Hannibal is up there in my list of TV programs I would still watch if I was actually a productive member of society (even if I do have to go away and watch something else afterwards where happy fluffy animals play perfectly safely and nobody eats anybody). It’s TV to make time for, not TV to pass the time, and I think it’s a work of art. A profoundly disturbing, beautiful, twisted and deeply considered work of art. I believe that nothing in this program is left to chance: not the writing, the sets, the lighting, the cinematography, the casting or the soundtrack. So, after watching for 1 and 3/4 series, here are my theories about how the program makes you, the viewer, watch from the point of view of a psychopath (some spoilers after the jump).
1. The whole thing is deliberately shot using psycho-vision.
All of the filming is murky grey-green or cold blue except for the scenes of the murders, which have a sun-drenched weirdly nostalgic Kodachrome feel about them. The shots of the bodies used to farm mushrooms were like a gold and green woodland scene from a fairy tale or the BBC magical forest ident. I was expecting little sprites to appear and flit about. The totem pole of bodies was not just a pile of corpses, but a proper sculpture, which was simultaneously horrific and somehow pleasing in its design and its proportions. The program takes hideous, awful things and presents them to the viewer as beautiful. This viewer is forced to collude and agree, and be deeply uncomfortable about it.
2. It presents emotions as a psychopath sees them.
When the first series came out, a friend said that she found the programme very superficial, cold and emotionless. I’m not sure I entirely agree. I think the characters’ affect is deliberately dialled down. As a viewer with empathy, you can guess what people are feeling, but a psychopath doesn’t know or care. When the characters are afraid or angry, that’s always crystal clear, because predators might not care much about what other creatures feel, but they always sense fear and need to be alert for danger.
3. Hannibal Lecter has food-based synaesthesia (and when you watch, so do you).
This is a theory from series 2 which has a continual jangling, discordant, arrhythmic soundtrack. Then I noticed a scene where Hannibal pours a glass of wine and suddenly there is majestic, harmonious music. He is interrupted and puts the glass down, and the score stops. I’m pretty sure there are orchestral scores whenver Hannibal is cooking or serving food, but of course I’ll need to go back and rewatch both series at the end of this one to double-check. (For research, obvs.) Again, you are invited through music and the stunning presentation of Hannibal’s feasts to admire the dreadful things that he is serving up to his dinner guests.
I haven’t even touched on the writing, which makes Hannibal seem so eminently reasonable so much of the time. I can only bow at the feet of the writers when you consider the obstacles piled up against them. For starters, everybody knows that Hannibal is the killer, so you can’t have that as a twist. Instead, they use that knowledge to create tension (and I was talking a bit about that in my previous post). They had to reinvent the character in the face of Anthony Hopkins’s iconic portrayal in Silence of the Lambs, and they’ve done such a fantastic job that I never even think of it when I’m watching Mads Mikkelsen.
However, unlike a novel, TV doesn’t exactly have a viewpoint character. You’re not privy to the inner thoughts and feelings of one specific person, and there’s not a single narrative voice, unless it resorts to voiceover. In Hannibal, I firmly believe that the writers/directors/filmmakers have composed their material so that your point of view is always a psychopath’s. This is their design.
P.S. Series 1 has to have one of the best and most gloriously twisted geek jokes ever. (BIG SPOILER, select text to view. In Hannibal series 1, Ellen Muth plays Georgia Madchen, a woman who has Cotard’s sydrome, and believes she is dead. Georgia also can’t recognise faces. Terrified and confused, she kills people who come in contact with her. Ms. Muth also played Georgia Lass in Dead Like Me, in which she is killed by a toilet seat falling from an airplane, and lives a half-life on earth as a “Reaper” escorting souls to the beyond. Madchen? Lass? I see what you did there, Hannibal writers. This retroactively changes the whole reading of Dead Like Me from a quirky supernatural comedy to the story of a hallucinating mentally ill woman roaming the streets killing strangers.)
P.P.S Series 2. Death weirdness turducken. *slow clap*