The Horrific Beauty of Hannibal

Mads Mikkelsen took on a role everyone associated with Anthony Hopkins and made it his own.

hannibal mads mikkelsen

Television is an all-encompassing aspect of our lives, whether having our front rooms organised by directing towards our television, or our streaming sites often decided by the shows on offer. Due to that, quite often shows will play it safe, relying on reliable aspects such as cop dramas to entice audiences in. Because of that, television companies rarely take a chance on unknown quantities. However, every now and again, something different appears on our television screens, often from unique minds as David Lynch (Twin Peaks), Joss Whedon (Buffy The Vampire Slayer) or JJ Abrams (Lost) that impact not only on audiences, but television as a whole.

Most of these inspirations would be through its use of character-based stories (Abrams), subversive depictions of cliche (Whedon), or just plain weird (obviously Lynch). Every now and again, television is graced with true unique creativity that repositions our interpretations of the story in front of us. A more example would be one of the more unique shows of the last decade, Hannibal, a psychological horror-thriller that was released in 2013 on NBC and ran for three seasons, totalling 39 episodes.

At the time, the character Hannibal Lecter was primarily recognised from 1991’s The Silence Of The Lambs as the career-making turn of Sir Anthony Hopkins, who was able to take a faint sketch of a character in the script and infuse a sense of menace. Hopkins seemingly did the impossible, taking a relatively stationary character who was almost always either behind bars or tied up, and made him the most terrifying character in a movie featuring a serial killer who skins women alive in a pit.

Considering the critically acclaimed Hopkins himself struggled to follow the role with repeat performances in Hannibal (the movie) and Red Dragon, the show was often maligned as a completely needless reimagined depiction of Anthony Hopkin’s classical rendition of the titular character. However, those comments seemed most often parroted by those reluctant to give it a chance, which would just inspire Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal to battle against expectations and pre-conceived notions to create a beloved cult favourite.

In fact, fans are still begging for Netflix to bring it back, either with social media threads dedicated to why you should watch it, or editors such as John Squires of Bloody Disgusting imploring fans to let Netflix know they want a fourth season. Creator Bryan Fuller regularly participates as well, sometimes retweeting fans to tweet Netflix for a revival, getting involved in watch-alongs alongside cast members, whilst in May of this year, star Mads Mikkelsen teased fans with the possibility of another season.

 

The Main Cast and Story

Laurence Fishburne plays Jack Crawford, Head of the Behavioural Science division at the FBI who assist in criminal investigations, including serial killers. His team contains Hettienne Park’s Beverly Katz, a crime scene investigator specialising in fiber analysis, Scott Thompson’s Jimmy Price who specialises in latent fingerprints, and Aaron Abrams’ Brian Zeller, crime scene investigator. Struggling with an investigation into a killer who has abducted his eighth teenage girl, Crawford approaches Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham, a supremely gifted but possibly Autistic criminal profiler.

Graham is able to not only envisage how the crime scene may have occurred, but can also understand the mindset of the killer, a mentally draining gift that leads to Crawford introducing Graham to forensic psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter, played by the outstanding Mads Mikkelsen. Lecter is recommended by Caroline Dhavernas’ Alana Bloom, professor of psychology, FBI consultant profiler and mutual colleague of both Lecter and Graham, both of whom learn to work together and with Crawford’s team to find and apprehend the most dangerous of killers.

 

Why Am I Recommending It?

Hannibal TV Show

Created by the visionary storyteller Bryan Fuller, who had previously created the whimsically humorous but thought-provoking Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies, the previous plan for the series was a seven-season arc inspired by the mindset of David Lynch. Seasons one to three were planned to be original material that would show the growth of relationship between the characters, before transitioning into the books Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal for the fourth to sixth season, before a seventh season to focus on resolving the ending from Hannibal.

This thought process was seemingly engineered to allow Fuller to develop and mould his own interpretations of the characters, before utilising the more popular and well-known stories into the later seasons. This plan would eventually be changed as Fuller wrote the scripts, but the essential plan was always to create his own world before meeting up Thomas Harris’ published novels, an inspired plan that would allow the show to stand apart from the popular mainstream movie.

Whereas the films had Hopkins portray Lecter as a reptilian predator ready to strike at any moment, making him slightly more over-the-top a personality, Mikkelsen focused on a sophisticated stillness that hid his manipulations. Mikkelsen’s Hannibal very much is depicted in a style of cruel calculation that hides behind his debonair appearance, whilst also intensifying his cannibalistic tendencies.

Whereas before there was mostly just hints of cannibalism in the films, with rare moments of animalistic violence, here nearly every episode has a focus upon the preparation of meals, creating artistically beautiful renditions of food. By doing so, the audience is made complicit in Hannibal’s actions, that sense of deep foreboding for when the truth will be unveiled but made conflicting due to the use of ‘food porn’ to look tempting to audiences.

The series takes this aspect of creating beauty out of horror and infuses it within its murder scenes, taking what should be horrific mutilated corpses, and depicting them in the image of scenery gorn through the use of lighting and depiction. For instance, a scene depicting two victims with their backs sliced off their body and hoisted towards the scene, is done in a style that creates a look of angelic beauty, reappraising the murders as angel wings.

The imaginative depiction of the violence both horrifies and entices the audience, redefining the concept of death through the depraved minds of the killers involved. When coupled with Graham recreating the murders in his mind to allow him to understand the killer, you gain more empathy towards the character for the horrors he has to witness to help others.

Even though there are already several strong elements of the show, and we haven’t even demonstrated the gorgeous lighting and shot design, or the tremendous wardrobe for several of the main characters, all of these aspects combine to create multiple reasons for the fanbase to still be actively involved and invested. However, beyond the food porn, scenery gorn and talented ensemble cast, there is the much beloved subtextual homoerotic relationship between the characters that resonates the most with the audience, that feeling of interpretation towards actions that have multiple meanings.

If you’ve ever found yourself emotionally captivated and drawn in by the foe romance between Eve and Villanelle in the British drama thriller Killing Eve, then Hannibal might be highly suited for your taste. The reason for this is the inclusion of a sexually charged battle between two of the main characters, especially if you’re struggling to wait for the inevitable fourth season.

As an aside, Hannibal was meant to bring Clarice Starling into the world it had created for its fourth season, but due to issues with obtaining the rights to The Silence of the Lambs, other networks have tried to take advantage, such as Lifetime’s own failed attempt with the spinoff series Clarice, focused on the character’s graduation from the FBI academy. Despite having been cancelled for nearly five years now, CBS have tried to take advantage of the undying popularity, and recently they announced their own version of the spinoff, also called Clarice.

In the end, despite a passionate cult following, and a surprising amount of support and patience from NBC, the show was prematurely cancelled at the end of season three, with a final arc encompassing the first released novel by Thomas Harris, Red Dragon. By this time, Fuller was pushing the boundaries of sex, violence, and story as much possible. This would be demonstrated in scenes either flouting NBC’s skittish issues with Margot Lerger’s homosexuality by implementing gorgeously artistic interpretations of a sex scene, or portraying a character being forced to eat his own body parts cooked in clay, making it possibly the most morbid mainstream television show at the time.

As television has opened up the possibilities of stories focused on sexuality and horror over the last few years, it begins to feel like maybe Hannibal was either ahead of its time, or more suited to a channel like HBO. However, as befitting from the man who would create and run the first season of American Gods, Fuller proved to be unflinching in his drive and desire to create a world unlike any other, which creates a wonderfully rewarding show for its audience. Over three seasons, Hannibal has proven itself packed as full of taste and exquisite flavours as the most desirable of Michelin restaurants, one that once you have your first bite, you will surely have to complete.

Hannibal ran for three seasons, totalling 39 episodes. Each episode averaged 43 minutes an episode, totalling 1,677 minutes, or just under twenty-eight hours. I’m not sure watching for two days straight would be a safe move, though, so maybe view it over a week. This should hopefully give you plenty of time to digest the imagery and beauty.

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