“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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Loving and biting: “TROUBLE EVERY DAY” (Denis, 2001)

Trouble Every Day (its real title, not a translation from French) is a love letter from director Claire Denis to Paris, the ‘city of love’. It opens with some serious French kissing and there is a lot of oral action during the film – kissing, licking, biting, eating – they are all variations on the theme of seeking pleasure through oral connection.

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Variety described the film as “”over-long, under-written and needlessly obscure” but that is not uncommon in American reviews of French films. It lingers on images, particularly Paris, sometimes beautiful, sometimes grey and seedy, sometimes both, the grunge lit by the sunset.

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Like any big city, Paris is a place to seek love, make love, hide, sometimes get killed (and sometimes even eaten). Certainly the city (not just Paris) is famous for eating up and spitting out its residents, at least on a metaphoric level. And sex, particularly in Paris it seems, tends to be a mixture of tenderness and extreme violence.

The plot is simple and immune to spoilers – people are obviously going to get eaten (it happens a lot, particularly on movies reviewed on this cannibal blog) and that action starts pretty much right away. Coré (Béatrice Dalle) lures men with the promise of sex, then tears them to pieces and eats them. Léo (Alex Descas) loves her, protects her, buries the bodies, cleans her up, kisses her and then locks her in her room when he goes to work. But she always escapes (helps that she has keys and electric saws hidden strategically around the room).

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When a couple of neighbours take his absence as an opportunity to break in, well, you can guess the rest.

Shane (Vincent Gallo) and June (Tricia Vessey) arrive in Paris for their honeymoon, but Shane has other images filling his mind, and we glimpse some of them even as he sits, desolate, in the plane’s toilet, not even bothering to have a wee (come on – you know how hard it is to get a turn in one of those?)

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Shane is seriously creepy and, as he stares down at June in their Paris hotel, we find that his loving is also not without teeth.

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Turns out he knew Leo and Coré, worked with them on bioprospection research, looking for plants that would cure nervous diseases, mental diseases and problems of libido. Think there is any money in that lot? But Leo was impatient with their caution, wanted to test it on humans. And of course, that experiment backfired. Some plants heal mental diseases and libido, others turn you into cannibals. C’est la vie.

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But the plot is not so important. Denis is telling us that love, or at least sex, is about touch, communion, intimacy. And what is more intimate than not just kissing and biting your partner, but swallowing, incorporating them? The definition of marriage in the Bible is “they shall become one flesh”. Cannibalism is the ultimate expression of that – once the blood is wiped off, the lovers have indeed become one flesh.

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The movie got 50% on Rotten Tomatoes website, so no one can quite make up their mind. I liked (although disagreed with) the review in the Seattle Times:

“I’m not sure these words have ever been together in the same sentence: This erotic cannibal movie is boring.”

The film is probably a lot more disturbing on the big screen, as Denis glories in extreme close-ups, particularly of touching, kissing, licking, bleeding, as well as lingering on areas of the body that usually don’t make it into Hollywood films (but usually do in French films). Luckily, having sat through a guy having his tongue ripped out and a hotel maid being raped and killed, there is at least, at the end, a puppy.

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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.

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Hell is in Hello: “MOTEL HELL” (Connor, 1980)

Lee Marvin “sang” these words in the musical Paint Your Wagon:

Do I know where Hell is? Hell is in hello…

Don’t know whether Director Kevin Connor got the idea from Lee Marvin, but he certainly borrowed from Texas Chain Saw Massacre, with an actual chainsaw duel between two brothers featuring at the climax of the film. Texas, in its own low budget way, revolutionised the horror genre, introduced slashers, and let us in on the world of the neglected, socially isolated “flyover zone” cannibal.

It’s also a spoof on Psycho – the killer in the motel, the unsuspecting travellers. You might also call it a precursor of the film Delicatessen that was considered on this blog last week: once again there are rooms for rent, human meat for sale.

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The motel is actually called MOTEL HELLO but the “O” keeps flickering off, thus giving the sinister name, and the title of the film.

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Vincent (Rory Calhoun) is a neo-lib dream: an entrepreneur who relishes his freedom to do whatever he likes in the name of business. The hidden hand of the market is his, and that hand carries a shotgun, or sometimes a chainsaw. Vincent runs the motel, but in his spare time (of which he has plenty) he ambushes motorists and stores them until he slaughters them and sells their flesh in his butcher shop as FARMER VINCENT’S SMOKED MEATS.

Simpsons fans will know Rory Calhoun of course!

Farmer Vincent’s is a family business, and Vincent’s sister Ida (Nancy Parsons) is involved in the process, which involves burying the victims up to their necks in the garden and cutting their vocal chords so they can’t make a fuss, then feeding them up like hogs until they are fat and edible. But Vincent fancies one of the victims, Terry (Nina Axelrod) and asks Ida to help her heal from the accident he caused. His kid brother Bruce (Paul Linke) is the local sheriff, and is as clueless as we expect local sheriffs to be, but he soon develops a crush on Terry. But she develops a crush on Vincent, so we know that (murder and cannibalism aside) there’s going to be trouble.

In a scene that perfectly parodies slasher movies, two little girls sneak into the smoking room, and with the requisite spooky backing track, are terrified by the scenes of carnage they see there – a lot of dead pigs. Only pigs, we might chuckle but, for Vincent, pigs and people are just the same: dumb animals good for nothing except slaughter and smoking for profit.

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Terry is pretty upset about losing her boyfriend (to whom she was not married, the religious Vincent notes), but he convinces her that being with them is “preordained”

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“Ah, the ways of the Lord are mysterious!”

Vincent’s methods of harvesting meat animals are not too particular: the local meat inspector who gets too nosy, a bus full of hippie musicians, even a pair of swingers whom he has lured with an ad – all get buried up their necks in the garden, unable to make any intelligible sound.

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He explains to Ida how important his various traps are, because “they give me a chance to be a free agent” and his work will remain special and important. Yep, Vincent is a classic neo-lib. As Ida pulls the latest victims out of the truck toward the holes he has dug, he tells her “plant ‘em!”. As they reflect on the strangeness of the hippies, they chant their motto:

It takes all kinds of critters
To make Farmer Vincent’s fritters!

As Vincent and Ida settle down to “plant” their critters and pull out the scalpels to cut their vocal chords, are they really behaving differently to the farmer who ties down a bull or hog to castrate him or to burn off his horns, or a sheep farmer who cuts hunks of skin off the backside of a lamb because it’s an easy way to avoid fly-strike (and saves money on insecticides)? They cleverly portray the hard work and care of farmers who really can see nothing wrong in the suffering they inflict for the sake of profit. He checks out one victim, smiling “not quite – tomorrow he’ll be ready to become famous.”

Terry asks how Vincent got started in the meat business and he tells her of the days when they couldn’t afford an icebox, and Granny would smoke anything she could catch – chickens, rabbits, frogs. One day, she asked Vincent to do something about an annoying dog who was barking, and that dog ended up smoked too. Did Granny know she was eating a dog, asks Terry, now repulsed, although she has just been enjoying Vincent’s smoked “ham”. Vincent replies:

Why Granny never put any distinctions on any of God’s creatures. She always used to say [Ida and Bruce join in the chant] MEAT’S MEAT, AND A MAN’S GOTTA EAT!

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Ida doesn’t like the wheezing and hissing noises the captives make as they try to talk without vocal chords. Vincent replies “They’re good animals! Not like taking care of chickens, or hogs.” Ida asks: “Vincent, do you think in the years to come people will appreciate us for what we’re doing here?” She goes on “Somebody’s gotta take a little responsibility for the planet!” Vincent and Ida are also ecologists, performing a valuable service by combating the scourge of human overpopulation.

The action is interspersed with the seemingly continuous telecast of a televangelist on the TV. Also with cannibal puns: as the swingers get ready for what they expect will be a wild evening (it will, but not quite as they hoped), Ida tells them “you look good enough to eat”. And the final credits roll to the Kregg Nance song “You’re eating out my heart and soul”.

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People certainly don’t like the idea of cannibalism, but they usually find it hard to articulate what is wrong with it, compared to eating other “critters”. For most, it is enough to say it is taboo, but that really begs the question. The genius of this film is that Vincent is not the usual psychotic serial killer type of cannibal. He is good humoured, kind, and has a strong sense of morality, seen in his choice of religious programs, as well as his shock when Terry comes on to him – he recoils, saying “we should be married first”.

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Well, they are going to get married, by none other than the local pastor, played by the legendary Wolfman Jack, a gravelly voiced DJ of the golden age of Rock.

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Ida drugs Terry, so that she and Vincent can go prepare the meat for the wedding feast. Vincent insists on offering his victims a humane death – he believes that “no animal should ever suffer any unnecessary pain”. Well, we nearly all believe that! Just a question of semantics – define ‘animal’. Define ‘pain’. And define ‘unnecessary’.

Anyway, Bruce is royally pissed off and starts looking for evidence against Vincent, and the “animals” start digging themselves out and staggering about in a scene reminiscent of just about every zombie movie.

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Terry finds out the truth, but it’s her version (what else could it be?) As far as Vincent is concerned, he is just preparing the wedding feast. He says:

Haven’t you ever cleaned a fish? There’s nothing cruel in what I’m doing here. I treat most of my stock better than farmers treat their animals. I don’t feed them chemicals or hormones. When you consider the way the world is today, there’s no question I’m doing a lot of them a big favour.

Terry ask him what right he has to play God. Vincent denies that is what he is doing.

I’m just helping out. There’s too many people in the world and not enough food. This takes care of both problems at the same time.

And that’s Vincent’s truth. And there is some truth in it.

The climax is the two brothers battling it out with chainsaws (a Texas Chain Saw reference) while Vincent wears a pig’s head on his head, which would not help his visual acuity much, but takes us to all sorts of interesting tropes, such as Animal Farm. The shock ending: as Vincent dies, he admits to his whole life being a lie, to being the biggest hypocrite of them all. Why?

My meat. I used – preservatives!

The film received a respectable 70% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. The reviews range from “a rather well-executed dark comedy” to “tasteless, gruesomely awkward and moronic.” I liked it because it ticked all the boxes in my quest to understand cannibalism’s undermining of anthropocentrism. And Rory Calhoun is terrific – or as Montgomery Burns would say:

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