#EatTheBabies – climate change and cannibalism

The new trending hashtag on Twitter is #EatTheBabies. Why?

A right-wing group of climate change deniers decided to prank US House of Reps member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at a meeting in Queens this week, by getting a woman to stand up and insist that the only way to stop climate change was, as her t-shirt says

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“We got to start eating babies! We don’t have enough time! … We have to get rid of the babies! … We need to eat the babies!”

Yes, of course, the t-shirt is widely available on the Internet now.

Besides being a cannibal story, and getting the Republicans to accuse AOC of not denying she ate babies (really!?), it also reminded a few people of an episode of The Simpsons, in which Chief Wiggum warns the kids off drugs by showing them a drug-addled hippie who has:

the munchies for a California cheeseburger

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It’s Season 8 episode 25, “The Secret War of Lisa Simpson”, in which Bart is sent to military school, and Lisa follows because she wants a challenge, only to be met by extreme misogyny by the other students. You can watch it on-line at daily motion, although the video is reversed (i.e. mirrored) which makes all the writing back to front, but at least puts Homer’s steering wheel on the right side of the car.

This was not the only stab at cannibal themes in The Simpsons, but the others were in the Treehouse of Horrors specials, where you expect those sort of things.

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So that’s a good enough excuse for mentioning AOC’s run-in with cannibalism on a film/TV cannibalism blog, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, last month a Swedish scientist caused an uproar for mentioning cannibalism and climate change in the same Powerpoint presentation at a Gastro conference. Discussing food shortages that are likely to result from the warming of the planet, behavioral scientist and marketing strategist Magnus Soderlund from the Stockholm School of Economics asked for feedback (sorry) of what sort of foods people would be willing to eat, including, at one point, human flesh. This was quickly turned into sensationalist headlines around the world, including  Fox News, which said “Swedish Scientist Floats Eating Human Flesh as Solution to Global Climate Change,” and the London Evening Standard, whose headline read “Scientist Suggests ‘Eating Human Meat’ to Tackle Climate Change.”

Snopes has a detailed look at this story, although it is hard to work out exactly what Soderlund said, since it was in Swedish. But in a statement after the shit hit the fan, the scientist stated:

I do not want to eat human meat, I do not want to be eaten, I do not think that eating humans influences the climate, I am not an activist, I am just a researcher who thinks that it must be possible to ask questions about also the dark sides of what we humans do and do not do.

Amen to that. Let’s also ask WHY we eat what we do, and are disgusted by what we don’t. That’s worth considering, in any language.

The vampire of Sacramento: “RAMPAGE” (Friedkin, 1987)

Rampage is a 1987 film from William Friedkin, the director of The French Connection (1971) and The Exorcist (1973). It is based on the case of RICHARD CHASE, an American serial killer who murdered six people in the span of a month in December/January 1977-78. He was nicknamed “The Vampire of Sacramento” because he drank his victims’ blood and cannibalized their remains. In this version, the victims have been altered, as has the killer, who is now named Charlie Reece (Alex McArthur). Charlie is presented as the nice, helpful boy-next door. He’d mow your lawn, or bring in your shopping.

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Then maybe kill you and drink your blood.

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The film wastes no time on showing Charlie getting hungry, killing three people who appear to be chosen at random, and then revealing his self-perception, as a caged tiger.

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The film is mostly about the keen young prosecutor, Anthony Fraser (Michael Biehn). Fraser is caring, empathetic, liberal, an opponent of capital punishment, until he comes across this case.

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“The women’s bodies were cut open to get at the organs… Some of the organs were removed.”

There’s also a glass that has been filled with blood, and drained.

Another family are burying their dog. They know Charlie poisoned the dog, and report him to the police. Then Charlie comes visiting. The mother is cut up like the others and sexually assaulted, the child has vanished.

Charlie is quickly arrested, and we see his cellar, full of body parts, weapons and Nazi regalia. His mother tells his lawyer about how Charlie had to witness domestic violence at a very young age. Charlie tells his psychiatrist about hearing Satan on the radio, telling him to kill people, and taking his blood from him when he disobeys. He describes shooting the little boy so he could suck his blood, then putting him in a trash can.

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All the pieces are there for an insanity plea. The psychiatrists agree to say he was a paranoid schizophrenic who believed his blood was poisoned and his heart failing.

At the trial, we hear how normal Charlie was – his friends talk of his reasoned non-violence, his scout master says he was a good boy, his steady girl tells how thoughtful he was. Then a nurse tells of finding his diary, listing all the dogs, cats and rabbits he had killed. The prosecution’s psychiatrist is asked “did he know he was killing living human beings?”

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That was the point. That was why he did it. He claims he has a belief that his body is failing and infected and he’s convinced himself that someone else’s blood will repair him. He had to kill them to get the blood.

In other words, he was psychotic, but he knew what he was doing at all times, and is therefore legally sane.

As the movie bogs irretrievably down in legal and psychiatric argument, Charlie livens it up as he escapes (something Chase did not do), kills the guards and then invades a church, killing the priest and drinking his blood.

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Back in court, the defence’s psychiatrist says Charlie was driven by his sickness and had no free will. He asks

What makes a respectable young man turn into a killer?

After he is found guilty, the judge orders a PET scan, a new technology that scans the brain.

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“We’re looking at a computer enhanced image of the chemistry of the brain. And what we’re seeing is a picture of madness.”

But it’s too late; in the original version of the film at least, Charlie’s mom has smuggled him pills, and he kills himself.

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Rampage was completed in 1987, just in time for DEG, the production company, to go bankrupt. It was not released in the US for the next five years, and was finally released, with a different ending, in 1992 by the Weinstein company. In that version, he is sent to a state mental hospital, and writes to a man whose wife and child he has killed, asking him to visit. A final title card reveals that Reece is scheduled for a parole hearing in six months. He will probably kill again. While the original version quibbled with the idea of capital punishment, the revised version reinforced the necessity of putting him down. European versions usually show the original ending, in which Charlie commits suicide, and the DA regrets fighting for the death penalty.

Basically, this movie is like a long episode of CSI or SVU, and in fact there is an episode of CSI called “Justice Is Served” which is also based on Chase’s murders. The director, Friedkin, called it “among the lowest points in my career.” The film scored what could charitably be called a modest 44% on Rotten Tomatoes. With only nine reviews, you might call it ignored rather than despised. The script is clunky and some of the acting is wooden, although Alex McArthur as the killer is great, looking a bit like a (more) demented John Travolta. The soundtrack is by the wonderful Sergio Leone, who wrote over 400 movie scores, including The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Roger Ebert, the doyen of movie critics, wrote, “This is not a movie about murder so much as a movie about insanity”.

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The real Richard Chase

Well, yes – Chase was, by the age of ten, exhibiting evidence of all three parts of the Macdonald triad: bed-wetting, arson, and cruelty to animals, considered as indicators of future violent tendencies.

Rampage is a classic psychogenic cannibalism story. Like Jeffrey Dahmer or Albert Fish, we can hate what Charlie did and yet not quite blame him for it – he is driven by what we consider wrong beliefs, which cause him to ignore the sanctity of human life. Yet how sacred is human life, in a world in which thousands of children die of malnutrition every day while their government exports grain to the West to feed pigs and chickens? Charlie believes he needs blood due to an imaginary illness, just as so many people are convinced they need to eat animal flesh. He starts on dogs, cats and rabbits and graduates to humans. To the cannibal, we are just one more species on the shopping list: if it’s OK to eat Fido, it must be OK to eat the neighbours. There is a logic there, which the meat industry would much rather you ignore.

 

Next week = some light cannibal relief with the new comedy CORPORATE ANIMALS

“I wanted to surprise you” HANNIBAL Season 2 Finale, “MIZUMONO” (Fuller, 2014)

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Mizumono is usually translated from Japanese as a “matter of chance”, which is already surprising for a narrative where we have constantly been told that Hannibal, the cannibalistic mastermind, is completely in control and manipulating the other characters, including the entire FBI. But it is so, as we shall see. Even Hannibal is surprised, and not in a good way.

The episode begins with Hannibal’s handwritten note, an artwork in itself, a calligraphic masterpiece (what – Hannibal’s going to write like a spider crawling out of an inkwell, like me?) He is inviting Jack to dinner.

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We all know it’s going to be a showdown, orchestrated by Will, who has told Jack they are trapping Hannibal, and has told Hannibal they are killing Jack, preparatory to escaping together. Whose side are you on, Will?

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Hannibal sums up the carnage to come, with a line used against him in the book Hannibal

When a fox hears a rabbit scream, he comes running. But not to help.
When you hear Jack scream, why will you come running?

In a lovely piece of screen juxtapositioning, both ask Will “When the moment comes…”

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But what exactly needs to be done? Will sees the spectre of Garret Jacob Hobbs, the first serial killer he blew away, back in Season 1, sitting on his front deck, disturbing his dogs. Will picks up a hunting rifle and prepares to kill a stag. Hobbs says the same word he said to Will as he died, a triumphant question confirming the male need for carnivorous sacrifice in order to reinforce identity.

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You might remember that in Episode 4 of this season, Hannibal thwarted the attempted suicide of Jack’s wife, Bella  – he revived her (after first tossing a coin).

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He saved her for Jack. Now as the cancer takes her, she asks

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Well, that’s awkward. Will wants him to kill Jack, now Bella wants him to save Jack. Sometimes the hinges of human sympathies get a bit squeaky.

But he’s leaving town anyway, leaving the FBI and his patients behind, taking Will, for whom he has prepared a nice surprise, involving time reversals (remember the broken cup?)

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They’re burning all Hannibal’s patient records, including the one that shows the demented clock Will drew when he was suffering from encephalitis. But even over the smoke of his flaming life, Hannibal retains that keen sense of smell

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Yes, he smells on Will the scent of Freddie Lounds, whom Will had claimed was the main course of their recent dinner. Hannibal is surprised! Shocked. Disappointed. Angry. Sad. And you have to give it to Mads Mikkelsen, it takes a hell of an actor to express all that without a word of dialogue.

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Of course, the Jack/Will plot is falling apart, since they are not the hunters/fishers/conspirators that they think they are. Jack’s boss puts him on “forced compassionate leave” and he hands in his gun and badge.

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If they are going to take Hannibal down, it will be without the authority or firepower of the FBI. It’s just revulsion and animosity now. And Will never seems completely sure whose side he is on. But he has been goaded – by Hannibal who framed him, by Jack who is driven by humiliation at being constantly deceived, and probably fed a fair amount of human flesh by Hannibal, and Will is intent on seeing where this goes, which is a very Hannibal approach.

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Hannibal has outdone even himself with his presentation of the Last Supper (of this life) for himself and Will. He asks Will if he understands the concept of the IMAGO.

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It is the last stage of metamorphosis in insects, and also in humans turning into Übermenschen, I guess. But in what Hannibal calls “the dead religion of psychoanalysis” (a phrase he first used in Silence of the Lambs) it also means an ideal

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It’s the concept of an ideal person, often one (Clarice’s Dad for example) that we hold on to all our lives and try to live up to. Hannibal and Will have concepts of each other, but they are “too curious about too many things for any ideals”.

NOW IT’S TIME FOR OUR SURPRISE

Hannibal asks Will:

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Hannibal is asking Will for permission to show MERCY! Do you remember what he said last episode? “Pity has no place at the table”

Yet now he puts to Will a new plan.

We could disappear now. Tonight. Feed your dogs. Leave a note for Alana and never see her or Jack again.

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Hannibal points out that he served lamb, an animal that is so quintessentially gentle and harmless that it is repeatedly used in the most brutal religious ceremonies. Will sees the significance – lamb is sacrificial. Hannibal has sacrificed a lamb to appease the wrath of the new Übermensch, Will Graham. Is it enough?

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Well yes, Will does, he sees it as the triumph of the Will. He needs to see one of his mentors defeated, another victorious. He needs to see and even taste the sacrifice.

Jacques Derrida in an interview entitled ‘Eating Well,’or the Calculation of the Subject states:

The virile strength of the adult male… belongs to the schema that dominates the concept of subject. The subject does not want just to master and possess nature actively. In our cultures, he accepts sacrifice and eats flesh.

They have eaten the flesh of the gentle lamb. Now they need to sacrifice a warrior. They discuss forgiveness. Hannibal offers to forgive Will – would Jack do the same? Will replies

Jack isn’t offering forgiveness. He wants – justice. He wants to see you. See who you are.

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Will’s imago will be born in blood.

The FBI put out a warrant for Will (on somewhat shaky legal grounds according to some Internet commentators) and Alana phones to warn him. He then calls Hannibal, and uses the same words Hannibal used in the very first episode when he warned Hobbs:

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Hannibal is carving meat for their not-going-to-happen dinner when Jack appears, beautifully framed in the carver.

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This is ceremonial warfare like jousting or bushido or martial arts: it starts with courtesy and appreciation of the enemy.

Jack: I want to thank you for your friendship, Hannibal.

Hannibal: The most beautiful quality of a true friendship is to understand and be understood with absolute clarity.

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Jack reaches for his gun, Hannibal tosses a carving knife, and it’s on. Alana arrives with her little gun, and Hannibal offers to let her leave alive

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Pretty much what he said to Clarice at the end of Silence of the Lambs. She decides to shoot, of course; Hannibal has taken her bullets, of course. Then comes the shocking climax, where we find that Hannibal has actually reversed time, made the cup gather itself up again.

Have you seen this episode? If not, do so now. In case you haven’t, no more spoilers. It’s sensational.

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You did.

“…power over life and death” HANNIBAL Season 2 Episode 11 “Ko No Mono” (Fuller, 2014)

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“This is my design”.

It’s Will Graham’s favourite line. But he is wrong. Everything that has happened and will happen in the build-up to the giant brawl (of which we saw a preview in episode one) is in fact Hannibal Lecter’s design. Jack and Will think they are playing him (and Will is not too sure), but he is at least a dozen steps ahead of them all the way.

This episode is all about DEATH AND REBIRTH. This is a fundamental theme in most religions: the sacrifice of the innocents, and the rebirth (Moses in the bulrushes, Jesus’ resurrection, the birth-rebirth cycle of Hinduism and Buddhism).

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The episode starts with a birth. The Wendigo (stagman) is watching a creature born from the earth – tearing its way free from the birth membrane and gasping for breath. It is the birth of a new Wendigo, and it is Will Graham. It is his dream.

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Then there is death, and death precedes life, because we kill to eat. For some of us it’s plant based, for others a sentient creature, slaughtered in our name. For Hannibal, it’s all of the above, and always dramatic. Last week was a baby pig, this week it’s a couple of songbirds. This scene is taken from the book Hannibal. He is serving dinner to Will. We see a bird in a glass case; we see wine being poured in. Surely not.

“Among gourmands, the ortolan bunting is considered a rare but debauched delicacy.”

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“Preparation calls for the bird to be drowned alive in Armagnac. It is then roasted and consumed whole in a single mouthful.”

Will points out that ortolans are endangered.

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The tradition in this fearful ceremony is to wear a shroud over the diners’ heads, under which they hide from God.

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Hannibal witnesses Will eat his ortolan, as do we, in extreme close-up.

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Hannibal tells Will that after his first ortolan he was “euphoric”.

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Haha! Good one Will! See you and raise you, in a high stakes game, or so we suspect, and which is confirmed to us later in the episode. Will is (or thinks he is) trapping Hannibal. Yet, as his dream portends, he is not fully in charge of this narrative, and may in fact be turning into his own version of the Wendigo, even as he pretends to be following Hannibal’s tuition, graduating to murder and cannibalism. Hannibal tells him

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His choices are affecting the physical structure of his brain. Killing is changing the way he thinks. Then Hannibal uses some dialogue from Red Dragon, in which Hannibal is encouraging Francis Dolarhyde, (whom we don’t meet in this series, although there is some speculation that he was the killer in Season 1 Episode 1).

“You must understand that blood and breath are only elements undergoing change to fuel your radiance. Just as the source of light is burning.”

The creation of the Wendigo, or the Übermensch, is a chemical process, a “becoming” which requires the destruction, the burning, of lesser beings, just as humans like to believe that the destruction of “lower” animals is required for their continued existence (or so the Verger marketing campaigns tell them). Will can only grow into his destiny by killing and burning people. And such is the impression he hopes to give Hannibal.

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In the book and films of Red Dragon, Freddy Lounds (a male reporter) is glued to Dolarhyde’s grandma’s wheelchair, set alight, and rolled into his parking garage. In this reimagination, we are led to believe that Freddie Lounds has met that fate, after the removal of some meat (her psoas muscles) for the meal Hannibal and Will enjoyed at the end of the previous episode. They continue their metaphysical conversation over her (?) charred corpse, in front of the clueless Jack Crawford. Hannibal observes that the burning was sacred. Will replies:

“Freddie Lounds had to burn. She was fuel.
Fire destroys and it creates. It is mythical.
She won’t rise from the ashes. But her killer will.”

Oh yeah. And we’re not leaving the metaphor there. It’s the circle of life, as Elton keeps reminding us. Life ends in death, death engenders new life. Nietzsche spoke of amor fati – the love of fate, the acceptance that what has happened could not have happened any other way, and will happen again, and again. Bit like Australian politics.

Yet Hannibal continues to hope that somehow his own agency can alter the cycle of eternal recurrence, reverse time and repair the loss, particularly of his sister. He is obsessed with Stephen Hawking’s description of entropy as proof of the “arrow of time” – we “know” that time only flows one way because a shattered teacup does not gather itself back together. Hannibal really likes Hawking’s early theory that, when the universe stops expanding and starts contracting, time will reverse and entropy mend itself; the teacup will mend, Mischa will be whole again, Abigail will be returned to Will. He has something of the sort already planned out, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Apologising to Will for killing Abigail, he says:

“Occasionally I drop a teacup to shatter on the floor. On purpose. I’m not satisfied when it doesn’t gather itself up again. Someday perhaps a cup will come together.”

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Meanwhile, we get to know Mason Verger, and find out why Margot hates him, Hannibal increasingly dislikes him (now he is in his therapy room) and we are going to really detest him. Mason has a cute recipe for cocktails: he likes to make children cry and add their tears to, presumably, gin and vermouth. He’s into orphans, which got him into trouble in his youth.

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Hannibal’s therapy is never pointless. He has been treating Margot; a rather unorthodox therapy in which he encourages her to have a child so that she can inherit the Verger fortune when she kills Mason. Now he drops the hint to Mason: that she may be expecting a child.

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Now, in case we have somehow overlooked the birth, death, rebirth theme, someone (yeah, of course it’s Hannibal) has dug up Freddie and a few other corpses and made a Shiva effigy in the graveyard.

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Shiva is known as “The Destroyer” within the Trimurti, the Hindu trinity, but he is also the God who creates, protects and transforms the universe. Hannibal sees a similar role for himself in the human universe. Not surprising that he likes the Hindu gods, because there can be many of them, and he is hoping Will, or one of his protégés, will become like him. He tells Will that every creative act has its destructive consequences.

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Will tells Alana that the killer of Freddie must have a benefactor, and

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But Will is befuddled over Margot, and her revelation that she used him to get pregnant. Fatherhood was not was he was expecting, but he quite likes the idea. He asks Hannibal if he has ever been a father.

“I was to my sister. She was not my child, but she was my charge. She taught me so much about myself.”

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Now, in the books Hannibal and Hannibal Rising, Mischa was a toddler who was torn from Hannibal’s little arms by Nazi collaborators in WWII and cooked, and Hannibal was given some of the resulting stew, which, we are supposed to swallow, turned him into a cannibal. Well, that is how you become a wendigo apparently. No such revelations in the TV series though. For one thing, this Hannibal is much younger, and was born decades after the Nazis were defeated. We don’t know how old Mischa was in this new universe, or the circumstances of her death and ingestion. Perhaps we’ll find out in Season 4:

#bringbackhannibal

Please?

We do know that Abigail reminded him of Mischa, which means she might have been a bit older than a toddler when eaten. So Will, who is still mighty pissed off about Hannibal killing Abigail and forcing her ear down his throat, asks

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Amor fati.

Will talks of his dreams, in which he is teaching Abigail to fish. And just to confound anyone who claims Hannibal is a psychopath, he says (and this pretty rare)

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So why did you kill Abigail? Will wants to know. You sacrificed her!

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Now Hannibal often quotes God, which bothers many in the audience, including, at this point, Will. What God does Hannibal pray to? Well, he doesn’t pray, we are not awfully surprised to learn. He’s just impressed by disasters, particularly church collapses.

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Will retorts that he prayed to see Abigail again, and Hannibal, who has a sharp wit, points out

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Yes, her ear, barfed up in Will’s kitchen sink. Put up your hand (nobody’s watching) if you laughed at that line! But Hannibal has a plan, which he puts in obscure, metaphysical terms, which don’t much help the terribly practical Will:

“Should the universe contract, should time reverse and teacups come together…”

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Well, he is, supposedly, going to be father to Margot’s baby.

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Mason is now annoying everyone – at his farm, where he is teaching pigs to eat living humans, and in Hannibal’s rooms, where he is boasting of the way his father would stab pigs at the shows, just to see how fat they were.

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Mason arranges a car accident for his sister, followed by a hysterectomy, to remove her temptation to kill him. Without an heir, all the money would go to the Southern Baptist Church. And no one wants that. Except, I guess, the Southern Baptist Church.

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We finally find out the truth about Freddie Loundes’ murder – there wasn’t one. She’s sitting in an FBI office, part of Jack and Will’s plot to entrap Hannibal.

Will is not impressed with Mason’s mutilation of Margot, and the loss of yet another child (he’s keeping count: Abigail, 1; fetus, 2). He punches Mason in the mouth, pulls a gun on him, and tells him that all of them have been pawns in Hannibal’s game.

“Do you think it was Margot’s idea to have an heir?
You think it was your idea to take it from her?
My idea to come here and kill you?
The only thing that you, your sister and I have in common – is the same psychiatrist.”

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Oh, there is a reckoning coming. In two more episodes.

 

“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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We are all Nietzschean fish: HANNIBAL Season 2 Episode 8 “Su-zakana” (Fuller, 2014)

When Jacques Derrida pointed out that the binary of inside/outside is “the matrix of all possible opposition”, he was apparently not referring to this episode of Hannibal, not even to cannibalism particularly. But he was big on deconstructing binary oppositions, and his opinion that the core binary, the binary to end (or start) all binaries, is that between inside and outside, is particularly apposite to this episode.

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Will and Jack are fishing through a hole in the frozen ice of a river, but the prey they are planning to capture is not piscine – it’s Hannibal. Yes, Jack finally got the message; they are no longer discussing whether Hannibal is the Ripper, now it’s about the tactics that might entrap him. They are outside of Hannibal’s world of gourmet human flesh, and their way through it is via his table. Live bait, to lure a predator.

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IMHO this is one of the key episodes of the series, smack in its middle (although who knew that the blinkered, Philistine network would cancel after three seasons?), and it features the line that for me is the core of the whole Hannibal mythology:

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One of Nietzsche’s most quoted aphorisms is “That which does not kill me makes me stronger” and that, for Hannibal, is precisely the role of a true friend. One should be, to a friend, “an arrow and a longing for the Übermensch” (the superman). This is to what Hannibal was referring when he said that the struggles with Will (including, of course, his attempted murder of Hannibal) would change them – that they were “all Nietzschean fish”.

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Will has brought along a wild-caught trout, from his icy rendezvous with Jack. Hannibal has prepared it as truite saumonee au bleu, and the trout seems to be regurgitating his own tail.

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You thought “turducken” was some brilliant 21st century idea? Nup. The Tudors were doing it in the 16th century, and it was called “engastration” meaning “stuffed up the gastric passages”. Their specialities included pie from a whole turkey stuffed with a goose, who was stuffed with a chicken, then a partridge, which was stuffed with a pigeon. This poor trout has his own tail in his mouth, but he is the very totem of cannibalism: humans eating humans; we eat ourselves.

They dine to the Piano Concerto 1 in C Major by Ludwig Van Beethoven, or at least that is what we, the audience get to consume, while they enjoy the fish and the banter. Will is being a smartarse, implying that he still suspects, or knows, that Hannibal is the cannibal, and implying he might be joining up with him.

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Jack is quick to dispel the idea that they might have doubts about Hannibal, but alludes instead to:

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Hannibal is ready for that. He has a whole Nietzschean weltanschauung to share with his admiring friends:

“We need to move past apologies and forgiveness. We will absorb this experience.”

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This could have almost come out of Thus spake Zarathustra, in which “man is overcome and the concept Übermensch becomes the greatest reality”. Hannibal, as we know, spends his time helping the region’s many serial killers and tormented psychotics to “become” their greater selves. As a leading forensic psychiatrist, he is familiar with, and often therapist to, most of those who will be pursued by the FBI. Like Nietzsche, who said that “Zarathustra, as the first psychologist of the good man, is perforce the friend of the evil man”, Hannibal is drawn to these violent individuals, not to cure them but to see if they can become a higher form – an Übermensch.

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Now we get into the episode’s killing time and, again, there is engastration involved. This time, a vet examining a dead horse finds she was not pregnant, but has a dead woman sewn inside her. Now, that’s worth calling the FBI for.

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Hannibal is still acting as murderer-interpreter, despite having said he was retiring last episode. He sees that the woman is inside the horse for a reason:

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Yeah, where have we heard that before? Ah yes, Jame Gumb (Buffalo Bill) in Silence of the Lambs, who put a moth chrysalis into the throat of each victim, as they ‘gave’ their skin to assist his becoming a woman.  But what was this woman supposed to become? She’s pretty dead.

Look, this whole woman in horse plot is a bit silly, so we get to meet another really important character family: the Vergers. We don’t see Mason yet, who will be the main antagonist later, but we hear him as he rapes his sister, Margo, saying

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Since we’ve all read the book or seen the film Hannibal, we know that Mason used to give poor kids chocolate at his father’s poor-kids’-camps, just before he abused them. So, Margo has changed (in the book she is a weight-lifting lesbian, who would be less prone to submit to Mason’s perverse desires, but the bodybuilding lesbian is such a stereotype). Now she is very cute, and we figure someone is going to fall for her, and that someone’s gonna be Will, because we suddenly see a filmy love scene, apparently inspired by the impressionistic sex scene in the film Fight Club, which turns out to be Alana and Hannibal. Is Hannibal bi, or just using her? Best not to talk about it.

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Hannibal has his own hopes for Margo Verger, including a course of Übermensch 101, which is – get them to kill someone. In this case, her abusive and filthy rich brother.

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Alana really likes to talk about stuff in bed, much to Hannibal’s obvious distaste.

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The woman in the horse’s uterus is on the slab, very dead, giving the BAU (Behavioral Analysis Unit) guys a chance to get some cannibal talk in.

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But hey, there’s a heartbeat! Is this the birth that Hannibal predicted? They open her up, crack apart the ribs, and a bird flies out. Birth, resurrection, growth, all basic issues in Hannibal and the rest of Western literature.

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And we’re not finished with inside/outside dualisms and engastration. The bird in the woman in the horse was meant to be her rebirth, and Hannibal points out to Will:

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Will has found out that “doing bad things to bad people makes you feel good”, a truth that Hannibal emphasises to him, and also to Margo, who has been dehumanised by her brother, and since then by her family, who consider her weird. She’s come to the right analyst here:

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But does Will still want to kill Hannibal?

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Oh, yes, the sub-plot. The psychopath killing people is the social worker of the guy who sewed the woman into the horse, hoping for a rebirth. Those two, of course, must have their confrontation. It results in one of the great lines of the show:

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He’s certainly in there, but he’s not dead, and tears his way out of the horse’s uterus just as Hannibal is bonding with a sheep, a nod to the original theme of Silence of the Lambs.

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Will wants to kill the dude, but Hannibal stops him. Killing people is 101, and Will is way past that, so Hannibal sticks his thumb in the gun’s hammer just as Will is about to blow the killer away. Killing this random psychopath will not move Will onto a higher level of evolution.

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But Hannibal is impressed as hell at Will’s progress from wimpy FBI trainer to willing executioner. With dialogue quoted straight out of Hannibal’s thoughts about Clarice at the end of the book Hannibal, he tells Will:

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“I can feed the caterpillar, and I can whisper through the chrysalis, but what hatches”:

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As the great Derridean and Nietzschean philosopher Dr Seuss once said: “Inside, Outside, Upside Down”.

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