TV Dictionary - Hannibal

Creator's Statement

I remember when my mum first invited me to watch Hannibal with her – yes, she was introduced to it earlier than I was. She tried to lure me into watching it by saying it’s very artistic because it uses a lot of detailed shots. Although I was a little bit sceptical at first, ‘close-up,’ in the end, truly is one of the first words that comes to my mind when I think of my intense experience watching the series. 

While browsing dictionaries for the definitions of close-up to use in my video essay, I realized that the examples of the word as used in a sentence much more accurately reflected my experience of digesting Hannibal (pun intended). Juxtaposing the seemingly-innocent sentences with the horror, cruelty and gore in the images not only creates a new meaning for them but can also serve as a coping mechanism.

As the extreme close-ups become just abstract lines, their meaning is suspended, at least for a moment, until the camera zooms out enough for us to identify the objects we’re looking at. One of the examples used in the video – “They are particularly striking closeup but can look indistinct from a distance” – pitches out the exact opposite in Hannibal. It is actually the close-ups that are indistinct and more bearable to watch; and it is the context revealed that makes our body shiver. The time-limited comfort can be found in ascribing new meanings to the unidentifiable images. Therefore, placing the sentences from the dictionary over the images from Hannibal not only represents the horror of realizing the context; it also reflects on the process of trying to find other possible meanings for the images, or alternative contexts, until the moment of realization.

Where Lori Morimoto starts her video essay “Hannibal: a fanvid” with the word “intimacy,” the word for my own video would be “distance,” suggesting another way of reception of the close-up shots in Hannibal. Personally, as a huge fan, I feel like first I had to establish a coping mechanism, a safety net in order to be able to engulf myself fully in the emotional intimacy of the series – and the abstract details helped me establish that distance, at least for short spans of time. Thus, close-up shots are one of the many ambiguities of Hannibal.      

Works cited:

Morimoto, L. (2016). Hannibal: a fanvid. [in]Transition, 3(4).



Karin Spišáková is a Film Studies and Sociology undergraduate at the Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague, where she has begun creating audiovisual essays under the supervision of Jiří Anger and Veronika Hanáková. She is interested in cross-disciplinary topics from both sociological and film/media theories, but mainly queer theories. She is currently working on her bachelor’s thesis, which analyses the TV series Hannibal through queer masochistic theories and masochistic aesthetics.

If I had to sum up Karin Spišáková’s entry on Hannibal in a word, which word would I choose?

My first thought is of “defamiliarization.” Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines “defamiliarize” as “to present or render in an unfamiliar artistic form usually to stimulate fresh perception.” Indeed, the close-up shot can do just that, as many have discussed since the early days of cinema, from Walter Benjamin to Mary Ann Doane. But, taking a lead from Spišáková, perhaps more interesting than the dictionary definition of “defamiliarization” is this example listed underneath it, which could easily apply to the clips featured in the video: “And these fragments, when examined closely, defamiliarize ordinary […] reality in a manner different from that of hypnagogia.” The images featured in the video not only defamiliarize the objects they display in extreme close-up, but are themselves defamiliarized by Spišáková’s edit, which removes them from their original narrative context, enabling their examination and aesthetic appreciation alongside formally-similar images. This act of defamiliarization in fact characterizes much of videographic criticism. And, of course, a defamiliarization of sorts is also enacted here on the format of the TV Dictionary itself, with the inspired choice of focusing on example sentences rather than word definitions. This highlights the contextual nature of language, including audiovisual language, as Spišáková reflects in her creator’s statement.

Her entry relates to my own (much simpler and more “traditional”) entry on Dexter in several ways: both series focus on serial killers, of course; both play with subjective perspectives, at times focalizing the narrative through abnormal, traumatized or pathological subjectivities outside “normal” society – another form of defamiliarization of the “regular.” In Dexter’s case, this is particularly evident in the opening credits sequence, which renders the familiar and mundane – an ordinary morning routine – strange and sinister. Both entries have chosen to focus on highly-stylized sequences that make much use of extreme close-up shots, though in Dexter’s case this is the exception to the rule, whereas Hannibal deploys such aesthetic defamiliarization more freely.

But while “defamiliarization” certainly provides some insight into the video, I find myself drawn to that final word in the sentence quoted above: “hypnagogia.” I will admit I had to look that one up! Merriam-Webster defines “hypnagogic” as “of, relating to, or occurring in the period of drowsiness immediately preceding sleep.” Once again, underneath this definition can be found a relevant sentence: “The hypnagogic state is that heady lull between wakefulness and sleep when thoughts and images flutter, melt, and transform into wild things.” Perhaps “hypnagogia,” then, would be the word I would choose to capture the essence of Spišáková’s entry, in which thoughts, images, and words indeed flutter, melt, and transform into wild things.