Hannibal ★★★★★

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is not a review of Ridley Scott's film, which I have never seen. There's no other space on Letterboxd to write about the TV series, whose final episode I watched today. That's what I'm reviewing.

First season: "this is a pretty good murder-of-the-week procedural"
Second season: "this is excellent"
Third season: "Holy shit, this has become one of my favorite TV shows ever!"

I'm not crazy about THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS; in fact, I criticized it for glamorizing Hannibal Lecter in an article about serial killer films I wrote for Slate years ago. Theoretically, HANNIBAL engages in the same action, but by taking its mythologization much further, it's able to do something quite different with the character and the world he inhabits. The TV series was made at a time when the horror genre was in between "torture porn" and "elevated horror" as its dominant modes, and one could make a case that HANNIBAL fits into both categories. But it draws its aesthetic from Lecter's own. While the entire concept of the character betrays a certain American anti-intellectualism (although Will Graham is obviously well-educated, he does not own a library of hundreds of books or listen to classical music), the arthouse TV ethos of the series suggests a complicity with his European sensibility. Lecter would also have owned a library of Dario Argento, Nicolas Roeg, Peter Greeenaway and David Lynch Blu-Rays. It never got overtly political, but it kept making connections between eating animals and consuming art - in one scene, a man attempts murder while looking at a William Blake painting - and the act of murdering people. Crucially, it never exempted it from those connections. (Two of its killers tried making snuff films.) Directing movies and TV involves manipulating other people, even if one behaves as ethically as possible; the psychological manipulations Lecter and other characters engaged in felt like a reflection on that process.

Unlike most TV shows, HANNIBAL had a consistent, well-defined visual aesthetic which didn't merely amount to the sum of its influences. And it uses Brian Reitzell's wall-to-wall score, built on samples of percussion processed into atonal musique concrete, as an element as important as its direction and acting. It took me a year to get through the three seasons on Netflix. The show didn't really grab me till the second one; Hugh Dancy overdid Will Graham's sensitivity and vulnerability at the start, and until the last few episodes of the first season, the originality of its narrative approach wasn't entirely evident. But ultimately, HANNIBAL used serial killers to explore obsessive, even self-destructive love with a dark romanticism that benefited from the degree of allegory involved. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS at least attempted to suggest that it was taking place in a world similar to our own. HANNIBAL depicted an essentially abusive relationship in which Lecter pulled the strings but Will Graham had a large degree of complicity without seeming tasteless or disrespectful because it leaned so heavily into the ability of genre and fantasy to think in images that shouldn't be taken literally (such as its frequent set pieces of horribly beautiful gore.) It was able to show the messiness and complexity of two men in a toxic relationship better than most examples of "good gay representation."