This really is how these stories have to be done. Not the faux-realism of the movie of Silence of the Lambs. That approach jars with Anthony Hopkins’ (less than entirely successful) attempt to capture the uncanny and semi-demonic nature of Hannibal himself, who was always a creature of evil magic. Look at Harris’ descriptions of him in Red Dragon, with his maroon eyes and his extra finger and his preternatural senses.
What the TV version of the stories has done is capture (with the proper ambiguity) the essentially magical nature of Hannibal and his world. He lives in a twilight interzone between our world of quotidian normality and the deep, dark pit where human nature as brutish meat intersects with human nature as beset by devils and shades.
Yes, it glamourizes him and his violence, in contrast to real murderers… but that seems a superficial way to look at these stories, even if it’s a perfectly valid one which should be given its own space. Below that, there is more to say. Treating Hannibal as an uncanny creature who blurs our senses of place and time and knowledge is actually much better in this respect than the ‘realist’ approach, which ends up straightforwardly making him a glamorous monster.
I love that this show dances on the borderline between diegetic materialism and a diegetic acknowledgement of a supernatural world. It leaves open to us the possibility that Hannibal truly is a demon, or a demon-inhabited man. By refusing to foreclose upon the literal supernatural reading, the show leaves the incredible oneiric fertility of the supernatural story open to us. It does what lesser works like The Babadook and The Innocents fail to do. It respects the uncanny, and it also allows it a possible existence without making it anything less than numinous and ineffable. It ultimately asks us to not care – but in a constructive way. It asks us to recognise the essentially uncanny, weird, gothic, sick, twisted, irrational nature of reality itself as we live it.
Phil Sandifer (I suspect) enjoys the show in terms of Blakean visions. I enjoy the show in terms of the Gothic Marxist insistence upon the really existing world as a twisted, phantasmagorical and irrational hellscape, but also as a site of the creative and expressive production of phantasms.
Season 3 is surely the fruition of this approach, as begun (falteringly) in Season 1 and continued (far more confidently) in Season 2. And the great thing is that they’ve recognised this strain in the original stories, particularly in Red Dragon (which really stands above and apart from the other books), by placing the story of Francis Dolarhyde as the terminus of the season.
Dolarhyde is the figure who, through his Blakean-inflected hallucinations and his status as tragic and enmonstered outsider, allows the categories to crash into each other in horrific but visionary ways. I love how Harris does all this in the book without ever losing track of Dolarhyde’s viciousness, or his essential patheticness. One uncomfortable thing about the book, of course, is the way it insists upon the victim-status of a violent white man… but this looks set to be reframed by the TV series (as the TV series always does reframe the original stories creatively) by the superb decision to cast a black actress as Reba, which follows the show’s splendid line of transmuting male characters into women, and rescuing monstrous female characters from caricature. (I expect a more nuanced take on Dolarhyde’s backstory too.)
(By the way, I’m sure the actress playing Reba was cast solely on her evident talent… I’m just glad they were open to doing so rather than thoughtlessly following the source material, as many other production teams would have done.)
One thing I’m very interested to see is how they transmute Lecter’s helplessness and frustration at his incarcerartion in the book. In the TV show, Lecter’s incarceration is almost voluntary, the next step in his game, a way of staying in Will’s life. I think his frustration (which is very integral to both the plot and his character) can be rescued by reframing it as frustration at Will’s refusal to engage with him.
I’ll be fascinated to see how they do it.