Hannibal: Ridley Scott’s post-modern, hyper-stylized sequel to Jonathan Demme’s 1991 Academy Award winning film is enjoyable, yet quite different from The Silence of the Lambs. Whereas The Silence of the Lambs is a psychological serial killer thriller, juxtaposing a traditional looking FBI film with a macabre and intimate look at a serial killer’s abode, Hannibal takes a much different approach. It is about lust; the lust for the chase, for money, for revenge, and also for redemption. I remember seeing Hannibal in theaters about ten years ago and was warned by the ushers the film is extremely violent; they were even handing out barf bags in the lobby – a move I felt unnecessary for an R-rated film. Back in those days I watched a great deal of violent films (it’s around this time I first saw Deodato’s Cannibal and Jungle Holocaust) and thought their warning was gratuitous. I still do. Hannibal is a very violent film but it doesn’t compare to the output of other filmmakers. Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, or even Robert Rodriguez’s latest offering, Machete, features more gore than Scott’s sequel. However, I don’t believe it’s the visual gore which marks Hannibal a violent film. Rather, I believe it’s the intentions of the murders (both by Hannibal and others) and the lust for carnage and revenge filling Hannibal’s antagonist which makes Hannibal a particularly violent piece of cinema.
Hannibal takes place about a decade after The Silence of the Lambs and displays another trinity of primary characters (Hannibal, Buffalo Bill, and Starling in Silence and Mason Verger (Gary Oldman), Hannibal, and Starling (played this time by Julianne Moore)). Just like Silence, Hannibal is a mystery film but not in the same vein as the original. Silence relies heavily on showing how a FBI trainee, with the assistance of a notorious serial killer, tracks down another serial killer; Hannibal is about putting the pieces of a puzzle together, resulting in a multi-layered manhunt where the protagonist is the hunted. While it’s apt to say Clarice is being psychologically hunted by Lecter in Silence, this film instead focuses on an actual, physical manhunt with the FBI and Verger (a wealthy pedophile and the only surviving victim of Lecter’s violent legacy) both chasing Lecter. Instead of investigating the mind of a serial killer, learning his modus operandi, thinking like him, and eventually finding him not based on forensic evidence but instead on behavioral patterns and solid detective work, Hannibal is like a complicated game of cat and mouse. However, the film changes back and forth between figuring out who is the cat and who is the mouse.
What Hannibal lacks in creative, insightful storytelling it makes up for with intrigue and a plethora of twists and turns. The film’s two most infamous scenes – the wild boar incident and the brain scene in the final act – are indeed violent (actually quite violent) but don’t make up for its shortcomings. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Hannibal, but not nearly as much as Silence and feel it would’ve failed miserably if not placed in the capable hands of Ridley Scott. As I said before, Hannibal is missing that mixture of physical and psychical exploration Demme’s film captures brilliantly. The film’s cinematography and editing is striking and, like most of Scott’s films, Hannibal is visually stunning; unfortunately it’s not enough, placing it slightly under par in comparison to Silence.
Moving on to the brain scene, the first time I saw this film I thought the scene a little trite. Upon second viewing I actually find this scene quite bizarre and disgusting. Naturally the CGI doesn’t hold up, as is the case with most computer generated effects (take a look at the Lord of the Rings trilogy now and you’ll notice the special effects look dated and corny) but the implications of cutting out a piece of your victims brain and feeing it to him freshly cooked is quite chilling. Clarice’s reaction to the situation, especially since she’s under the influence of morphine or some other heavy narcotic, is quite believable and is the first time I can think of she’s seen the actions which prompt her detective work in progress. What Scott accomplished with this scene, and ultimately with the rest of the film, is a complete dismissal of Krendler (Ray Liotta), reducing him to nothing more than a piece of meat (both metaphorically and literally). Like Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects, I found myself missing any empathy for the purveyors of violence in this film. However, Krendler’s violence isn’t physical (or as Slavoj Žižek calls it: subjective violence) but instead an extension of systemic violence and just as palpable as subjective violence – it’s the violence inherent in the systems we live in, the actions of those serving private and public institutions which sets into motion the everyday physical violence surrounding us.
It’s weird though, because although I despised Krendler, especially for his chauvinistic treatment of Clarice and his contempt for intelligence (basically referring to intellectuals and lovers of high-brow art as homosexuals), I don’t believe his ideology, in conjuncture with being Verger’s political bedfellow, is deserving of death. That kind of creed is akin to Ward Churchill’s essay, Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens, where he calls World Trade Center employees, “Little Eichmanns,” and says those killed in the 9/11 attacks were guilty cogs in a corrupt and evil machine. Personally, I don’t agree with Churchill’s assessment (although I also don’t believe his termination from the University of Colorado was warranted either) and a scene such as the dinner (or brain) scene in Hannibal should not invoke such sentiments. Then again, it’s hard to not get caught up in a film, especially one by Ridley Scott.
Moving back to my original assertion about Hannibal – that it’s a film about lust – I feel by the film’s conclusion each character receives a hollow version of their desires: Verger meets his death at the very creatures he employs for massacring Hannibal; Inspector Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini) meets his death because of a thirst for money and professional accomplishment; Clarice finds her man (Hannibal) but eventually loses him again (however this is partially due to male incompetence and bureaucracy, coupled with her never ending zeal for her own vision of justice); Hannibal comes out of retirement, putting himself back into the game only to lose his hand. The film ends with Hannibal still possessing his freedom and he is the only character who ends up receiving the object of his desire. However, the film’s final shot, featuring a fade to black with the screen showing his eye, looking insatiably at the audience, also demonstrates how he will never fulfill his desires. Like Lacan believes, one’s desire is never really fulfilled; Hannibal’s desire for murder is never fulfilled and his love for Starling isn’t either. Their last encounter, where Hannibal asks Clarice to let him go she says she never will. Although his love isn’t sexual, he does have an attraction to her – and he will never realize this.
There is also an alternate ending on the poor quality VHS tape I watched and there really isn’t much difference. In the theatrical version of the final confrontation between Hannibal and Clarice Hannibal ends up cutting his own hand off after she handcuffs them together – an altruistic act for Hannibal (which also professes his love for Clarice); in the alternate ending no such scene takes place. Hannibal leaves Clarice with her ponytail stuck in a refrigerator, steals a car, and ends up on the airplane with the little child he feeds Liotta’s brain to. He doesn’t lose his hand but nothing else really changes. Personally I felt a little ripped off by this ending, for it doesn’t really reveal anything poignant about Starling and Lecter’s relationship and it also doesn’t demonstrate a varying vision towards Hannibal’s conclusion. Basically it was a mediocre extra tacked on so they could sell a videotape for a few dollars more. What the hell?
Naturally there are more themes present in Hannibal but I feel exploring them will take up much more time and probably bore people. There are religious themes running throughout the film (allusions to Dante Alighieri, Hannibal in a Christ pose when captured by Verger, and so forth) but exploring those in detail is best suited for another discussion. Instead I’ll leave it here and allow you, dear reader, to extrapolate on these themes in the comments area (if you so desire).
Here’s the trailer