The final words of the final (perhaps ever) episode of Hannibal are, “It’s beautiful." Spoken by Will, they attest to showrunner Bryan Fuller’s successful seduction of the viewer as well as Hannibal's seduction of Will. The visual presentation of the narrative is similar to how Hannibal presents his food and his victims. With some technical assistance, I created this montage, which begins with these final words, in order to show how Hannibal creates visual pleasure through the use of aesthetic techniques that allow us to see the beauty in the horror. Will’s line calls back to the pilot episode, when Garret Jacob Hobbs implores Will (and by extension, us) to "see"; an invitation to consider more closely the look of the show.
As the montage illustrates, the principles of art such as balance, unity, rhythm, pattern and emphasis are encoded into Hannibal’s visuals, particularly the more gruesome elements, so that they can be decoded like high art. The frequent use of classical music in the soundtrack as well as cinematic techniques like crane shots encourage the viewer to find the aesthetics impressive. However, these overtly composed moments are not simply pleasing in the way that most would recognise as beautiful; often there is a fusion of the attractive with the repulsive on an operatic scale, like the flower tree man and the suspended angel. These baroque tableaux present this gothic horror with the trappings of beauty and, in doing so, create intentional moments of cognitive dissonance.
These strategies don't work on all viewers. So who is susceptible to this type of seduction? The text has a passionate audience of fannibals who are, like me, often educated, culturally-aware women who appreciate the show’s artistic and cinematic influences. The horrific-but-beautiful images, may be more appealing to a female viewer for a variety of reasons. Do female viewers, in particular, crave both visual pleasure and perverse allegiance in their horror more than they want to be scared? Or do we simply know what it takes Will three seasons to learn: you can’t have beauty without horror too.
Kirsty you raise some
Kirsty you raise some interesting questions about whether people who watch the series recognize how Fuller uses aesthetics to create both an intellectual and emotional response to his mode of storytelling. Indeed there are moments where the baroque style of narrative, especially in the first half of season 3 is gorgeous and moving in a way that most American television is not. In fact, I find your choice of word "baroque" to describe the way Fuller employs aesthetics in his attempt to invert quality TV and deconstruct viewer expectations to be telling. In showing that there is a beauty in violence Fuller draws upon a long cinematic tradition including the work of Peckinpah, Lynch, and De Palma. Thus in making violence stylized and beautiful- Fuller is able to focus the viewer's attention on the narrative complexity and emotional resonance of his series, while at the same time deconstructing American viewer's penchant for violence over character- a tactic that Michael Haneke addressed in his brilliant film Funny Games. Still, I am left to wonder why so many critics have assumed that Fuller's aesthetic mostly appeals to female viewers. I think there are many men who are equally celebratory of the series and of Fuller's work. In fact, what I think is truly refreshing about Fuller's work with Hannibal is that he creates male characters that are more honest and emotionally focused rather than ones that feel as if they were designed simply for action and violence.
This is the term that always comes to mind for me as well, particularly from S2 onwards; I wonder how we might play this out from just the visuals? I'm thinking of, for example, the show's uses of music (classical pieces that each seem to reference something a bit different - The Goldberg Variations always seeming to cite the moment in The Silence of the Lambs when Lecter kills the officer against that musical backdrop, but also the Peer Gynt suite when Will is imagining what might have been, among so many others - artworks, and literary/biblical citations (I absolutely do not swoon when Hannibal is quoting Revelations while talking to Jack about Will)). The whole thing seems like a kind of sensual AND intellectual smorgasbord... and maybe even something of a departure from what we see in Season 1, with its more (intellectualized/studied) Kubrickian coldness...?
Thank you for the beautiful
Thank you for the beautiful vid, Kirsty! It really showcases the amazing set design, special effects, and camera work on the show. For me, the beauty-in-horror is one of the least appealing aspects of the show. I never even expected to watch Hannibal precisely because I didn't want to see all the horrific things that Twitter told me were happening on the show. As I watched, I averted my eyes for most of the murder tableaus (although they have been easier to glimpse at while rewatching). That said, I agree that the show absolutely sets out to link beauty and horror and to have characters realize that the two are interconnected.
Thanks Melanie! I’ve always
Thanks Melanie! I've always been more drawn to the gothic and overtly aestheticised corners of horror, like Tarsem Singh's The Cell, for example. Reactions to the tension in moments where horror and beauty are present fascinates me. I guess it ties back to some of what Lori was saying yesterday about the attractiveness of the monster, and where I found the Genesis of this piece; the idea that the visuals align us with Hannibal and in finding any of it beautiful that we somehow became complicit. I'm glad that you were intrigued enough to watch the show, and that you've found it beautiful and difficult, which I'm sure is the reaction that Fuller et al. we're trying to provoke.
I was first interested in
I was first interested in watching the series precisely because I love horror and I love the Hannibal Lecter universe and the first time I watched each episode I found the the murder tableaus to be extremely disturbing (and beautiful as well). When I rewatch, I find I read these scenes much more in terms of their aesthetics than I did on first viewing and the "shock" of them is lessened as I've become more invested in the series and how the murders tend to speak to character development or frame of mind, for example, across the episodes. When compared with other horror TV shows, I wonder how Hannibal compares. I've always found other shows in the genre (something like Dexter springs to mind) to be lacking in the sort of horror/beauty that I find som appealing in Hannibal. Are there any other shows that are even remotely comparable?
I’ve spent sometime
I've spent sometime reflecting on your final question, Rebecca, and I'm really struggling to come up with another example of horror television with a similar set of aesthetic values in relation to death and gore. My mind keeps going back to Dexter, as you suggested, but it seems, at least from my recollections, that these elements were presented with some theatricality, particularly the victims of the Doomsday Killer, there was a sense that the killer found the deaths beautiful and symbolic as opposed to the positioning the spectator to view the scenes similarly, which we find in Hannibal. Outside of television, in art and cinema I can think of examples more readily; the work of photographer Joel Peter Witkin and films like The Cell and Wisconsin Death Trip spring most readily to mind. If nothing else this reflects the idea of television as accessible media for the masses, whereas art to a greater and cinema to a lesser extent have to be more actively pursued and consumed by the reader, allowing such challenging content to be accessed by more niche audience. Considering these factors makes Hannibal's existence on a mainstream network like NBC even more paradoxical.
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