My Psychological Connection to ‘Hannibal’ (last post about Hannibal I maybe promise)

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This will be a slightly self indulgent and fan wanky post about my favourite show (yet again) but I just wanted to record and organise my thoughts about it and how much I relate.

I’ve been looking up Empaths and Highly Sensitive People and I think I may partially be in the same category. Looking up the traits, I tick a lot of them off. Random unexplained pains, a feeling of “just knowing” or understanding things, connection to animals, dislike of conflict etc, etc,… The last one particularly. When people are arguing near me, even if it is about something trivial or just a superficial debate, it is something I can’t stand. The second voices are raised I have to leave the room. It’s hard to explain, but I almost feel like they are angry at me and I can feel the bad ‘vibes’ (no better word) from their emotions in my own body to the point I feel physically ill. I can’t even watch question time. I openly cry at sad films; scenes of cruelty, particularly to animals, really shit me up. I can sense people’s inner motivations better than most. I often have mild out of body experiences, suddenly overwhelmed with the miraculous coincidence of my existence and I have to shake myself back into reality. I have vivid dreams and they start as I’m falling asleep. When I close my eyes clear images appear and sometimes my thoughts are so loud they sound like they are coming from the outside. My relationship with reality is… fractured. I don’t have full on hallucinations or anything, I just find it hard to keep entirely focused on what is happening and not daydream. Particularly if what is happening is dull and mundane (even if it is incredibly important). This is frustrating, for me and everyone else.

If I am an empath, it is something I share with Hannibal protagonist Will Graham. He uses his mind to profile criminals, I mainly use mine for writing and sussing people out. I’m realising more and more how much I relate to Will Graham, and not just with his love of dogs. In the first season Jack says “Will deals with huge amounts of fear, it comes with his imagination” Alana Bloom replies “It’s the price of imagination”. This fully resonates with me. I have recently realised that I suffer from anxiety, manifesting itself in OCD. Internet jokes about Will’s “unstable” nature helped me learn to laugh at a recent and overwhelming bout of anxiety. It’s wonderful to see a show that accurately represents what it is like to live with these traits and the downsides, and to celebrate the benefits of it. Will is invaluable to the FBI, his mind is the best tool they have and he’s every bit as emotional and dreamy and neurotic as me. It shows my unreal mind does not make me useless and laughable in the real world, it just means I have a different role to play.

As I’ve learned more about my mind and its qualities I have become more defensive of it and more confident. I can now explain my own way of seeing the world and defend myself when people call me lazy, over sensitive or out of touch with reality. I especially react strongly if people dismiss my emotions, or emotions in general, as “silly”, “illogical” or “crazy”.Emotions make sense if you have enough sensitivity to understand them. It’s a cold hearted and dismissive person who thinks emotions are irrelevant. Emotions can form the basis of opinions without voiding said opinions. Why else would you form a particular opinion without feeling something about it first? And if I start crying during an argument it’s because I hate arguments and I’ve been holding in the tears for hours, not to “emotionally blackmail” you. Hannibal showrunner Bryan Fuller has spoken of his love of “emotional plotting”. In Hannibal hallucinations appear as though they were real. Visual metaphor and magical realism also play a huge role, always being prioritised over grit and realism. It has always been an insecurity of mine as a writer that I could never come up with an intricate, world spanning plotline like George R.R. Martin, I have always had a concept or feeling to communicate and struggled to come up with a solid, workable plot to weave it into. The meaning comes before the means. This is what makes ‘Hannibal’ a unique and beautiful show, rather than a weakness. I love seeing something that reflects my approach.

The cinematography of Hannibal is like seeing my view of reality played out on a screen for the first time. Much has been written about the detail and artistry of the look of ‘Hannibal’. Every set is impeccable, the clothes are gorgeous and even the murders are Gothic masterpieces. I usually can’t watch murder shows as their bleak aesthetics get me down, I need to surround myself with intricate, beautiful things to feel comfortable. Any bedroom I’ve ever had has always been a bit of a visual cacophony, the wall of my room in my old-old house (I’ve moved six times) looked like a huge collage. I can’t stand bare, minimalist spaces. ‘Hannibal’ is deliberately, defiantly baroque and macabre and beautiful. What fascinated me was the attention to tiny details that usually get missed. I have often been teased for finding myself transfixed with things that don’t seem especially exciting. Seeing an extended close up shot of milk billowing like a nebula in a cup of coffee on ‘Hannibal’ was seeing my worldview finally understood. There is beauty, cosmic beauty, in the most mundane places and the makers of the show understand that. Whether it’s watching the way steam rises from a kettle and swerves and curves past the kitchen cupboards above it or the way blood mixes with milk, there is artistry everywhere if you know where to look. ‘Hannibal’ knows where to look and every frame is a masterpiece.

The strangely romantic relationship between Will and Hannibal has been explained by way of their understanding of one another. Even when Will knows what Hannibal is he can’t resist someone who ‘gets’ him. Whoever you are and whatever your mind, finding someone or something that seems to 100% understand you is rare and sometimes never happens. For me, so far, its ‘Hannibal’. It is reassuring in a world that sometimes dismisses and belittles me to know there is a piece of art and pop culture that will always psychologically have my back. Now I just need to get a job writing for them…

‘Hannibal’ and why you should watch it

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Today I will be recommending what is to me the best show currently on television. Yes I’m including Game of Thrones (losing points for gratuitous sexual violence), Sherlock and probably all the stuff I haven’t seen.

Hannibal is a prequel to the Thomas Harris crime novels and subsequent adaptations helmed by showrunner and nightmare magician Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies). It stars Mads Mikkelsen who is carved from fine oak as the gentleman cannibal himself and human puppy Hugh Dancy as emotionally troubled detective Will Graham. What you’re thinking right now of course is why. They’re flogging a decomposed horse right? The brilliant Silence Of The Lambs movie and countless other less successful adaptations have bled the fine chianti dry and the world does not need another rehash, prequel, reboot, remake or whatever you want to call it. This idea means that ‘Hannibal’ doesn’t get great ratings.

The show is one of those great underappreciated gems that is adored by critics and devoted fans (we’re called ‘fannibals’. Hi) but is criminally overlooked by the general public and is thus constantly on the brink of cancellation. However fan power and critical praise mean the show is currently baking a third series and my mission is to create as many new fannibals before then.

So lets start off with what makes the show unique. What could be unique about a story which has been adapted many times of a scary serial killer and an antisocial, brooding super detective? Not only has the formula been done to death the actual characters have too. You would be right to think that, but Hannibal stands out in a sea of gritty crime dramas as an emotional, operatic and darkly beautiful production. Instead of weekly!murdered!prostitute! the murders take the form of artistic tableaus, art installations of blood and guts that you simply can’t look away from. The show relies on metaphor and imagery that is often missing from the genre and  regularly includes visually breathtaking scenes. I’ll just let them speak for themselves. Look away if you don’t like gore.

Detective Will Graham has what is described as an empathy disorder. What makes him valuable to the FBI is his ability to instantly get into the heads of serial killers. We actually see him commit the murders he is investigating as he coldly verbalises the thoughts behind the actions. That’s what’s so clever about the show – the hero is shown killing more people than the monster he is trying to catch. As the series progresses his emotional state becomes more unstable. Other shows often glamourise murder or feature cold, hardened protagonist anti-heroes who remain unaffected by what they have seen. While the crime scenes are repulsively beautiful (try and use that description for anything else) the true emotional aftermath is not ignored. And in a televised world of hardened, emotionless ‘high functioning sociopaths’ an emotionally vulnerable protagonist feels like a breath of fresh air.

Another thing you should love about this show is its refusal to worship at the altar of ‘gritty’. The dirty realism and hypermasculine energy of most crime procedurals is completely missing and it’s what makes it so refreshing. There are no scenes randomly shot in strip clubs, no grim and grey sets, no filthy back alleys or misogynist killers. There ARE elaborate visual metaphors, dream sequences (and horrible nightmare sequences) and a deliberate effort to make the dialogue poetic and memorable. As Alana Bloom says ‘fear is the price of imagination’ and the two are combined to form a visual masterpiece. The writers care more about the deeper meaning and the emotional reality than how much it reflects real life. And it is all done spectacularly. Who cares if it would be night on impossible to arrange a body like that? It’s just so damm striking.  Not to mention the actual effort to diversify the cast. Alan Bloom? More like AlanBloom. Freddy Lounds is now a woman and you will love her and her outfits. Jack Crawford is black (played to perfection by Lawrence Fishbourne) and his wife has a story arc. Get ready to have your heart broken. And feast your eyes on this quote from Bryan Fuller:

I don’t want to do rape stories on the show, because I don’t find them entertaining. I think that they’re exploitive. There are some rape elements intrinsic in the novels that I’m like how do we shift that story so it’s not about rape. I just feel very strongly as a feminist and somebody who likes women. I just can’t derive any sort of entertainment pleasure from it. So that’s why we steer away from those things. 

That shouldn’t be a revolutionary statement for a writer to make but it is. Which brings me on to the fannibals.

Becoming a fan of Hannibal means becoming a Fannibal. I’ve always shunned the idea of ‘fandom’. Either you like something or you don’t, there is no reason you would have anything in common with everyone else who likes it so why label yourselves? But Hannibal fans are people you want to be involved with. Usually young, well read, intelligent women they have a sublimely silly sense of humour to counteract the seriousness of the show. And buckets of talent. Observe this fanart.

Hannibal by TheMinttu

And er.. this fan art

(Comic) The Adventures of Hannibal the Cannibal #1 by ekzotik

And whatever the hell this is

Be warned – not all fan art is PG

Back to the show itself. The plot grows and twists and engulfs you like ivy and is as deep an intricate as tree roots. Read all of Thomas Harris? Can you quote every line from Silence? You still have no idea what’s coming. The showmakers have described themselves as “Thomas Harris mash up DJs” and that is what they do. Elements from different novels are put together and twists and turns are brought in that you wont see coming. Characters that are given a throwaway mention in the books become an essential part of the plot. The character of Dr Hannibal Lecter himself is of course the most intriguing. Here he is a practising psychiatrist, respected and unsuspected. He is brought on to help Will Graham psychologically but naturally he has his own diabolical game to play. What struck me most is how much you are taken in by him as a viewer. An intelligent, dapper, well dressed gentlemen with exquisite tastes and no outward signs of evil, you understand completely why he got away with it. There is no one in the western world who doesn’t know who Hannibal Lecter is and yet you forget who Hannibal Lecter is. The first time he is shown killing someone you find yourself shocked and disappointed in him. “Oh goddammit I liked him!” The fans make a point of the fact that his name rhymes and his regular use of puns. Mads Mikkelsen’s performance is flawless. It may even be better than Anthony Hopkins’. He can’t go full evil, his true nature is beautifully disguised and his monstrosity is occasionally glimpsed. It will be a real treat to see Silence era Hannibal played by Mikkkelsen. His composure so far is tighter than a violin string.

Hannibal is one of the most emotionally and intellectually rewarding shows on television. If not the most. I would urge you to give it a chance before series three. Chances are you’ll be just as obsessed as the rest of us.