“Hiding and revealing identity” – HANNIBAL Season 2, Episode 12 “Tome-wan”, (Fuller, 2014)

The penultimate episode of any season is often the most tense, since it is preparing us for the shock of the climax. Masks are torn off, loves and hatreds revealed, disguises discarded and armour strapped on. “Tome-wan” is a course of a Japanese meal in which a lidded dish is prepared and then opened to present the soup inside. So it is for Hannibal Season 2 in this episode, which will be followed, we know, by the titanic battle between Jack Crawford and Hannibal, as already partially revealed in Episode 1.

This episode is about hiding and revealing identities.

It’s just as well Hannibal is a psychiatrist, because he can explain to us, the mystified audience, what is going on in the heads of those he is manipulating. At the start of the episode, Will Graham is in therapy, asking Hannibal if he can “explain my actions? Posit my intentions?” Of course he can. Hannibal says “I have an understanding of your state of mind. You understand mine.”

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Mads Mikkelsen has said that he plays Hannibal as the devil, while Anthony Hopkins said he played the role as the “Trickster” archetype. Their portrayals have one thing at least in common – they are cultured, civilised men who hate rudeness. He uses terms from the original books and movies:

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What does one do with the rude, the crude, the uncivilised? Refine them of course, just as we refine our raw materials by processing them – in the case of food, by cooking them. So let it be with Mason Verger. Will asks if Hannibal is thinking of eating Mason.

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Barney, a guard who got on well with Hannibal at the asylum, came up with these aphorisms in the book Hannibal, even though, in this Lecter universe, the asylum is still a long way off for Hannibal.

Will agrees that Mason is “a pig” (apologies to any pigs who are listening – they are delightful animals) and that he should be someone’s bacon. He is willing to join Hannibal at the cannibal table.

But wait. Will has taken the Trickster role that this Hannibal has discarded. We know that he is conspiring with Jack to manipulate Hannibal into committing a murder, hoping to then arrest him. He claims to be doing what he accused Hannibal of doing: setting people at each other’s throats just because

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Hannibal asks Will to close his eyes and visualise what he would like to happen. Will sees Hannibal, strung up over Mason’s killer-pig pen, and Will is slashing his throat. When Hannibal asks what Will saw, they just smile at each other. The masks are coming off.

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But Hannibal has recruited Mason as a patient, and must listen to his ravings. Mason really is the freest range rude one can imagine – he puts his feet on Hannibal’s desk, then sticks his father’s knife into one of Hannibal’s fine antique chairs. Folks – don’t try this at home. It is very rude. You know it will end in tears.

Hannibal is holding forth on God again, an entity with whom he has a tortured relationship.

“God’s choices in inflicting suffering are not satisfactory to us. Nor are they understandable. Unless innocence offends him.”

Hannibal does not claim to be God. He finds Mason offensive, and must make him suffer. He would prefer Will as the chosen murderer – this would both cement their relationship, advance Will’s path of becoming, and provide an inexpensive dinner. But Margot will do – she is seeking revenge for the way Mason abused her, but she doesn’t want to lose her inheritance, which will happen if he dies.

Jack is pressuring Will to catch Hannibal, but Hannibal has demonstrated nothing for which he can be arrested.

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Hannibal will kill Mason, Will tells the confused Jack, because Mason is rude. Using a Clarice line from Silence of the Lambs, Will says

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The FBI have found Bedelia, Hannibal’s psychiatrist, who tells them how Hannibal influenced her to kill a patient of theirs. He will influence you to kill too, she warns Will.

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Will wants to know Hannibal’s weakness. How would Bedelia catch him?

“Hannibal can get lost in self-congratulation at his own exquisite taste and cunning.”

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That’s how Hannibal will be caught, which is exactly what Clarice told the Game Warden in the book Hannibal.

Will is playing a dangerous game, pretending that he is coming over to Hannibal’s side, although a part of him is certainly longing to do so. He tells Hannibal that it is all starting to feel like a dream. Dreams, Hannibal tells him, prepare us for waking life.

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Hannibal is taking off his mask, something he rarely does, and inviting Will into his inner sanctum of extreme carnivorous virility, and into a relationship that will be new for both of them.

“There are extraordinary circumstances here, Will. And unusual opportunities. Mason Verger is a problem. And problem solving is hunting.”

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Will is not so sure he is on top of this manipulation. He is confused and tempted by Hannibal’s offer to be the cannibal’s apprentice. He concludes:

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“Every moment of cogent thought under your psychiatric care is a personal victory. We are just alike. You’re as alone as I am.”

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It’s love, captain, but not as we know it. It’s a form of love that only two adversaries can feel. Both are sincere, yet both are trying to manipulate, master the other.

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Jack is maintaining his mask as well – the admiring friend, who enjoys Hannibal’s exquisite gourmet dinners, and is not even a bit suspicious. Hannibal can see right through this, as he sees through the main course – Kholodets, a dish in which fish are mounted in clear calves foot jelly, positioned as if pursuing each other. Jack admits that he doesn’t understand who is pursuing whom at the moment. Well, says Hannibal, whoever is pursuing whom in this very moment

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Well, if Will is to manipulate Hannibal into an arrestable offence, he’ll have to hurry, because the patient (Mason) has captured Hannibal, bound him in a straitjacket and suspended him over the carnivorous pigpen, just like Will’s fantasy. And hey – Will is there, to help feed those hungry piggies! Here’s his chance to get rid of the Chesapeake Ripper and revenge himself for his false arrest. All he has to do is take the knife Mason hands him and cut Hannibal a bit, make his blood drip into the pen, to excite the pigs’ appetite.

Instead, he joins Hannibal’s army. He cuts the straitjacket and frees Hannibal. In the fight that follows, he is rendered unconscious.

Some time later, Hannibal has Mason tied to a chair, and is prescribing drugs – a cocktail of psychedelics.

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It’s all happening in Will’s house, and when he arrives, Mason is kindly feeding Will’s adopted dog family. Ever suspicious, Will asks “What are you feeding my dogs?”

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He is chopping off bits of his face and feeding them to the dogs. As he feeds and praises the dogs, he tells a story that might explain Hannibal’s wrath.

“I adopted some dogs from the shelter. Two dogs that were friends. I had them in a cage together with no food and fresh water. One of them died hungry. The other had a warm meal.”

Hannibal has nothing against human cannibalism, but dog cannibalism is beyond the pale. Rude.

Now it’s time for the apprentice to step up.

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Will replies:

“There is no mercy. We make mercy. Manufacture it in the parts that have overgrown our basic reptile brain.”

Then, says Hannibal, there is no murder – we manufacture that as well. Will has all the elements to make murder. Maybe mercy too, but murder is what he knows best. This is a fascinating piece of Thomas Harris’ philosophical musing from the very last page of the book Red Dragon. In this scene, Will is at the scene of the battle of Shiloh, one of the fiercest battles of the American Civil War, at a pond which mythology later named, for obvious reasons, “Bloody Pond”. He has a realisation.

“Shiloh was not sinister; it was indifferent. Beautiful Shiloh could witness anything. Its unforgivable beauty simply underscored the indifference of nature, the Green Machine….

He wondered if, in the great body of humankind, in the minds of men set on civilisation, the vicious urges we control in ourselves and the dark instinctive knowledge of those urges function like the crippled virus the body arms against.

He wondered if old, awful urges are the virus that makes vaccine.”

Mason interrupts to tell them he is hungry, and Hannibal recommends auto-cannibalism.

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He does.

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That shifted the conversation – now we can talk about taste! Who knew we humans tasted like chickens? Hannibal uses some more lines from the book and movie Hannibal.

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Hannibal asks Will to kill Mason, but he refuses. “He’s your patient, Doctor”

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Mason is now faceless and quadriplegic. Jack visits him, hoping to gather an accusation against Hannibal, but now Mason is wearing a mask. Quite literally. From behind his mask, he tells Jack that he has benefitted greatly from Hannibal’s therapy and

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You bet he does.

Will visits Hannibal, who is drawing an image from the Iliad

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Hannibal sees himself as Achilles, the invincible warrior, and Will as Patroclus, his only love, who was killed outside Troy while dressed in Achilles’ armour. Patroclus, like Will, was known for his empathy. A constant theme of Greek epics, Hannibal says is

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Also battle-tested friendships. Hannibal tells Will that Achilles wanted all the Greeks to die, so that he and Patroclus could conquer Troy alone.

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Will has moved far beyond entrapping Hannibal now. He is at the very least an accomplice to the mutilation and crippling of Mason Verger. He plays his last ace: he tells Hannibal that they are going to get caught, that Jack suspects, that Hannibal should give Jack the Ripper. “Allow him closure. Reveal yourself. You’ve taunted him for long enough.” Is he hoping Hannibal will repent and confess?

Hannibal seems to agree. “Jack has become my friend. I suppose I owe him the truth”.

The truth can hurt, as we will find out in the next episode, the Season 2 finale, the blog of which I will post in two weeks, on 8th September. Everyone will reveal their identity, and it will get brutal.

What a dragon it is getting old: RED DRAGON (Ratner, 2002)

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OK, look, I understand. We loved Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs (Demme, 1991), and we understood when he looked a little, well, worn ten year later when he played the title role in Hannibal (Scott, 2001). It was set some unspecified time after Hannibal’s escape at the end of Silence, and he had had a hard time – he’d had to flee the USA, kill and eat Dr Chilton, settle in Florence, and, worst of all, behave himself and hardly kill anyone there. That can really take a toll on a guy.

But then, nothing succeeds like excess, so Dino De Laurentiis decided he needed another Hannibal movie. OK, how about we see him return to the US and eat his way through a retirement village. No? OK, let’s instead make a prequel, set a bit before Silence, in which Hannibal would logically be much younger but Hopkins will, unavoidably, look much older. Very postmodern, huh?

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The movie Red Dragon (Ratner, 2002) is based on the book of the same name by the brilliant Thomas Harris, the book which birthed Hannibal Lecter in 1982. The book is incredibly rich in insights into the human condition, alienation and the family, the nature of power, the futility of our pretensions of importance in an indifferent universe. Most of the TV series Hannibal (Fuller, 2013-15) is based on this book (and yes, I will start my review of that superb creation soon, in fact as soon as I figure out how to cover 39 episodes without taking all year to do it). Also based on the book of Red Dragon was the terrific movie Manhunter (Mann, 1986) which had everything going for it other than Hopkins, although Brian Cox was a great Lecter, albeit a bit shy of admitting his penchant for cannibalism (it was the eighties).

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Luckily, Anthony Hopkins is a masterful actor and can carry through playing Hannibal a dozen years younger than the same character in his previous movie. But only just. The rest of the cast is also stellar, as you would expect from the reboot of a reboot. The screenplay is by Ted Tally, who also wrote the screenplay for The Silence of the Lambs.

The film starts in Baltimore, where a respectful audience watches and listens to the symphony orchestra’s second flautist pretty much ruin an otherwise masterful performance of the Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s Midsummer’s Night Dream. In that audience is Hannibal Lecter, and he does not look pleased. No indeed. Something must be done. Medium to well-done, perhaps. In a sharp suit and a pony-tail, and quoting Horace, Hannibal later entertains the Board members of the Symphony who revel in his hospitality, despite one of their musicians being currently listed as a missing person. When Hannibal is asked by the Chairwoman to confess what is in the amuse-bouche, he replies: “If I tell you:

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He sits at the head of the table, watching them eat. They are “innocent cannibals” – because they know not what they eat. Well, after all, who really does the homework nowadays as to what’s on the dinner plate?

After the innocent cannibals leave, Will Graham (Edward Norton) turns up – he and Lecter have previously worked together on another serial killer investigation – Garret Jacob Hobbs (which won’t mean much unless you’ve watched the first season of the TV series Hannibal (Fuller 2013), a prequel to the prequel). Will and Hannibal have been trying to profile a new serial killer, the Chesapeake Ripper (who is really Lecter of course), and have been looking for some sort of medical expert, a vengeful crazy who know how to “souvenir” body parts from the victims. But that’s not what he’s doing (we assume that it’s a “he”.) Will has worked it out:

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As Lecter goes to get Will’s coat, Will finds on the bookshelf a copy of Larousse Gastronomique – it opens at “sweetbreads” – the recipe for the body parts that were taken from the victims. As the realisation comes to him – Hannibal is the cannibal! – so does Hannibal, with a large knife.

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Will survives, Hannibal is incarcerated in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, and the Symphony Chairwoman faints in court when she finds out what (or who) was in the amuse-bouche. The case is sensationalised in The Tattler, a scandal sheet, by sleazy journalist Freddy Lounds (played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman). Will retires to the seaside with his son and wife, Molly (a too brief appearance by Mary-Louise Parker of Weeds and West Wing).

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Several years later (according to the card), Will is persuaded to return to pursue a new killer: Francis Dolarhyde (Ralph Fiennes), “The Great Red Dragon” as he calls himself, or “The Tooth Fairy” as the cops call him, since he likes to bite the women victims as he rapes them, after he has killed them and their whole families. Not a cannibal, but certainly a biter. He uses his grandmother’s teeth – it’s all her fault of course, since she raised him in fear and shame and threatened to castrate him when he wet his bed (come home Dr Freud, all is forgiven). He greatly admires Hannibal, and likes to communicate with him about his “becoming” – he believes that “each being that I change makes me more than a man”, and he sees Hannibal as John the Baptist, to his Christ. And Will goes to see Hannibal, walking along the row of cages containing crazies, just as Clarice Starling will do later (in a movie made 11 years earlier).

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Does the set look familiar?

Hannibal tells him that he and Will are just alike – their imagination raises them above all the other “dullards”. And so the chase begins.

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After all the blood has been wiped off the walls, Hannibal writes to Will:

“We live in a primitive time, don’t we Will? Neither savage nor wise. Half measures are the curse of it. Any rational society would either kill me or put me to some use.”

The film ends with Clarice being announced. A nice segue into Silence of the Lambs, a film which had already swept the Oscars a decade before this.

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Reviews were mixed: some critics hated it, some loved it. Of course it made a fortune when it came out, grossing over 200 million dollars. The public was hungry for Hannibal. The fact that the story had already been made as Manhunter in 1986 didn’t bother anyone – it wasn’t Hopkins, and it didn’t focus on Hannibal, and, worst of all, there was no cannibalism. And let us remember that the book Red Dragon, on which both those movies were based, was also the basis for Hannibal the TV series in 2013, and particularly Season 3. There’s more than one Macbeth, and there’s more than one way to make Red Dragon. One critic wrote:

“The only downside to this delectable third course? The regrettable likelihood that Lecter fans will have to make do without dessert.”

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Hannibal Lecter is not real, but the public hunger for Hannibal the Cannibal certainly is. We put up with the “dullards” who put us, and Hannibal, into cages. We dream of sating our often deranged appetites, and we wish we had the power to do so. Hannibal offers us a fantasy of doing that.

 

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The First Hannibal movie! “Manhunter” (Mann, 1986)

 

Polite cannibal films are careful not to show teeth sinking into flesh. But it’s a bit odd to have a cannibal film, especially one involving “Hannibal The Cannibal”, which doesn’t even mention the subject of cannibalism!

Hannibal Lecter first appeared in print in 1981 in Thomas Harris’ novel Red Dragon. Incredibly (in hindsight), there was a five year gap before Robert Mann directed Manhunter, a corker of a movie – and the very first Hannibal film. Mann altered both the title of the story and Hannibal’s surname, for no particularly good reason – it seems there may have been some doubt over the copyright to the name, although the plot was almost identical to the book. There have been suggestions in interviews that, because Bruce Lee was churning out Dragon movies at the time, producer Dino De Laurentiis was worried that people would think “Red Dragon” was just another Kung Fu movie.

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The Director, Michael Mann, was named 28 on Total Film’s list of “the 100 Greatest Directors Ever”. Before he got the gig, David Lynch was considered for the job, but reportedly rejected the role after finding the story to be “violent and completely degenerate”. Quite a judgement call from the man who made Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks!

Brian Cox plays Hannibal Lecktor (as it is spelt in the credits). It’s a masterful performance, but “Lecktor” is a minor character who is a foil for the protagonist, Will Graham (played by a young William Petersen, later the star of CSI), rather than a menacing and cannibalistic presence. In fact, Hannibal does not appear until 23 minutes into the film, and then there is no mention of his gustatory predilections. This Hannibal is a simple monster, a serial killer, and is played by Brian Cox as a rendering of the Scottish serial killer Peter Manuel. As Cox says in an interview, “Real evil is something that is so scarily normal”. The back story is that Will was the first to recognise that Hannibal was the serial killer that the FBI was seeking. The book Red Dragon, if not so much this film version, is the fertile soil from which sprouted most of Bryan Fuller’s TV series Hannibal. Also, of course, the Anthony Hopkins version of Red Dragon in 2002, which was a bit jarring, in that Hannibal had visibly aged, despite it being supposedly a  prequel to Silence of the Lambs.

I’ll get to that one. As Hannibal likes to say: “All good things to those who wait”.

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Brian Cox in his lonely cell

So, Cox’s Hannibal is normal, urbane, brilliant and uncomplicatedly “evil”. This approach makes sense: Hannibal can understand the Tooth Fairy (the psychotic killer who is the actual villain of the film – Hannibal is in a cell the entire film). The Tooth Fairy believes he is becoming a higher form of life. He writes to Hannibal:

“You alone can understand what I am becoming. You alone know the people I use to help me in these things are only elements undergoing change to fuel the radiance of what I am Becoming. Just as the source of light is burning.”

Hannibal, in his lonely cell, enjoys collecting articles about disasters, particularly those in which churches collapse and kill worshippers. He deduces from this, as he tells Will, that killing must feel good to God:

“It feels good, Will, because God has power. And if one does what God does enough times, one will become as God is.”

Hannibal believes in a maleficent god, one who enjoys the power of killing. So does he, and so does the Tooth Fairy. Hannibal offers to help Will find the TF, but only because he seeks revenge – he finds out Will’s home address, and passes it on to the TF with instructions to “kill them all”. These are not simple projects when you’re in solitary in a high security mental asylum. He is not just brilliant (and evil) but very resourceful.

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Will before he became Gil on CSI

John Lithgow, Mandy Patinkin, Brian Dennehy and even the director William Friedkin were considered for the part of Hannibal, but Brian Cox got the part, and played it brilliantly. He has on numerous occasions denied feeling cheated that Anthony Hopkins got the sequel (and the Oscar) in Silence of the Lambs. Well, he’s either telling the truth or a very great actor (he’s both).

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Brian Cox and Anthony Hopkins as telephonic manipulator Hannibal Lecter/Lecktor

Hannibal’s main scene is below:

Cox did express an opinion that, after Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal had “lost his mystery”. You may have seen Cox not that long ago as General Kutuzov in the BBC production of War and Peace, or as Churchill, in the movie of the same name.

 

In 1986, the idea of some sort of homoerotic relationship between Hannibal and Will was pretty much unthinkable – that had to wait for Bryan Fuller’s masterful television prequel Hannibal some quarter of a century later. Nonetheless, Will Graham gets the best line in this film. As Lecktor waxes lyrical about the way Will has managed to get a journalist killed during the investigation, Will blurts out:

“I’m sick of you crazy sons of bitches!”

But the rest of us are not, Will. We enjoy cannibals, even if they are as modest about their eating habits as Hannibal Lecktor. They remind us that we are not gods, but edible animals.

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