“Never judge a book by it’s cover.”
Never has this phrase been more relevant.
I am a relatively new Fannibal. I came to the show through the discovery that an actor I greatly admire, Richard Armitage, had been cast as the iconic character of Francis Dolarhyde/Red Dragon.
I knew nothing of this character, and so decided I would do a little research. What I found shocked me. Endless sensationalised accounts of the horrificly sadistic Modus Operandi of this murderer; of the acts he performed on the women of the families, how he set up his victims to watch. I was understandably concerned, and also grew weary of reading endlessly about this man’s violent crimes, still knowing nothing about the man himself. I decided the best way to find out about this character for real was to try reading the literature from which he originated.
I found myself hooked from the very first page. Far from the gore-fest I was expecting, I found a very tastefully written book about the psychology of human beings; of killers, of those who catch killers, of those who create killers. I found it a sociological study of how a child, if starved of love, and failed by society and the support networks (I believe) it should provide to those who are vulnerable, can become a monster of the most terrifying kind, but for whom there is always a chance of redemption, should they be ready to, and capable of, embracing it. The graphic or gory scenes were written with a admirable forensic detachedness, incredibly respectful and unglamourised. And Francis, dear Francis, I felt the pain and tragedy of his story right from the very start. I found myself face to face with the character as Harris intended him, and I was intrigued and moved by what I encountered. You can find my more detailed reflections on the Harris novel, here.
So, after learning from its source (not those sensationalised articles I initially read) about Dolarhyde, I decided it was time to check out the TV show he would be joining. And so I began on what would become a complete head-over-heels aesthetic love affair with NBC’s Hannibal…
I once again expected senseless gruesome thoughtless violence, the kind that is associated with what I thought was the “horror” genre, but what I found was far from it. I found an aesthetically sumptuous feast of a show; gothicly gorgeous, full of taste and class and style. The opening credits reminded me instantly of British artist Marc Quinn’s ‘Self’; a sculptural self-portrait made from 10 pints of his own blood (pictured below, left, beside a montage of images from the opening credits).
The show somehow managed, through it’s aesthetic, to create an environment in which I was seeing a murderer’s crimes through his own eyes. By which I mean; for Hannibal, the brutal murder and consumption of his victims was not considered by him as a barbaric act; for Hannibal it was a kind of tasteful, artful and considered ritual; everything meticulous, everything refined and artfully honed. The slick and indulgent aesthetic portrayed this perfectly somehow, and I found myself (though still horrified by what I saw), seeing these acts through Hannibal’s mind, and wanting to know more about him and what made him tick, and also in awe of the ways in which he manipulated those around him with such ease. Hannibal is a cool, calm, Machiavellian character, and the smooth and crisp look of the show, along with the sophisticated soundtrack and rich and wordy dialogue, totally cohered with this. I found it clever, artistic, beautiful and, quite frankly, a complete revelation.
Never did I condone the actions of this despicable man, but I watched with curiosity as to where his story would lead next. What’s more, much of the show played like a crime procedural; of which I have been a fan for many years and seen many differing versions of; from Criminal Minds to Wallander. Except this was different. It was quirky and unique and more insightful somehow. It embraced a whole plethera of aesthetic references; of the gothic, of horror, of opera and classicism, and crime fiction. It was A Clockwork Orange, Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, Mozart’s Don Giovanni; all of that, and more, was referenced there, somehow, in the way it held itself as a show.
What’s more, it stayed loyal to the sentiment of Harris’ original novel throughout. Never blasé in it’s use of violence, always concerned with the psychologies behind those involved with the murders and it’s aftermath. It explored the line between what is acceptable and unacceptable, and how in certain contexts or scenarios, or even out of necessity, those lines can become blurred. It managed to reinvent Harris’ work, without tainting or damaging it; through inverting and reworking it for a contemporary world.
And so, being familiar with Red Dragon’s eponymous character as I am now, through reading Harris’ original literature, and delving head first into the magnificent manifestation he was about to become in NBC’s Hannibal, I found myself uncontainably excited about what I was to see in the upcoming Season. Harris’ Francis Dolarhyde could not have been heading into a better placed or more loving adaptational home. The character would be looked after here, and given a chance to tell his story, in a sensitive, respectful and thought-provoking way, exactly as Harris does in his novel. What’s more, knowing the sentiment of the man who will be playing him, and how considered and empathetic he has been towards previous roles, I felt certain that if anyone was to loyally portray the pain and beauty of Dolarhyde’s story, it would be Richard.
I look back on what was a completely revelatory experience. I went from shock, to confusion, to concern, to intrigue, to compassion and finally excitement and anticipation. But for me, the overriding lesson of this process was the importance of giving things a chance; considering all the facts before you judge; reading the book, watching the show. Because you never know. You might just be inspired.
Coming soon – My thoughts on Richard Armitage as Francis Dolarhyde and Hannibal Season 3…