Excellent piece. As much as I love the show, you get at something that has nagged at me since the first book/movie, something that was lost beyond the simple “give the people what they want” Lecter indulgence.
And thanks for a BB piece that critiques instead of encourages consumption . . .
"Which is what makes Harris’s Hannibal a more complex, unsettling, deeply American character than Mads Mikkelsen’s tasteful, subtly but unmistakably foreign-born Hannibal . . . "
Harris’ Hannibal was “unmistakably foreign-born”. Born, raised (as it were), and educated in Europe before coming to America as a young adult.
TIL a new word: pelf.
I am a big fan of Hannibal. It’s a great re-imagining of the books, and a very entertaining series in it’s own right.
A very insightful article, thank you!
Interesting insights overall, but I’ve never bought that his jabs at Clarice were anything more than testing her. His uncanny ability to find personal weakness was always understood and never exercised the same way for two victims. His eventual admiration for her was the result of perseverance and intellect, even when she knew what she faced. Those were qualities Lecter would know that could never be bought, nor reliably bred.
Duly empowered by the Death of the Author (Barthes), I invoke the fanboy clause that permits me to cast into the outer darkness crass schlock I deem extracanonical. Holy writ: RED DRAGON, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Execrable twaddle: HANNIBAL. Unreadably awful blasphemy: HANNIBAL RISING. Thus, since I view the last two books as cynical hackjobs, apocrypha grafted onto the canon, my Hannibal (see, again, Death of the Author, Barthes) is of obscure origin, since SILENCE doesn’t give us all that waffle about Nazis and Micha and Balthus and aristocratic origins. The man himself rolled a derisive eye at behaviorism, and refused to be put in moral dignity pants or for that matter quantified in any way. Harris’s cheesy Freudian backstory, explaining away Lecter’s Mephistophelean evil as the product of childhood trauma, is a sop to pop psych and a trivialization of one of CSI goth’s great villains. I say we don’t know where Lecter came from, literally or figuratively, which is what makes him a force of nature. “Nothing happened to me, Officer Starling. I happened. You can’t reduce me to a set of influences.”
I think Dr. Lecter looks for bloodletting good fun–never forget fun, Jack Crawford reminds us–and he enjoys rhetorical fencing and he is ever vigilant for weaknesses, the psychological equivalent of the paper clip that will with careful jailhouse craftsmanship yield a handcuff key. Brilliant yet intellectually vain, I can’t believe he wouldn’t enjoy fencing with Clarice, and that he wouldn’t be amused and pleasantly surprised by her nimble, quick-study mind. He tells her she’s quick, he teasingly says “They’ll say we’re in love” when their fingers touch, he says the world is more interesting with her in it, he says it would be something to know her in another context: compelling evidence, taken together, for the argument that he takes their exchanges seriously, even as he’s looking for a chink in the armor of her mind.
Great illustration Rob Beschizza.
That’s nice. But you don’t get to decide what is canon and what is not, simply because you don’t LIKE it or because you thought things should be different.
I agree with Stephen King’s assessment that “Dumbledore isn’t really gay” because regardless of what Rowling might have posited after the books were finished, that character aspect wasn’t included in any of the books. Harris wrote all four of the books (even if the last was under serious duress and idiocy), but you can’t state that his origin story of Hannibal wasn’t something he suddenly invented for the third book and never had in mind all along. If his intent was always for Hannibal to be European, Hannibal was European. You know where he came from, because the author told you. In the books. As part of canon.
My impression of the new Lector is simply that they have modified him to be much more an anti-hero, noting that this was the core of the original character’s appeal… and likely being influenced by the success of similar anti-hero title’s like Dexter.
Dexter. Lector. Kind of even sounds the same. Albeit, the Dexter series was written much after the Hannibal series, how ironic Dexter very likely stood on Lector’s shoulders, and now Lector stands on Dexter’s shoulders.
Personally, I recall first hearing the word “anti-hero”, not sure of when that was, but I would guess sometime during the late eighties or early nineties. I suppose Silence of the Lambs was one major influence there for that “movement”. Whatever the case of the ins and outs of the definition of the “anti-hero” in modern fiction, what we have been increasingly getting as the form continues to improve is, quite simply, a more realistic hero. Someone who is a human being, but also has some manner of virtue.
Someone you really want to hate, but end up cherishing, admiring.
Along these lines we have an increasing amount of fiction (not a little which ends up or even begins in some manner of cinema)… which presents a very different view of not just virtue, but also vice. A very different view of morality then what one might have seen in fiction before. Morality which is: Not So Simple.
Of course, art might be said to reflect from life, and so have we seen with the rise of the information age and far more informed (if “educated” is the wrong word there) public. Things are not so simple as the generation of the fifties thought it was. Not so simple as the generation of the 60s thought it was. And matters just keep getting all the more complex.
Good, it turns out, quite often is bad. And bad, it is well known, quite often is actually good. But? Static, simple, singular sentences - books of law, religion, philosophy, whatever - attempting to depict virtue and vice via ever not changing rules that fit only ever so small situations… have maybe become a little antiquated and perhaps people are starting to see them for what they are: a shortcut to thinking for those who run by simple instinct and are not inclined to actually sitting down and considering, “What is the right thing to do and why”.
Morality is no longer cased in a glass vase to be seen at a museum, from a distance, but is seen, today, as much more a dynamic, living thing that calls people to stop operating like unthinking animals, and start to operate like free human beings.
Hannibal is one popular example of this, as I noted, Dexter was another. There are lighter shades of this type of heroics in many shows which are popular today. Blacklist, for instance, is one where a main character often presented as heroic (and whose personality is so much like Hannibal’s), yet is also clearly a bad guy. As so often, there is mystery. Should you like this person? Are you being fooled? Why are you admiring such a person who seems to be bad?
My own favorite show this season so far is the Americans. I am an American, I am decently read on the old KGB and Soviet Union, and find both distasteful. Yet, here I find myself rooting for Russian sleeper agents working all sorts of muck on American soil. Why.
The “why” is a different matter there… but the fact that we, the audience, are being put in these positions… from my perspective? That says something. Maybe it is because we can relate. We are human beings. We do many things which others might condemn if they knew of them, things which we believe are right to do. We are very often of how “society” or “the world” might condemn us, then, for what, we our own selves do out of what we believe to be good motives. This is, then, morality that we can identify with and understand. Much moreso then the 2 dimensional heroes and heroines we may have grown up to, even. Perhaps.
For me, I am partly disgusted that I find myself ever rooting for Hannibal in the new series. Or even worse, when presented with the possibility that maybe Lector is doing something I can truly hate him for, I doubt it will be that way. I find myself trusting the character to make - somehow - the “right” decision. Such as when it was up in the air about Hannibal’s actions with Will. Could Hannibal really leave Will to suffer for his crimes? I did not believe so.
As for rude people or the rich… to me, frankly, quite often when I run into rude people, they are more wealthy. Men and women racing in their cars, cutting people off to get to their all important business. Paris Hilton is an ass. She is not even very good looking. If she were at a party - or Warren Buffet - I would not even be interested in what they have to say.
Contrary to that, I have wandered around many, many subcultures out there. Rich, poor, famous, unknown… separating it out: there are elites, the lights, the most interesting and most popular and the admired. Money, though, or an obsessive interest in purchased goods rarely has anything to do with it.
Poets, writers, artists, “technologists”, hackers, rock stars (unknown, minor, yet so major, and then the major, though people not mainstream – like Iggy Pop and his penchant for anal sex in bathtubs), on and on it can go. One could throw in there some less savory circles, perhaps, as well, like drug dealers and gang members. Plenty of beautiful people, quite often much more then what one sees in magazines. Money, though, typically not a factor. “Class” as defined by background, or somehow embued with knowledge, no. Sophistication in crass manner, at times, hell yes. Some manner of knowledge, however, even impressive knowledge? Yes.
But it is true, Lector is put into an upper class background class framework. I do believe, however, they could easily recycle the fundamentals of that character and paint him as a cult rock star or poet, artist, or in so many other “elite” manner of role.
Lector and his emphasis on taste is largely presented within the confines of the experience really only available to the wealthy, but change the context, and I do believe entirely different contexts could be used to get across the message that he is someone of refined appetite.
And the allure of “better then you” is something much more inherent in what a person is comprised of: their inner person, albeit the outer person, their beauty, and their intelligence here can very well be a factor. Plenty of drop dead smoking hot people out there with outstanding intelligence who wouldn’t give the time of day to rich kid morons and their wannabe ilk. “Fashion” represented in overly meticulous “perfection” can not cover up an ugly face, and can be represented metaphorically by one’s action, career, what one does. As can taste.
Oh, but I can. And I do. We’ll have to agree to disagree. Mine is the radical view: if Sherlockians can reimagine the Holmes canon as factual, on the presumption that Watson wrote the stories using Conan Doyle as a nom de plume, I can stretch that logic a little further to argue that when an author perverts and prostitutes a character out of all recognizable shape, simply to line his pockets or because Dino DiLaurentiis extorted a script-cum-book from him, the devout fan in effect becomes the author, a truer authority on who that character really is, at his core. Another thought: when we talk about Hannibal, who are we talking about? The character is hopelessly overdetermined, at this point; the epicenter of a frenzy of intertextuality. The Hannibal I hold in my mind when I talk about Hannibal slipslides between the character in the books, the character in the movies as interpreted by various actors, and the character in the TV series, which mashes up the books and the movies, transposing dialogue from one character to another (Will says lines Hannibal says in the books, for example), turning Allen Bloom into a woman and making Jack Crawford black, in short taking all manner of liberties with the canon. If Bryan Fuller, superfan, can reimagine the narrative cosmos, why can’t we?
What do you think of Manhunter? (also Di Laurentiis, I think?)
Sorry for any mistakes in my spelling, English isn’t my first language.
Your first paragraph have something wrong: the Lecter from the show isn’t an anti-hero at all. It’s a full villain. The Lecter of the book Hannibal is an anti-hero. You should watch the whole 2 seasons and you’ll see.
I think you and the writer forgot 2 important things: 1- Dr. Lecter isn’t in jail and 2) the Lecter of TSotL is in jail, not free and pretending to be a “normal” person.
Besides that, I loved this article, thank you.
But there wasn’t any hint of Dumbledore being heterosexual in the books either. When Rowling said she always imagined Dumbledore as being gay it was in response to a fan’s question about whether he’d ever had a love interest in his life. And what is Dumbledore but a figment of Rowling’s imagination?
Lecter is an utterly fictitious personality type. You don’t get to be a psycho killer and an urbane sophisticate and a sadist and have icy impulse control and an instant understanding of other people and a brilliant intellect with gourmet tastes. He’s no more believable than the Creature From The Black Lagoon. And more than anything, he’s completely aware of all these aspects of his personality, so that he’s infinitely more healthy than the average person. On the one hand, he’s supposed to be one of the most insane people ever, but he’s also shown as possibly the sanest man on earth. And despite all that he shows no external peculiarity, no quirks or odd habits or aggressive affect. Really the writers simply punted on the whole issue by calling him “unique,” so they did not have give him a science fiction backstory.
Is there an objective reality when it comes to fiction, and who decides what it is? The idea that some things are “canon” implies that there is an objective reality that always and forever belongs to the author. I tend to think that’s horseshit. Should the movies George Lucas made in the 90’s be able to change the movies I saw in the 70’s? If Lestat becomes a born-again Christian, do people just have to accept that? Literary criticism isn’t bowling: there are no rules.
I had a job (before the television series) where people implied comparisons between Lecter and myself, and I did not find them flattering. Rather than me being sociopathic or refined, the comparison illustrated a sad sort of anti-intellectual reaction. That a person who at least tries to speak well, and eat well, and commands at least a rudimentary understanding of human psychology is all surface. Because such an apparent veneer can exist only to hide something fundamentally dangerous and dishonest. It was a great way to rid themselves of somebody who was being paid to think about ways to help them to solve their problems.
Brilliant, I thought–flawed, but brilliant, as the critics like to say. The casting was masterful, especially when it came to Will Graham and the smarmy, catch-ya-later-babe Freddie Lounds; less so when it came to Lecter and Crawford, though how can we be objective after seeing Anthony Hopkins’s Lecter and now Mads Mikklesen’s? Petersen was Graham, though, in a deeply intuitive, pitch-perfect way that the sullen, pouty, emo-boy Hugh Dancy still hasn’t nailed, in my book. But again: the intertextual overlay obscures our sense of representational truth. The cinematography, at least as I remember it, was lyrical and the atmosphere of the movie, moody and pervasive, was its strongest suit, I think. My biggest regret was the rewritten ending–a concession to Dino’s bottom line? Still, a wonderful film in many ways. Now I have to rewatch it, of course; thanks for the prod. What did you think of it?
May I suggest a little bedtime reading?
Hugh Dancy’s Graham is a better adaptation of the book than Petersen, same with MIkkelsen’s Lecter.
Hopkins’ Lecter worked in a 15 minutes performance in a psychological thriller movie, it would never work in an episodic series. If you read the first 2 books you’ll see that the series’ adaptation of the characters is superior to the movies.