” by a census-taker? Remember also that thousands of people have watched appalling brutality being visited on their families and not reacted as Hannibal does.
We have not finished considering that question. Hannibal is washing Bedelia’s hair as she luxuriates in the free-standing bath tub. She asks him “What were you like as a young man?” His answer reminds us that Mads is playing the role as a demonic force.
So, Bedelia asks the same question that Will and Chiyoh are covering. “Why can’t you go home, Hannibal? What happened to you there?”
In Silence of the Lambs, this was followed up with
“You can’t reduce me to a set of influences. You’ve given up good and evil for behaviourism… Look at me, Officer Starling. Can you stand to say I’m evil?”
Will took on that speech, back in Season 2, during their cannibal feast. But here, Bedelia is winning the debate. She has already told him that she knows he is drawing Will and Jack to him with his murders, and warned him that he will get caught. Diving under the water, she cheekily asks
Bedelia is once again Hannibal`s therapist; her fee is staying alive. She tells him that
“What your sister made you feel was beyond your conscious ability to control or predict. I would suggest what Will Graham makes you feel is not dissimilar. A force of mind and circumstance.”
“Same with forgiveness. And I would argue, the same with betrayal” comments Bedelia.
Bedelia plays her trump card.
“If past behaviour is an indicator of future behaviour, there is only one way you will forgive Will Graham.”
Season 2 ended with pretty much all the main characters lying dead or dying in pools of blood, except for Hannibal, who was sitting on a plane with a glass of champagne and his former psychiatrist Bedelia next to him.
The first episode of Season 3 saw Hannibal very happily ensconced in Florence with a new name, a new job, and a chance to show off his expertise in Dante’s sonnets, of course delivered in perfect Italian. So happy, he had hardly killed anyone, although that had changed by the end of the episode.
But what of the gore-splattered rest of the cast? Did any of them live to see Season 3? Well, some did of course although, in some cases, only just. The episode starts with a long reprise of what happened to Will and Abigail, but it’s all in Will’s fevered dreams as he lies in hospital, and he sees it as the killing of his higher self: blood pours out of a dying stag and fills the room – he is sinking, in an ocean of blood.
This is a love story, but of star-crossed lovers. In this case, double-crossed lovers.
Time did reverse. The teacup that I shattered dared to come together. A place was made for Abigail in your world. That place was made for all of us. Together. I wanted to surprise you.
And you… you wanted to surprise me. I let you know me. See me. I gave you a rare gift.
The teacup is a crucial symbol to Hannibal. It represents two important discourses that inform his somewhat unorthodox life choices: Nietzsche’s concept of amor fati – the love of fate, the acceptance that what has happened could not have happened any other way, and will happen again, and again. It is not fatalism though, in which we can sit and wait for the inevitable – Nietzsche and Hannibal want to be out there making it happen as it should, as it will, as it must.
Hannibal wants to speed up the cycle of eternal recurrence, reverse time and repair all that has been lost, particularly his sister, Mischa, who was eaten. He is obsessed with Stephen Hawking’s description of entropy as proof of the “arrow of time” – we “know” that time only flows one way because a shattered teacup does not gather itself back together. Hannibal really likes Hawking’s early theory that, when the universe stops expanding and starts contracting, time will reverse and entropy mend itself; the teacup will mend, Mischa will be whole again, Abigail will be returned to Will. Undoing all the bad things that happened. He just wants to speed things up.
Has the teacup re-formed after all? Abigail wanders into Will’s hospital room as he wakes up.
Will is hallucinating, but it gives him a chance to state his own metaphysical opinions. Will is more a follower of Leibniz; he thinks there are an infinite number of universes and everything that can happen will, does, did happen in one of the multiverses. Just, not in this one, which makes him sad.
It has to end well. And it has to end badly. It has to end every way it can.
OK, but Abigail wants them to find Hannibal, or rather believes the Hannibal wants them to find him. Even after all that happens, she wants to go to him. And so, of course, does Will, although he won’t admit it. He remembers Hannibal taking about his “memory palace”, a place where memories can be stored and restored, and brought out and relived even, or especially, in bad times. Hannibal’s palace is “vast, even by mediaeval standards” and
Off to Palermo goes Will and, maybe, Abigail, and meets Inspector Pazzi, who has been chasing Hannibal for twenty years. As a young man, Hannibal was “Il Mostro”, the monster of Florence, and would kill people to make them into art works, particularly based on Botticelli’s Primavera. A real case, which remains unsolved.
We hear more philosophy – Will has taken on Hannibal`s theology; as far as God is concerned
Elegance is more important than suffering. That’s his design.
Then he gives us his views on Hannibal`s motivations: it’s all about fun. This is basic Hannibal philosophy, going all the way back to his letter to Will Graham in the book Red Dragon.
Hannibal’s not God. Wouldn’t have any fun being God. Defying God – that’s his idea of a good time. Nothing would thrill Hannibal more than to see this roof collapse, mid-Mass, packed pews, choirs singing, he would just love it. And he thinks God would love it too.
And of course, the roof starts to drop a fine powder on Will’s outstretched hand.
Inspector Pazzi points out that Hannibal never leaves evidence.
Which raises the big question – what exactly is cannibalism? Was Jame Gumb a cannibal when he used women’s skin to make a “suit with tits” (which he will hopefully be doing again in Season 4)? Was Francis Dolarhyde a cannibal for killing whole families to fuel his radiance (as he will do again later in Season 3)? Hannibal eats people when he can, and when he wants to, but didn’t Jack Crawford enjoy his elegant dinners at Hannibal`s house, pretending to be a friend, knowing what was probably being served? When Will brought the long pig, pretending it flesh of Freddie Lounds, was it really Randall Tier they were eating? Hannibal sure as hell knew it wasn’t pork. Will happily ate it.
Now Hannibal has found a new, non-gustatory use for human bodies: art. He has taken the body of the annoying art student he killed last episode, and made it into a heart, his heart, broken by Will’s betrayal and the loss of the space he made for them. Will uses his powerful forensic imagination to read Hannibal`s design:
I splintered every bone. Fractured them. Dynamically. Made you malleable. I skinned you. Bent you. Twisted you. And trimmed you. Head hands, arms and legs. A topiary. This is my design. A valentine written on a broken man.
Hannibal is – complicated. Will explains to Abigail that “he follows several trains of thought at once without distraction from any – and one of the trains is always for his own amusement.”
He gave you back to me, then he took you away. It’s Lucy and the football; he just keeps pulling you away. What if no one died? What if – what if we all left together? Like we were supposed to. After he served the lamb. Where would we have gone? …A place was made for you Abigail, in this world. It was the only place I could make for you.
Will finally realises that Abigail is dead, and he is talking to his delusion, to his own subconscious thoughts (which are dominated by finding and rejoining Hannibal). He heads through the arch into the catacombs; he knows Hannibal is waiting in there. Pazzi is behind him, despite Will’s warnings that Hannibal will kill him. Pazzi wants to know what Will might do when/if he finds your Il Mostro?
In an atmospheric scene somewhere between Phantom of the Opera and The Name of the Rose, Will and Hannibal wander the winding tunnels, Will calling Hannibal’s name, Hannibal silent. Waiting for Will to say it. At the end of the last season, Hannibal had said to Will as he cut him up “I forgive you, Will. Do you forgive me?”
We finally get the answer.
Next week: a new cannibal movie from Brazil: THE CANNIBAL CLUB
Look, I know from the Fannibalssites that some people didn’t like Season 3, or at least not as much as one and two. I humbly beg to disagree. This season sees Hannibal exposed and ferocious, no longer wearing his “person suit” in which he was pretending to be the respectable psychiatrist, trying to help the FBI catch – well, himself. At the end of Season 2, he left most of the cast writhing in pools of their own blood, and we saw him drinking champagne on a plane to France. His psychiatrist, Bedelia, was by his side, wedded to him, it seems, by their shared responsibility for the death of her patient, whom Hannibal had referred to her. Obligated to him by his helping her cover up her killing.
Hannibal’s fairy tale is set in Florence, Italy. You may remember a Hannibal of a different generation, in Silence of the Lambs, telling Clarice Starling that memory is what he had instead of a window, as she admired his drawings of the Duomo. Hannibal, it turns out, is an expert on pre-Renaissance Italian literature, particularly Dante, and wants the job of Curator and Translator at the Palazzo Capponi, which of course he gets, by killing the previous Curator and then consuming the man chosen to replace him: Dr Fell, who he meets and eats in Paris. Also by being able to recite Dante from heart at a moment’s notice:
Joyous appeared he in his hand to keep my very heart, and, lying on his breast, my lady, veil-enwrapped and full asleep.
But he awakened her, and of my heart, aflame, he humbly made her, fearful, taste I saw him, finally, in tears depart.
Bedelia is no longer pretending not to know what Hannibal does, or of what he is capable. She has an insight into his Nietzschean ethos
And Hannibal is loving Florence.
“I’ve found a peace here that I would preserve. I’ve killed hardly anybody during our residence”.
Well, the old Curator. And Dr Fell. And Mrs Fell. But the rude Professor Sogliato, who is a natural for dinner because he has been opposing Hannibal’s appointment and being, well, rude about his Italian – will he kill and eat him? No, that would not serve to preserve the peace.
Bedelia has a flashback to her apartment, just after the bloodbath of the Season 2 Finale, where Hannibal is showering, washing off the blood. She asked him then what he had done.
Bedelia is terrified of him, but still, they are living the high life.
There’s a complication, of course, as can happen when you kill people (maybe eat them) and take their identity. This complication is a young scholar from England, Anthony Dimmond (Tom Wisdom from The Boat That Rocked and Avengers: Endgame) who worked for Dr Fell, cordially detested him, and won’t be too upset when he finds out that Hannibal is taking his place. Hannibal appears to show friendship, in one of those double entendres that Hannibal does so well
We have another flashback to Hannibal’s extended feast on Abel Gideon, at which the only guest of honour was Abel himself.
“you wish me to be eating oysters, drinking sweet wines and snacking on acorns.
All to make me tastier?”
Abel’s arm is hanging up in the basement being consumed by snails, to make them tastier. And Abel’s tasty flesh is being eaten by Hannibal
At the dinner, Dimmond asks Bedelia (AKA Mrs Fell) if she is avoiding meat. She replies with one of the great vegan ripostes
But what is she eating instead? Ah yes
Dimmond, being a scholar, tells her
Yes, Bedelia is being fattened up for a future feast. And she knows it.
Dimmond gets his hopes up: “Is it that kind of party?” “It is not that kind of party” replies Hannibal. To Bedelia’s amazement, Dimmond gets up and leaves at the end of dinner. Alive.
But not for long. Hannibal is giving a lecture to prove his qualifications for the Curatorship. He lectures on mediaeval art, particularly drawing the comparison between Judas, who betrayed Jesus, and Pietro della Vigna, whose alleged treachery and suicide earned him a place in Dante’s Hell. Disappearing in the glow of his slideshow, Hannibal is soon replaced by the One whom Mads seems to be using as inspiration for his portrayal of Hannibal
The theme of his talk is
“Lo fe gibetto a me de la mie case: I make my own home be my gallows”.
Realising that he is looking at her, and that he considers that she betrayed him (by resigning as his therapist), Bedelia gets up and rushes home to pack. Dimmond comes to the lecture, realises immediately that Hannibal has replaced Dr Fell, and they stroll through an exhibition of instruments of torture. Why do people love such exhibitions? In fact, why do we love stories about zombies, vampires, cannibals? Hannibal explains
Or as Dimmond puts it
“What still slaps the clammy flab of our submissive consciousness hard enough to get our attention?”
Dimmond offers a sort of partnership with Hannibal. Big mistake. Since Will, Hannibal is not looking to take on new partners. Hannibal takes him home for dinner, just as Bedelia is about to leave, her bag packed and ready.
Wasting no time, Hannibal wallops Dimmond with a bust of Aristotle (appropriate on so many levels) and has a fascinating exchange with Bedelia as she wipes blood off her face, and Dimmond crawls painfully toward the door. He asks her, and us:
She knew what he would do. She was curious about what would happen. She anticipated their thoughts, counter-thoughts, rationalisations. Is this (the bloody mess) what she expected? Yes, it was.
He helps her off with her coat. She’s not going anywhere.
And nor is Dimmond, whose corpse Hannibal folds up into the shape of a heart and leaves in a distant cathedral – but more of that next episode.
And nor are we. We are also curious about what will happen. We also anticipate thoughts, counter-thoughts and rationalisations. We also expect things to happen, whether it be in this show, or in our own lives, filled with appetite and consumption and instruments of torture.
As usual, Hannibal has the final word, in a line that sums up pretty much everything I have been trying to say about cannibalism, and the link to carnivorous virility, and our assumption that it’s OK to eat anyone whom we classify as less than us.
Well, it’s the first Hannibal movie, because it starts with him as a child, and it’s chronologically the last one released. Unless #BryanFuller makes a movie, instead of Season 4 of the TV show. Or Sir Anthony Hopkins comes back as an octogenarian Hannibal, with his wife (Clarice – Jodie Foster or Julianne Moore would both be fine) running the meat business. Martha De Laurentiis @neoprod – I have a script treatment ready!
This is the Hannibal film everyone loves to hate. We are treated to a sweet young Hannibal (Aaran Thomas) having to watch his beloved little sister Mischa being eaten by Nazi collaborators and deserters, and then discovering that he himself unwittingly joined the feast.
From this, we deduce, came his hunger for human flesh. Like the desperate young crash survivors carving meat from the corpses of their dead teammates in Alive, his subsequent actions may not be acceptable, but become at least partially understandable. Psychopathy founded in trauma.
when it comes to nature versus nurture I choose neither. We are built from a DNA blueprint and born into a world of scenario and circumstance we don’t control.
There are two streams of thought on the subject of evil: one, from Rousseau to Arendt, is adamant that morality requires an explanation for evil, while an alternative stream from Voltaire to Jean Améry, insists that it be left unaccountable. Clarice Starling and Dino De Laurentiis would seem to favour the side of Rousseau, while Harris and Hannibal, and many critics of the film, seem more aligned with Voltaire. Harris apparently faced the awful choice of accepting large sums of money to divulge the origin story, or else see it betrayed by another writer.
The opening image of a film, they tell you in film studies, sets the mood and the theme. This one opens with a spider-web.
People are afraid of spiders, for reasons that I have never quite understood. Beware, this one seems to be saying, and we hear childish Hannibal in the background, telling Mischa to run and hide! But it’s just a game. Until the Nazis appear, with their Hiwis, or Lithuanian collaborators, led by the irredeemably despicable Grutas (Rhys Ifans), bandits who are all too willing to assist the SS, for their own profit.
Hannibal’s parents are killed, and the Hiwis take over the lodge, desperate for food, and finding none.
Except for the children.
We do not witness the cannibal acts then, but in nightmare flashbacks eight years later. Hannibal (Gaspard Ulliel) is now a teenager, still mute from PTSD, in an orphanage which uses the former Lecter Castle. He is accused of not honouring “the human pecking order”
Yes, he hates discourtesy. He won’t swallow bullying. Yet.
He escapes the orphanage, crosses Lithuania, Poland, East Germany (hops over the Wall, easy as anything) and arrives in his uncle’s home in Paris. Uncle is dead, and he moves in with his beautiful young Japanese aunt, Lady Murasaki (Gong Li, who is Chinese, but, ah well). Will there be romance as she helps him recover his voice?
She teaches him about the Samurai code, in front of the armour of her ancestors, strangely evocative of a later Hannibal.
She teaches him the art of fighting. And the treatment of enemies.
A butcher in the marketplace insults Murasaki, and Hannibal is enraged. The butcher (a Nazi collaborator) becomes Hannibal’s first kill, and then his first human meat, after the chef explains the delights of eating cheeks.
Hannibal presents Murasaki with the butcher’s head. When she objects that he did not need to do that for her, he replies
Discourtesy is unspeakably ugly to Hannibal. Ah, so young, and already eating the rude. And already seeing cannibalism everywhere – looking at a fresco of Abraham on the mount, about to sacrifice his son, he asks
So much about older Hannibal is revealed – the police inspector (Dominic West from The Wire) gives him a lie detector test – but he responds to nothing.
Hannibal is also brilliant – the youngest student ever admitted into medical school. But he is still obsessed with Mischa and the men who took her from him. He can draw their faces from memory, but cannot remember their names. A dose of sodium thiopental, truth serum, with the Goldberg Variations (another Silence of the Lambs reference) playing in the background, gives him his mental break. Or maybe breaks something in him, depending on your propensity for behaviourism. He remembers that there was a bag of dog-tags left in the lodge, returns to the Soviet Union (no problem crossing the Iron Curtain for Hannibal apparently) and finds all the names. And Mischa’s teddy bear, and her bones. And one of the Hiwis, whom he dispatches, much as Will later dreams of dispatching Hannibal.
He licks the blood off his glove, with some gusto, and prepares the cheeks for a fresh-air feast.
Hannibal spends the rest of the movie tracking down the rest of the gang, who are now into respectable industries like human trafficking and drowning ortolans for lunch.
Along the way, there are interesting discussions of our topic – cannibalism. One of the gang tell Hannibal, as he is about to be killed:
Survival cannibalism. Common in the days of sail, and in various famines. But the Inspector knows what happened, back in the USSR.
Cannibalism happened on the Eastern Front, says the Inspector. This is not news to Hannibal. He is determined to find the gang leader, Grutas. The Inspector tells him (us) what a lovely guy Grutas is. He sawed off the head of the Rabbi at Kaunas.
He walked away from his war crime trial because a witness got acid poured down her throat. So really, whatever Hannibal does, well, it’s OK with us. But the Inspector has decided Hannibal is insane.
Murasaki tries to persuade him to give the gang up to the police. She can be quite persuasive.
But Hannibal cannot make that promise. He has already promised Mischa – revenge.
At his first encounter with the villain, Grutas, he has an interesting outlook on cannibalism too.
There you have it. Cannibalism is about love.
Then the big reveal. Lady Murasaki is a captured by Grutas, Hannibal comes to the rescue and has Grutas at his mercy. Mercy is not a word Hannibal uses much, and when Murasaki asks him to stop, he says
So did you. You ate her too. So why don’t you kill yourself? Pot Watcher fed her to you in a broth. You have to kill everyone who knows it, don’t you? You ate her, half conscious…
Hannibal snaps, and carves M for Mischa on Grutas’ chest.
Murasaki gives up, despite Hannibal’s protestations of love.
Instead of following her, Hannibal stops for a quick snack on Grutas’ cheeks.
Trivia time: Hannibal is not only a brilliant doctor, musician and cook, but he is also apparently ambidextrous. Check him out writing left-handed in this movie, whereas he is right-handed in all the others, and in the TV series.
The film got a measly 16% on Rotten Tomatoes. Most criticism centres on the fact that it is not particularly scary, but that rather misses the point, IMHO. The question the film asks is: how do people overcome the social conditioning of their childhoods to become what they are – killers, cannibals, rapists, politicians? It may be genetic, as Hannibal tells Clarice: “nothing happened. I happened”. Or maybe the childhood itself offers a clue to how, as Clarice asked “you got that way”. The film offers a view of the latter – a gentle, loving little boy with, clearly, a brilliant mind, but so traumatised that he can think of nothing but revenge. His target – rude people and bullies. No one minds seeing them get their comeuppance. But you take a bite out of their cheeks, and suddenly everyone is convinced you’re a monster.
But here’s why I like this film:
The book and the screenplay are both written by the brilliant Thomas Harris, who of course created Hannibal. This is the only film in the series for which Harris wrote the screenplay
The Director is Peter Webber (Girl with a Pearl Earring)
There are two Hannibals in this movie (a 100% increase on all the other movies)! One at age eight, and the other a young man
It only takes Hannibal’s story up to his arrival in North America, leaving a nice narrative gap between that and his eventual capture and captivity by Will Graham in Red Dragon, which was perfectly filled by Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal (even if time shifted by a few decades)
It shows the humanity of Hannibal, his devotion to his sister, and his determination to hunt down her killers. If you don’t want your Hannibal to show humanity, then this can be a problem
It was a prequel. Every great character gets a prequel – Darth Vader, Indiana Jones, Vito Corleone, Mr Spock, Zorro, Batman – even Jesus has scored a few. Why not Hannibal?
At its core, cannibalism is about food, eating, the joy of taste. This episode therefore commences with a comparison of the meals of Hannibal, free, prosperous, creative
and Will, confined, subject to whatever gruel is dished up in the asylum.
As Hannibal tells Jack:
Hannibal eats food, not friends. He is cooking for Jack, again, making Jack perhaps the pre-eminent innocent cannibal of the series, since he dines there so often. But this time, he is pre-occupied, upset that his wife tried to kill herself, grateful that Hannibal stopped her. Hannibal discusses his own dilemma: as a doctor, he had no choice, but
Hannibal is a good friend, says Jack. That, as we know, won’t last.
Beverly Katz has been neatly dissected and mounted into giant slides. As Will figures, she has been pulled apart layer by layer, as she would dissect a crime scene.
Will asks to see her, and is given the same treatment Hannibal received in the film of Silence of the Lambs: straight-jacket, hockey mask and transported on a furniture trolley.
He does his pendulum, re-enactment, this is my design, thing. He knows who killed Beverly, but cannot tell Jack, because Jack doesn’t want to believe it. Will does say that she will be missing organs:
She is indeed missing kidneys. And guess what Hannibal’s having for lunch?
Yep. Nice steak and kidney pie. Seems to be enjoying it too.
So, as Clarice once asked, why does Hannibal do what he does? Abel Gideon has his own theory, not so different to the way Madds said in an interview that he chose to play him:
He warns Will that he will never catch the Ripper – he will have to kill him. Another insight into where the series might be heading.
Hannibal now has a couple of people who suspect him: Will, of course, but also Abel Gideon, who Will brought to his house the night Gideon removed most of Chilton’s guts. He asks Chilton why, in those circumstances, he would bring Gideon back to “your hospital for the unworried unwell” [great Hannibal quip BTW]. Chilton claims it was not for “selfish reasons”. “Ah, selfishness” comments Hannibal
He goes to meet Gideon, who is still interested in his satanic analysis:
Outside the asylum, he is photographed by Freddie Lounds. You have to give her credit for bravery – Hannibal says something that would bring a chill to those who know him like we do, know his penchant for eating rude people:
She goes in to interview Will, and is given the same instructions Clarice received in Silence of the Lambs:
Will is using Freddie to contact his “admirer” – the one who killed the bailiff in his trial, hoping to get him exonerated. Turns out to be the nurse in the “hospital for the unworried unwell”. Why? Well, smaller birds will mob a hawk.
Yes, another elitist. Perhaps even a Nietzschean. He wants the hawks to work together. Happy to help Will any way he can. What favour can he do for Will? Will wants to make sure what happened to Beverly cannot happen again.
Will dreams he is becoming the beast – antlers growing from his back. Hannibal is doing laps of the pool, which explains why he is in great shape and able to kill people who often seem somehow younger and fitter. Also, cold water is great for shifting blood stains. The nurse is the only other swimmer (obviously a very exclusive pool) and shoots Hannibal with a tranquiliser dart. He sinks, but that’s not a suitable death, so next we see him teetering on a bucket, bleeding out, and in a semi-crucifixion position.
The nurse knows that Hannibal is the Ripper, and asks him
How many times have you watched someone cling on to a life that’s not really worth living? Eking out a few extra seconds. Wondering why they bother.
The nurse, like Hannibal, is into becoming.
Maybe your murders will become my murders. I’ll be the Chesapeake Ripper now!
Jack arrives in the nick of time. But Hannibal has faced death, and therefore has grown. Now it’s Will’s turn.
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It is quite extraordinarily, in retrospect, to realise that this 2001 film was the first Hannibal Lecter film to be about Hannibal Lecter. He was very much a bit player in both Manhunter and Red Dragon (both based on the book Red Dragon) – he was in an asylum and visited occasionally by Will Graham, desperate for a clue as to the identity of the serial killer the FBI was hunting. The movie that made him a household name, The Silence of the Lambs, saw him still in that Baltimore Asylum for the Criminally Insane, but now he was a major figure, even though only on screen for a bit under 16 minutes. But very good minutes they were (he won the Oscar for it, and the film won five in total) and, importantly, we saw him escape, to rejoin us, the viewers, in the breathing world, as we crept, with wide eyes, back to the dark parking lot of the cinema after the credits had rolled.
“I need to come out of retirement and return to public life.”
In Hannibal, he is free, and doing what he loves best – being an expert on Renaissance art and poetry in Florence, drinking fine wines, and occasionally eating people. But, as in the previous movies, and in the TV series, Hannibal takes his sweet time before he actually appears on screen. His image appears at 24 minutes: an archive video of him attacking a nurse who was careless with his ECG (any comments on why he attacks the nurse would be appreciated. It seems out of character for Hannibal: discourteous even).
His voice appears at 28 minutes, and his person at 30. Hannibal never rushes things. Instead, the film starts with Hannibal’s nemeses: Mason Verger, intent on revenge and plotting to capture Hannibal and feed him to his pigs, and of course Clarice Starling, her career in tatters due to a combination of law enforcement ineptitude and toxic masculinity working to bring her down. She is caught on the news shooting a woman with a baby, even though that woman was a drug dealer who was shooting at her.
Her only possible way to reinstate her career will be to work with Verger to capture Hannibal.
This wasn’t an easy film to make – sequels rarely are, particularly when they are following a film that did a lot better than anyone expected. And this film was made ten years after Silence, so there was a huge, pent up demand. There was also the brilliant book from Thomas Harris on which this was based; it had come out two years previously, and many, including the director of Silence, Jonathan Demme, the screenwriter, Ted Tally, and the star, Jodie Foster, considered the plot a bridge too far. All three declined to be involved in the new film. Lucklily, Anthony Hopkins was ready to get back in the saddle, so the film proceeded – without him, it would seem to have been unlikely.
So, sad not to get Demme back to direct, but hey, Dino di Laurentiis found a substitute: the brilliant Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise), who had just finished Gladiator and at first declined the script, as he thought it was another ancient history epic, and didn’t want to have to direct elephants crossing the Alps. Oh, it’s about a cannibal in Florence? OK then. The screenplay was first drafted by Pulitzer Prize winner David Mamet and then written by Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List). And instead of the incomparable Jodie Foster, he chose, from a list of the greatest actors of the time, Julianne Moore, apparently the recommendation of Hopkins. di Laurentiis said of Jodie Foster’s refusal to take part: “when the Pope dies, they get a new Pope”. So it was off to a rollicking start.
Then there’s the supervillain. In Hannibal movies, there is always a much worse monster for us to hate, giving us licence to like Hannibal that much more. In this case, it is Mason Verger (Gary Oldman), heir to a huge fortune built on the cruel pork trade, a sadist and child molester in his youth.
He is the only surviving victim of Hannibal: instead of killing him, Hannibal got him whacked on psychotropic drugs and suggested that he slice his own face off and feed it to the dogs. In the book, this is explained: Mason had adopted two dogs who were good friends, and put them in a cage with no food, to see if they would turn to cannibalism. Gratuitous cruelty and cannibalism – not what Hannibal is about at all. Hannibal’s cannibalism contains a nugget of justice. As the Asylum orderly Barney tells Clarice:
He told me that whenever feasible, he prefers to eat the rude. Free range rude, he called them.
Incidentally, Barney is portrayed by Frankie Faison (The Wire) who is the only actor to appear in all four Hannibal films up to this one.
Hannibal manages to communicate with Clarice throughout the film, usually by letter or phone call, explaining his point of view and questioning why she continues to serve her corrupt and venal masters.
Tell me Clarice, would you want to harm those who have forced you to consider it though? It’s perfectly OK to feel this. It’s perfectly au naturel to want to taste the enemy. It just feels so good.
The camera lingers lovingly on Mason’s disfigurements: according to the DVD, Oldman spent six hours each day in makeup to make him so lovable. Hopkins, on the other hand, did not bother with makeup for this movie, allowing his advancing years and natural pallor to tell the story of the years since his escape.
With Hannibal, there is always the question of who is the cannibal. In Red Dragon, was it Hannibal in his cell or Dolarhyde collecting movies of women he had killed and raped? In Silence, was it the same Hannibal in the same cell, or Jame Gumb, killing and skinning women to make a vest with tits? In this one, is it the Renaissance scholar Hannibal seeking a job as curator of the Capponi library or Inspector Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini), threatening a local pickpocket into ambushing Hannibal, hoping to sell Hannibal to Verger to be fed to his pigs? The pickpocket loses his femoral artery to a small knife that Hannibal keeps in his sleeve. He dies, but Pazzi gets the fingerprint he needs for the deal to go ahead and in a scene full of Catholic symbolism, washes his bloody hands in the fountain of Il Porcellino, a porcine reference to the greed of Judas and the cowardice of Pontius Pilate, as well as a foretaste of the pigs who have been bred to eat Hannibal. Verger and his thugs get the pigs flown to the US and primed to eat humans (pigs usually prefer not to). Pazzi later gets from Hannibal the same treatment his treasonous ancestor received in Florence 500 years earlier – hanging from the window with his bowels protruding. But not until Hannibal has offered the line of the movie:
Hannibal has met Pazzi’s wife, Allegra (Francesca Neri), at the sublime opera of Dante’s sonnet A ciascun’alma presa from Vita Nuova, which Hannibal and Allegra recite to each other meaningfully, all about Beatrice eating Dante’s heart, and clearly referencing Hannibal’s growing obsession with Clarice.
In a scene that reveals both Pazzi’s desperation to make Allegra happy, including risking his career and life to capture Hannibal, and Hannibal’s own burning love for Clarice, she asks him:
Allegra: Dr Fell, do you believe a man could become so obsessed with a woman from a single encounter? Hannibal: Could he daily feel a stab of hunger for her and find nourishment in the very sight of her? I think so. But would she then see through the bars of his plight and ache for him?
Dante and Beatrice were nine years old when his obsession with her started. Hannibal’s obsession with Clarice started at a more mature age, but burns just as brightly.
The music, Vide Cor Meum, is by Hans Zimmer (Lion King, Gladiator, the Dark Knight trilogy and heaps more) and is so beautiful that it is used again in the TV series Hannibal, in the season finales of both the first two seasons. As she leaves with Pazzi, another couple brush past saying “let’s get something to eat!” Hannibal mutters to himself, and to us, “why not?”
Verger understands that the way to trap Hannibal is by threatening Clarice, and pays Paul Krendler (Ray Liotto), the man who has conspired to destroy Clarice’s career since she first rebuffed his advances, to fabricate evidence of collusion with Hannibal.
She is suspended from the FBI. Hannibal goes shopping for fine furniture, and burglaring for medical equipment. He breaks into Clarice’s apartment in DC, where she has drunk herself to sleep, and leaves a collage of her face on a fashion shoot in a magazine. The game is afoot. He leads her to Union Station where he engages her in a discussion of her life, her future, and why the forces of the law, the law she loves and respects, have totally betrayed her.
Why are you so resented? You serve the idea of order, Clarice. They don’t. You believe in the oath you took. They don’t. You feel it is your duty to protect the sheep. They don’t.
As he leaves, Verger’s Sardinian hit-men hit him with a tranquiliser dart and drive him off. Now who will save whom?
Hannibal is strapped to a forklift in a crucifixion position, his feet are to be fed to the pigs, then he is to be kept alive for several hours until the rest of him is given to them. She cuts him loose, leading to one of the funniest exchanges in the film.
Clarice can deal with most of these thugs, but is shot while rescuing Hannibal, who picks her up and walks through the hogs. They leave him alone – since they cannot smell fear on him. He arranges for Verger’s helper to push the furious billionaire into the pig pen. Dinner is served.
Krendler returns to his lakehouse, but Hannibal is already there. So is Clarice; Hannibal has removed the bullet and she is sedated. She wakes dressed in full evening gown and high heels and staggers downstairs where, in the most famous scene of the film, Hannibal has sawn Krendler’s cranium off, and is preparing to serve his brain. Of course, the brain has no pain receptors on its surface, so Krendler is awake and joins the meal.
Most of this is fairly true to the book. Only the ending was changed, apparently to appeal to those whose morality could stand seeing a man eat his own brains, but not to seeing Starling, so long an honest cop, go over to Lecter’s side – the side of cynicism about authority and enjoyment of the finer things of life. Instead, she rebuffs him and with her remaining strength tries to stop the dinner, and then the escape. She hancuffs the two of them together, Hannibal goes to bite her, then to cut off her hand, but it is he that leaves minus one. That’s love.
But then, there is the single tear – does she regret the opportunity to dance with the devil?
I admit to preferring the story the way the author wrote it in the book. I think Hannibal would have too. Read the book and you will see that is the perfect denouement to the Hannibal saga. I think they compromised on the end to avoid controversy (although they did get away with feeding Krendler his own brain, so they weren’t totally devoid of courage).
I suspect that the idea of amputation of his hand came from Sir Anthony Hopkins, who had starred in Shakespeare’s Titus only two years earlier, in which he cuts off his hand, and his daughter suffers a worse fate involving both hands and her tongue. [I nearly said Hopkins had a hand in the decision, but I restrained myself].
Titus is also a cannibal movie, by the way. You can read my blog about it at Titus.
Why does Hannibal eat people? Clarice speculates on this earlier in the film, while she is still on the case, as Krendler asks her what she’s doing sitting in the dark.
Thinking about cannibalism. Aren’t you curious why he dines on his victims? To show his contempt for those who exasperate him. Or sometimes to perform a public service. In the case of the flutist, Benjamin Raspail, he did it to improve the sound of the Baltimore Philharmonic Orchestra, serving the not so talented flute player’s sweetbreads to the Board with a nice Montrachet at $700 per bottle.
Yes, Clarice, quite right. But also, like any cuisine, it’s a habit, or a preference. Hannibal simply cannot see any reason not to eat people, particularly rude ones. In the final scene, he offers to give it all up for her:
BTW: note the books on Krendler’s fridge: Southern Cooking and Vegetarian Times. Our ethical choices: what we consider right, or what we consider delicious. Hannibal, unlike everyone else, makes his choices without hesitating. He considers them the same thing.
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