“Man’s flesh is delicious” THE LAST CONFESSION OF ALEXANDER PEARCE (Rowland, 2008)

Alexander Pearce was, as far as we know, Australia’s first cannibal. Although the Indigenous people of Australia were regularly accused of cannibalism, the evidence is suspiciously absent, and clearly such accusations were extremely useful in the British colonial campaigns of subjugation and genocide.

But Alexander Pearce was the real thing.

The film is mostly set in Hobart Jail, where Pearce (Irish actor Ciarán McMenamin) is waiting to be hanged, and has requested a priest to hear his confession. Somewhat unwillingly, an Irish priest named Father Philip Connolly (Adrian Dunbar) listens to Pearce’s story.

In 1824, the British penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land was a living hell, where vicious floggings were regular punishments.

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Pearce had been transported to Australia for stealing a pair of shoes, and continuing law-breaking saw him eventually transferred to Sarah Island, which was surrounded by sea on one side and wilderness on the other.

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Eight convicts made their escape, and headed off into the bush with enough food for four days. After eight days, weak with hunger, they start discussing cases where sailors lost at sea have engaged in cannibalism to survive, and realise they will have to do the same. They nominate Dalton the one member of their gang they all hate, a man who volunteered to be the “flogger” and who has whipped all of them. He probably should have kept his day job at Sarah Island.

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Three of the others turned back, but “took their share of Dalton”. Every time they run out of food, another man is killed. They see new potential meat – kangaroos and emus – and vow brotherly love – never to kill another of their own, but then discover how fast kangaroos and emus can run. Soon there are four, then just three, and Pearce realises that he is next, because the other two are friends. Luckily for Pearce, one of them gets bitten by a snake, develops gangrene and well… once more they have brotherly love. The priest is dismissive of such protestations of virtue, and Pearce answers:

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“A Full Belly is prerequisite to all manner of good! Without that, no man will ever know what hunger will make you do.”

Soon there are only two, and neither dares sleep. Pearce wins the game, and the last meal, but is interrupted by a local.

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After three months, Pearce made it, alone, to Jericho, in the centre of Tasmania, over 150km away from Sarah Island. The magistrate sent him back to Sarah Island, because he did not believe the story of cannibalism. He thought it was a cover for his friends, to disguise the fact that they were still at large, bushranging.

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“He’s a thief. He’s a forger. A recalcitrant Irish… but I didn’t credit him with being a savage”.

It was also impossible to hang him for murder, since there were no bodies – a legal benefit of cannibalism.

At Sarah Island, Pearce was viciously flogged and chained to a rock.

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He escaped again, perhaps at the urging of another young convict, whom he killed eight days later, while they still had provisions. He was apparently enraged when he discovered the boy couldn’t swim, a real disadvantage when escaping from an island. Pearce signalled the first passing ship, confessed his actions and showed the authorities the body. So this time, they could hang him.

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“The man’s a monster. He cut that young man in half, and devoured him for meat, and this while he himself still had bread and cheese lining his pockets”.

At the governor’s table, all merrily chewing on some other unfortunate animal, they discuss Pearce’s fate: to be hanged, and his body dissected.

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“Quite an irony, I imagine, a cannibal being dissected… see what breeds such savagery”.

Asked by the governor’s wife why he is giving comfort to Pearce, the priest replies “I do it for fear… Fear of what we all might become, here at the end of the world.”

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Pearce was hanged at the Hobart Jail at 9am on the 19th July 1824.

“whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall that man’s blood be shed, for in his own image, God made human kind.”

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“The world is always easier understood held at a distance with tales of monsters and the like. This is how Alexander is remembered. Not as a man. Yet few truer words have ever been spoken: A full belly is prerequisite to all manner of good. Without that, no man will ever know what hunger will make him do.”

The film was nominated for the 2010 Rose d’Or, Best Drama at the 6th Annual Irish Film and Television Awards, Best Drama at the 2009 Australian Film Institute Awards, won Best Documentary at the 2009 Inside Film Awards and the director Michael James Rowland was nominated in the Best Director (Telemovie) category in the 2009 Australian Directors Guild Awards.

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Pearce is supposed to have said just before his execution:

“Man’s Flesh is Delicious. It Tastes Far Better Than Fish or Pork.”

This line does not appear in the film, and is probably apocryphal.

“I wonder who the real cannibals are” CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (Deodato, 1980)

This movie is a big deal, in cannibal studies.

When you hear terms like “video nasties” or “grindhouse”, Cannibal Holocaust tends to be high on the list of titles mentioned. The film’s violence was extreme in 1980, although it has certainly been exceeded since then, with the “benefit” of CGI special effects. The scenes of death and cannibalism were enough to get the director, Ruggero Deodata, arrested for suspected murder, as he had arranged for the actors to go underground to give the impression that, just maybe, he had gone for the ultimate in cinéma vérité: a snuff movie. Where the film remains at the cutting edge (sorry) of extreme cinema even today was in its presentation of authentic animal cruelty, in the midst of fictional human deaths. For this it was widely condemned, even by those who otherwise enjoyed the film, and it was banned in several countries, including Italy and Australia. The best part of the film is probably Riz Ortolani’s stunning soundtrack. But in the end, I must grudgingly say that Cannibal Holocaust is a film more relevant than ever – because it is a direct indictment of “fake news”.

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At a time when news stories were increasingly becoming sensationalist beat-ups, and the American failure in the Vietnam war was still being blamed on the ubiquitous media coverage of the gruesome results of that conflict, Deodato is asking the question: “what can we believe”? Or, as the protagonist of the film, anthropologist Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman) asks in the last few frames

“I wonder who the real cannibals are?”

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This is the question that every cannibal film or TV show asks, in its own way. Hannibal Lecter denies he is a cannibal in season 3 of Hannibal (I’ll get to it in a couple of months) when he tells a victim, whose leg they are both eating:

“This isn’t cannibalism, Abel. It’s only cannibalism if we’re equals”.

Cannibalism is about power and appetite. Those we accuse of cannibalism, in this case the indigenous peoples of the Amazon, were in all probability never cannibals. The imperialists who came in search of gold, like Columbus, or oil or timber or news footage were the real consumers – of humans who had been transformed into commodities and resources. Cannibal Holocaust asks us to think about what, in the panorama of abuse, death and torture that surrounds us, is real?

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This wasn’t the first Italian cannibal film: that was Man From Deep River. It wasn’t even Deodato’s first cannibal film, which was Last Cannibal World (Ultimo Mondo Cannibale). He had gratuitous animal cruelty in that one too. But Cannibal Holocaust asked new questions about the media in which it was made, about the motivations of the documentary, and about what Deodato himself was doing.

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The film is told from the viewpoint of an anthropologist, Monroe, who is asked to go to the Amazon, to the area frequented by cannibal tribes and known as the “Green Inferno” (a name that spawned a tribute movie 33 years later). His mission is to find out what happened to four young American film-makers who disappeared there without a trace. Well, guess who came to dinner?

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The first half of the film is Monroe negotiating with the locals, watching a rape and murder, helping eat an adulterer, shooting several natives, and finding and recovering the cans of film that have survived the whole sordid adventure. And yes, making friends, but not enjoying dinner with the cannibals.

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The second half of the film purports to show that recovered film, which a television network wants to show uncut to the public to sensationalise their deaths. This part is often referred to as the forerunner of the “found footage” movies that became enormously popular later with Blair Witch Project. In fact, Punishment Park (Watkins, 1971) was probably the first found footage film, claiming that its story of anti-war protesters being dumped (and filmed) in the California desert is actual newsreel. But in that period, what was genuine newsreel footage was on television every night, and showed dead American soldiers, burning Vietnamese civilians, and Kent State University students being gunned down by the National Guard. The difference between real and fake news was becoming opaque, years before the time of Trump (in fact, when he was still busy avoiding the draft). Deodato said he believed a lot of the news reports of Red Brigade terrorism in Italy had been staged for the cameras. In any case, even in unvarnished reporting, the framing of the camera and choice of which shots to use make the concept of real, impartial news unattainable.

 

Who were the cannibals? The ones depicted as real savage cannibals in Cannibal Holocaust were described by Francesca Ciardi, who played Faye, one of the lost American filmmakers, as:

…perhaps the sweetest people I have ever met. The cannibals were just local people. They put wigs on them but in real life they were very clean people: they worked in offices and they wore well-pressed shirts”.

The most controversial legacy of this film is the appalling animal cruelty. Deodato juxtaposes brutal violence on humans (rape, murder, cannibalism) through special effects, while filming live and in gory detail the killing of a coatimundi, a giant turtle, a monkey (whose brains are eaten while still alive), a tarantula, a snake and a pig. When their guide gets bitten by that snake, we get “live action” of them chopping up the snake, then chopping off the man’s leg. The team make sure the camera is rolling before wielding the machete.

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What is he trying to achieve through this collision of fake human and actual animal deaths? Is it simply to try to extend the illusion that, just perhaps, these shaky images were indeed real footage, and the actors were dead? Well that didn’t last past his murder trial, where he had to produce them in the court in order to be exonerated.

Critic and media academic Calum Waddell points out that this movie shows vile and debased behaviour on both sides – the ‘savage’ natives and the ‘civilised’ Westerners. But the Americans are punished for it – they are eventually killed and eaten for their troubles. The natives? A few get shot or burned, but there is no judgement. Waddell calls this a “fascist perspective”, because white people shouldn’t act like this, and so get punished, but the “savages” – well, that’s just the way they are. We can’t expect better of them, and in fact the Americans, when they first land, young, strong and white, are the picture of gung-ho adventurers, seemingly invincible. Then they regress into savagery, as they trek deeper into the green inferno.

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They (the savages) are cannibals by nature, and we (the civilised) risk becoming like them. The civilised whites lose their humanity as they enter the inhuman world of the cannibals, just as American troops in Vietnam lost theirs as they became enmeshed in that jungle war and started to massacre villagers. The film crew set fire to the native village so they can film an imaginary war between tribes. They capture a young girl and rape her just for fun, then film her body, impaled on a stake for losing her virginity.

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Cannibal Holocaust documents the loss of belief in the inevitable progress of humanity, usually told through the invincibility of white privilege.

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The Americans film everything, even their own death at the hands of the infuriated natives. The interlopers act as imperialists always have, but now they get eaten for it.

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To complicate the question of truth or simulation, we are shown a series of clips that the Americans are said to have recorded earlier in their careers, which we are told were staged for the cameras. These were clips of actual executions and abuses that Deodata presents here as fake news, created to be sensationalist newsreels.

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So now we have Deodato playing with our heads: real human executions are presented as fake, while fake rape and killing is presented as real. Real animal abuse, insisted upon by the director, is accompanied by gallons of human gore and agony which we know is fake.  Monroe is told: “Today people want sensationalism.”

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The subtitles did not use spell-checking

Yet the roller-coaster of fact and fake does not really work. Did Deodato really expect people to file out of the cinema (when it was finally shown after years of censorship) scratching their heads and saying “those guys really did get eaten! Damn shame.” The scenes of actual vicious killings of animals seem meant to drive home the point that, just maybe, the deaths of the young Americans are real too. But, as Waddell points out, the coatimundi is killed in the first half, which is unequivocally a fictional presentation (or at best re-enactment) of the expedition to find the lost tapes. So that creature’s death is totally gratuitous.

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Or is it? Deodato seems to be saying: don’t swallow anything you see on screen.

Here’s the thing. Real atrocities go on, but usually in the dark, or behind walls, at least not near any cameras. The Americans catch and chop us a giant turtle who continues to move as his head is removed and he is disembowelled.

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We can be squeamish at the death of that beautiful turtle – Faye is filmed throwing up as they chop the animal’s head off, but then we see her biting into the cooked meat soon afterwards.

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The turtle died totally unnecessarily for the sake of a cheap movie shot. We can also be sickened by the scenes of rapes and murders of humans, which are fake, but look pretty real. But every moment, as we reach for the remote and gratefully turn off the movie, real atrocities are continuing everywhere, in wars and domestic abuse and abattoirs and laboratories. Real animals quiver in their death throes, millions of them every second, while we turn our faces away from the dying turtle. We are not filming those abuses, but very often we are paying for them, through our taxes or our shopping. Like Faye, the cruelty repels and nauseates us, but the appetite makes us forget. This film, perhaps, helps us to remember.

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“Death is not a defeat” HANNIBAL Season 2 Episode 4 “Takiawase” (Fuller 2014)

Previously on Hannibal, Will Graham was arrested for Hannibal’s murders, and chose to plead not guilty; but if the verdict goes against him, the penalty will be death. However, he now has a short reprieve thanks to a secret admirer, who generously killed the judge in his case. We, the audience, have a chance to “draw a breath”, which is also the term for being alive. And this episode is all about life and death, and choosing between them, for ourselves, for those we love, and for our victims. It is summed up in the “previously on Hannibal” reprise, where Jack and Hannibal discuss death. Jack has spent his life chasing serial killers:

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Will mentally escapes his prison purgatory by remembering good times – fishing. He finds this, as many people describe, relaxing and even meditative. In this memory, he visualises teaching Abigail to fish, the same Abigail who everyone believes is dead and at least partly inside Will’s digestive tract (in that he vomited up one of her ears). Abigail sees no real difference between hunting with her father, who killed and ate girls who looked like her, and trapping and killing fish. She has a point.

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Beverley, the super smart FBI investigator, wants to believe Will is not guilty, but cannot buy his accusations against Hannibal. She seeks Will’s assistance to understand who killed the dude who made mosaics out of corpses, and gets mad at him when he accuses, who else, Hannibal. Why, she asks, would he do it?

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He tells her: “There will be a clever detail – he wouldn’t be able to resist it.”

Will is contemplating murder, Beverley is contemplating motive, and Jack’s wife, Bella, is contemplating suicide. Her breast cancer has spread, and she is consulting Hannibal about life and death, subjects on which, like most things, he is expert. Her cancer has won the battle, and she has no quality of life, is only staying alive for Jack.

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That thought, she tells Hannibal, makes her feel alive. How, she asks, does it make Hannibal feel? And that question affords us a fascinating glimpse into Hannibal as Übermensch:

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“The thought that my life could end at any moment frees me to fully appreciate the beauty and art and horror of everything this world has to offer”

Nietzsche, like Hannibal, was a Dionysian, contemptuous of the moralising of Christian ethics. Dionysus was the god of controlled passion, a worthy adversary to Christian suppression of passion. Nietzsche pictured himself as a satyr, half man, half goat, a bridge between man and nature, an affirmer of life.  Will Graham sees Hannibal, after he realises that he is the killer they seek, as a faceless man with stag-horns, a windigo, a monster from Algonquian legend, transformed from human shape into a powerful creature driven by a lust for human flesh. Hannibal is Dionysus, in his form as satyr.

Hannibal is clearly a master of ancient Greek culture, telling Bella, as they discuss suicide (according to Sartre, the only subject worth discussing):

“Upon taking his own life, Socrates offered a rooster to the god of healing, to pay his debt. To Socrates, death was not a defeat…”

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There is of course a separate killer keeping the FBI team busy – a sweet, new agey woman who wants to put people out of their misery, taking away their pain with her herbal cures, in one case blinding a patient, in the other killing him and filling his head with bees. She is also, the team speculates, into mythological symbolism:

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Beverley discovers, after some broad hints from Hannibal, that the killer from last episode, the dude making mosaics out of corpses, is missing a kidney. This links the murder of the murderer to the Chesapeake ripper, who takes surgical trophies from his victims.

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Will remembers Hannibal’s first visit to his home in Season 1 Episode 1, with breakfast neatly packed in a picnic basket.

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Will realises that Hannibal was feeding him human flesh, and so he also is a cannibal, if innocently. And we know Jack has been dining regularly at Hannibal’s table.

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Bella has taken Hannibal’s musings about suicide to heart, and decided that the life Jack wants to preserve (hers) is of a quality not worth saving.

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She has taken a lethal dose of her morphine. Hannibal has reservations – not about death, which, we remember, he described as a cure. But about the effect on his friend, her husband, Jack.

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Life, death. They are no more than the flip of a coin.

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He revives her. She wakes up and gives him a pretty good slap, for someone who was nearly dead. Her view: he has robbed her of her release, her “cure”.

Meanwhile, Beverley is convinced of Will’s claims against Hannibal and goes snooping in his basement. This was never going to end well.

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The Young cannibal: PIGSTY (Italian: PORCILE), Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1969

Pasolini’s films were usually brilliant, but rarely easy to watch. They were not designed as entertainment, but to make a point, usually political, and even then don’t ever go straight to it, but leave it up to the viewer to interpret. Some of his films were extremely graphic – his final film, Salo, was based on de Sade and was particularly difficult to watch. He was murdered soon after that one was released, so who knows what might have come next?

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The opening credits roll over some very cute pigs in a sty, although they are not a major part of the rest of the movie, until the end. I guess for Pasolini they represent the European bourgeoisie, which I think is appallingly offensive. To the pigs.

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Two separate stories are being told, interwoven. Segments of one are followed by the other, or sometimes the same one again. One story is set in 1967 and is about a German industrialist who looks a lot like Hitler, his son Julian, described by his mother as a “Mannerist San Sebastian”, and his radical fiancée Ida who joins protests to piss on the Berlin wall.

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Julian will not go with her to the wall, nor even kiss her – he becomes catatonic after telling her that he has another love. Turns out to be the pigs in the porcile (sty). He prefers them to the hedonistic existence of his father who makes an alliance with an old rival, Herr Herdhitzel, even though he knows of that rival’s involvement in the Holocaust, and could destroy him.

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The locals arrive to tell of Julian’s fate, eaten by the pigs. Like Sebastian in Suddenly Last Summer, Julian is eaten by those he loved, or lusted after, or ate.

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But the industrialist doesn’t want to spoil the celebrations, and tells the locals:

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The other is set sometime in the middle ages (judging by the weapons and armour) and in a volcanic waste-land. A young man, called only “the young cannibal”, wanders around catching and eating whatever he can find, including lone soldiers.

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He joins up with other brigands who wander the smoking hills catching, killing and eating, throwing their victims heads into the volcano. When he is caught and prepares to be executed, tied down to four wooden stakes and left for the wild dogs to tear to pieces, he utters the words for which the film is most famous:

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The young cannibal is a mirror image of Christ, killing his father instead of being killed, tied to the ground instead of raised on a cross, quivering with joy instead of asking why he has been forsaken. For Nietzsche, God is dead. For Pasolini, we have eaten him.

Cannibalism is usually defined as the eating of human flesh by humans. There are a lot of grey areas (and pink ones when pigs are involved). We eat them, they eat us, we eat each other. It’s about greed and power, and is the same whoever is eating or being eaten. Julian’s father sums it up:

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You are dangerous: “Sakizuke” HANNIBAL Season 2 Episode 2 (Fuller, 2014)

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Last episode we spoke briefly about the dude (played by Patrick Garrow) who is building an art work out of human bodies – he kidnaps them, kills them (usually) with a heroin overdose, and coats them in resin, and sews them together to form a giant eye, looking back, he hopes, at God. Let’s redefine “cannibalism”, for the purpose of this blog entry, to let this dude in – he is using human bodies for his appetites, in this case metaphysical ones. He may not be eating the victims (although who knows?) but he is certainly using them up, in large numbers.

He gets a bit sloppy, and one of the victims (Ryan Field), who has a high tolerance for opiates (the murder weapon of choice), escapes, first tearing off bits of his flesh that have been sewn to other bodies. This is what cannibalism texts do at their heart – they show the insides of the human body. They offend our sense of the clean, proper symbolic order by showing that inside, we are just animals, able to be treated like any other species, and torn apart to assuage appetite for food, visual arts, worship, or anything, really.

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Will is in the asylum, where he tearfully begs Alana and Hannibal for help.

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Has he begun to doubt Hannibal’s guilt, or is this a ploy? Hannibal’s plots are not always seamless – Bedelia has certainly seen through them. She comes to Hannibal’s office to terminate his psychiatric sessions. She has begun to question his actions – particularly with regard to her attack. Yes, we’ll hear more about that attack.

A toxic masculinity dance commences, where he advances on her and she steps back – he ends up in her face, where she tells him her conclusion, “based on what I glimpsed through the stitching of the person suit that you wear”:

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“Exactly, I cannot say. I’ve had to draw a conclusion based on what I glimpsed through the stitching of the person suit that you wear.”

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The FBI is still baffled by these dozens of missing people, although Beverley has visited Will with pictures, and he told her that the killer is choosing them for their skin colour – he is making a colour palette. He’s an artist! Hannibal can dig that:

We’re supposed to see colour, Jack. That may be all this killer has ever seen in his fellow man.

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Hannibal understands that – he finds killing easy too. In his fellow man, he sees dinner.

He also has the nose of a bloodhound, and can tell, from sniffing the latest body, that the victim ran through a cornfield. He discusses the case with Will in the asylum for the criminally insane, and Will confirms the artwork

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Hannibal figures out where there is a suitably private abandoned silo, near a cornfield, and near the river where the bodies were dumped. We see him surveying the area, wearing his killing suit (because dry cleaning is so expensive)

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He climbs on the roof, where there is a small opening, through which the “eye” can look up at God. When the killer appears, Hannibal greets him.

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The FBI find the crime scene, thanks to Will’s advice, but now the killer is stitched into it. In the silo full of bodies, Jack and Hannibal engage in some philosophical speculation:

Jack: How does a human being go so bad.

Hannibal: 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.

Jack: Praise the mutilated world, huh? [This is a reference to a New Yorker poem after 9/11].

Jack: Ritual human sacrifice.

Hannibal: I’m not sure if it’s an offering but it’s a gesture. The eye looks beyond this world into the next and sees the reflection of man himself. Is the killer looking at God?

Jack: Maybe it’s some sick existential crisis.

Hannibal: If it were an existential crisis I would argue there wouldn’t be any reflection in the eye at all.

Jack: you say he doesn’t see people. He sees material.

Hannibal: Those in the world around him are a means to an end. He uses them to do what he’s driven to do.

Jack immediately sees his own reflection – he was using Will to do what he was driven to do [saving lives, which is not really the worst possible sin, but he’s still beating himself up about it].

They haven’t really figured out that the last victim is the killer, but they do manage to notice that he is missing a leg. Only Hannibal knows where that leg is. We see him cutting off the foot with an electric meat saw, to Beethoven’s 9th, and converting the shank into a nice Osso Buco.

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Will does his visionary thing for Beverley and realises that the killer’s body doesn’t belong.

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He sees stag-man looking through hole in the roof, but the eye remains fixed and unseeing, unless someone else sees him. That someone will be Hannibal.

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Will sees himself being sewn onto the eye by Hannibal. He remember Hannibal’s words from Season 1, episode 2:

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We see what really happened: Hannibal is cooking up heroin, reassuring the killer with classical references (because it’s comforting to know there is a Renaissance painting allusion available when someone is sewing your skin to some corpses).

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Why is the killer lying there letting Hannibal get on with his needlepoint? Well, it involves a religious crisis.

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Hannibal tells him:

“God gave you purpose – not only to create art but to become it…. Your eye will now see God reflected back. It will see you.”

Hannibal is well aware of Nietzsche’s concept that “God is dead” and that we, humanity, killed him, and therefore need to replace him. Hannibal is now looking down at the dying killer:

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Hannibal has done what he believes is best – finished the killer’s artwork, made him a part of it, given it a sacred content. Bedelia visits Will and tells him the same thing:

It may be small comfort, but I am convinced that Hannibal has done what he honestly believes is best for you.

She whispers to Will:

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Will’s doubts about Hannibal have been dissolved. Now there will be a reckoning.

Speaking of reckonings, Hannibal is back in his killing suit in Bedelia’s house – but the furniture is covered – she is gone. She’s left him a bottle of scent and he hears her words “you are dangerous”.

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No shit, Bedelia?

 

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I never feel guilty: “Kaiseki”: HANNIBAL SEASON 2 Episode 1 (Fuller, 2014)

The season finale of a show usually ends (or certainly should end) with a gut punch that leaves us reeling and also wanting more, counting the moments until the next season. Certainly happened at the end of Season 1, with Will suffering severe encephalitis, causing him to lose large tracts of time, framed for murder, shot by Jack Crawford, and confined in the Baltimore Asylum for the Very Very Nervous. Hannibal has put Will through the wringer, hoping that this will purify him, enable him to become an Übermensch, like Hannibal.

The becomings are not the only Nietzschean aspects of this episode. Amor fati is love of fate – the acceptance that everything that has happened will happen repeatedly. Or perhaps Hannibal’s interpretation is more along the lines of the space-time continuum – we know he likes watching Stephen Hawking’s videos – everything that has happened and will happen is fixed as it was and as it will be.

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In any case, the episode begins where the series will end; an epic battle between Jack and Hannibal, and then goes back in time:

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It’s just after Will’s arrest, and Jack is feeling guilty about all sorts of things. Breaking Will, which resulted, he thinks, in the murder of at least five people. And also guilty about eating the exquisite Japanese meal Hannibal has lovingly prepared: Mukozuke – seasonal sashimi, sea urchin, water clam and squid. The presentation is Kaiseki – a Japanese art form that honours the taste and aesthetic of what we eat (and is the name of this episode). It is the last meal Hannibal prepared for his aunt, Murasaki (lots more about her when we get to the final Hannibal movie, real soon now – Hannibal Rising and, who knows? Maybe Hannibal Season 4?)

Hannibal, of course, never feels guilty about eating anything. Why should he? Other humans are just “elements undergoing change to fuel his radiance” (Red Dragon p.121). We are only prawns in his game.

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Will has accused Hannibal of being the Chesapeake Ripper (not without justification, since, well, he is) but Jack is feeling guilty about that too. Hannibal, totally confident, eases his mind:

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Will can project himself into his happy place – fishing in the river. But even in this vision, there is Hannibal, in the shape of the hybrid human/stag.

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Meanwhile (as Stephen Colbert would say) Bedelia is still analysing Hannibal, which is like a mouse chasing a cat. She believes that Will is trying to manipulate Hannibal. If Hannibal agrees to visit Will, though:

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Hannibal admires Will’s insight into himself: “he sees his own mentality as grotesque but useful. Like a chair of antlers. He can’t repress who he is.”

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The answer? Just one of those Hannibal Mona Lisa smiles.

Will tells Hannibal he used to hear his thoughts in his own voice, but now

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Hannibal just wants Will to use that voice to find himself, and what he can become. Will wants to find what thoughts Hannibal planted in his head

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Hannibal gives his DNA sample, wonders when his suits will be cleared from the evidence room. Beverley tells him

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Alana tries to hypnotise Will to get his memories back, but he has a vision: he is sitting at a table covered with Hannibal’s meals. Stag-man is sitting at other end. On Will’s plate – Abigail’s ear. Hannibal finds out from Chilton, who has been secretly recording the sessions (as he did to Clarice in Silence of the Lambs). Hannibal has, to his own surprise, cooked a gourmet vegetarian meal for Chilton, who is missing a kidney from last season.

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Meat is expensive. Hannibal has a very affordable source though.

Chilton tells Hannibal that he is the sole topic of Will’s conversations:

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Oh, there’s also a dude who is busy killing people and sewing them together, because we always need a bigger monster – makes our own monsters seem much nicer somehow. We’ll get to him next episode (although he’s not really a cannibal, so we’re not going to give him much time).

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Will remembers Hannibal stuffing Abigail’s ear down his oesophagus. Now he’s sure he didn’t kill and eat her. Jack comes to visit, but refuses to listen to Will’s certainty about Hannibal.

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A bit more guilt for Jack. A bit more fun for Hannibal.

 

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“I’m giving very serious thought to eating your wife”: “HANNIBAL” (Scott, 2001)

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.

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“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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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“But not to help…”

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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But then, there is the single tear – does she regret the opportunity to dance with the devil?

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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:

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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.

IF YOU LIKE MY BLOG, PLEASE FEEL FREE TO RECOMMEND IT (WITH DISCRETION) TO FRIENDS ON SOCIAL MEDIA.
IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS, YOU CAN USE THE TAG, OR EMAIL ME ON CANNIBALSTUDIES@GMAIL.COM.