Or how I learned to love the bomb. The bombshell that is RA taking a role in NBC’s Hannibal. The following post is less of a review but a personal resource to help you make up your mind on whether you want to read the source novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris and/or eventually attempt to watch the TV adaptation of it with RA portraying the evil villain, Francis Dolarhyde aka The Tooth Fairy aka The Red Dragon. I will avoid plot spoilers, although some general plot hints will have to be mentioned in this personal argumentation, and will be indicated. My own conclusion over whether or not I will watch, will conclude the post. As a prelude I’d like to give you a quick insight into my own tolerance levels when it comes to blood, horror and gore so you can gauge whether my impression of Red Dragon will help you determine your own approach.
First of all – I am a total sissy. I do not like horror and gore films and generally do not watch them. I can bear to see blood and dead bodies in thrillers and detective series, I can abstract other horrors such as rape and torture to some extent, but my trigger when it comes to Hannibal is the cannibalism. That particular dark corner of human behaviour is something that leaves me *extremely* uneasy. From what I have seen of Hannibal – and I stress: that is *only* gifs and one and a half trailers of season one and two – I did understand that both murder as well as cannibalism are depicted in an extremely aestheticized way, and are styled and signified as “works of art”, possibly overemphasizing the “fantastic” element of crime so much as to appear ironic or abstract. Yet my mind unfortunately does not make that leap to abstraction, and I fail to overcome my reservations. (I also have major problems with “murder as art” or what I perceive as the general aestheticization and glamourization of murder, but this not an issue that can be clarified by reading the book; it depends solely on the artistic decision of the TV producers.) So, bear in mind that I consider myself a “visual” person, i.e. the power of the visual representation works stronger on me than the power of words. You may need to take this into account when making up your own mind whether or not to read Red Dragon.
The Advantages of Reading
Based on my reactions to Hannibal – and possibly motivated by a few other things: a general tendency to “give everything a go”, the wish to base my judgment on insights gleaned from research rather than on prejudice, the tempting hints and initial fan arts seen in fan reactions on tumblr, the irrational feeling of being left behind or being less of a fan if I didn’t watch His Royal
Arsey- RC-ness’s current project, and the lure of seeing RA in action in *any* role – I decided for myself that a look at the literary source might have certain advantages: I could familiarize myself with the characters in the series; I could check how much Lecter and cannibalism feature in the book; and I could decide whether I can deal with Dolarhyde as a chaRActer I would like to *see*. In short, I approached the book as a way of numbing myself against the visual material to be expected in the series, and as a tool for anticipating possible triggers when watching the series (and taking precautions, read: knowing when to close my eyes *ggg*). This may not be the case for you if you feel that words hold more power than images!
Violence and Murder in RD
[From now on: SPOILERS AHEAD] So, with extensive description of cannibalism as my worst fear, I launched into the book, staunchly resolved to put it down as soon as there was just the slightest hint of anything that could trigger me. And then I read the whole book in one go, starting last Saturday morning and finishing up in the evening. Because there is *no* cannibalism in Red Dragon. Francis Dolarhyde is not a cannibal. He is a mass murderer, but he does not eat his victims. He bites, but not for eating but for leaving a mark, as a symbolic gesture. Lecter is mentioned in the book, too, but his actions are not discussed. He is somewhat a catalyst for the plot, but not essential.
As to explicit *sexual* violence and murder: There is only one scene in the book – close to the beginning – where the scene of a murder is described (in much less gory detail than I expected) when Will Graham initially takes up the case. This is done to give us our first introduction to (the crimes of) the new villain. There are a few uncomfortable descriptions in there, but none of it threw me off because I had already read about it online in comments and discussions when the news of the new role initially filtered through. There are two further descriptive scenes of violence, neither of them sexually motivated. They are brutal, but I found myself racing through them – not because I was afraid but because I wanted to know what would happen next. I would liken them to scenes like the torture of Porter in Strike Back, or Porter’s eventual demise – harrowing, but not something that we have not been confronted with before.
Other than that the book delves into the past and the psychology of Dolarhyde, and there are no graphic scenes of violence in that but rather psychological abuse. We never see him in action as he is killing someone for his sexual gratification, and the times when he does kill are rather efficiently described, i.e. without too much detail. There is an extended, suspenseful scene that may be triggery because it can be considered as description of torture, but I found myself able to deal with that (see above). In terms of graphic sexuality, again, there is not very much. Most fan fiction is more in-your-face than Red Dragon. Much of it, of course, plays on the fact that your mind will extend the written word and conjure an image, but I don’t think the implied images are that gross. However, with RA as the actor in mind who will bring Dolarhyde to life, I think some of the scenes of Dolarhyde contemplating and preparing for his actions are kind of titillating as there is nudity and implied sexual release. (Titillation probably not intended by Harris)
Dolarhyde as a ChaRActer
However, I thought Dolarhyde was a fascinating character, a classic evil villain, albeit bordering on pastiche. While he is no doubt a misguided monster, he has reasons. (Ahem. Much like us fangirls??? 😉 ) That is what sets him apart from Lecter in my mind, whose own reasons for his cannibalism are unfathomable to me. (But that is due to my personal, intellectual inability to deal with the idea of cannibalism.) I could totally see where Dolarhyde was coming from – at the same time finding it all rather unoriginal, hence pastiche. Hello Siegmund Freud! Nonetheless, I felt something like empathy with Dolarhyde, and felt quite invested in the one possible redemption that was offered. Whether that is because I went at it with the visuals of RA portraying Dolarhyde in mind (which invariably seems to make me sympathetic to the characters portrayed, and possibly allows the physical representation to obscure and cloud my moral judgment), or whether that was intended by the author, is unresolved in my mind. But pastiche or not, there is loads of meat for RA in there to get his teeth in, pun unintended. There are different layers to Dolarhyde, his past, present and future, and the role offers interesting challenges in terms of acting Dolarhyde’s disability and speech characteristics, as well as the character’s physical metamorphosis.
In general, I found this book full of suspense and with a number of interesting twists that I had not anticipated at all. In terms of writing, I had a few niggles with some stylistic choices, the use of tenses being one. But this is not high literature, it is a conventional, psychological thriller – and by what I have seen of Hannibal so far, the cinematographic realization of the material has a unique style of its own. Tenses will not come into that 😉 However, this is not a book I would read again – not because of the contained violence but more because I would not be “entertained” as much again, knowing where things are going.
But reading the book has exactly done what I had hoped it would do for me: I have found that I can deal with the material that my favourite actor is going to work with. I may know how the story goes, but I am aware now where possible scenes of difficulty are – and can
watch from behind my hands anticipate them. I have familiarized myself with the character whom RA is going to portray. And I can now understand better why my favourite actor has decided to take this role.
My personal conclusion is that I *would* watch Hannibal 3 (*if* it was shown in my territory). But should the makers of Hannibal adapt the book more liberally than I expect, I am glad that I will have the option to switch off at the touch of a button.