Halloween Recommendation: Hannibal

(A/K/A All That You Love Will Be Eviscerated)

When I considered writing a piece for Halloween movie recs, I realized I didn’t want to promote a horror movie – I wanted to talk about the best horror movie in years that is not, in fact , a horror movie. The TV show Hannibal.

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It’s impossible to think anyone may have missed this. Even if you didn’t watch it when it aired – which was a lot of people – you know about it. Still, it remains a haunting, beautifully grotesque story all about how love will kill you.

There are many themes in Hannibal, but many boil down to a simple fact: love is a beast. It will kill you one way or another, but it will kill you. And maybe that’s what you want.

To boil the series down to its simplest elements, the series is about a pair of doomed men who are pretty much destined to destroy each other, with love both a complicating factor and the main motive. Hannibal, the man who feels almost nothing, sees Will as fascinating: he doesn’t understand him, and he doesn’t know why he doesn’t understand him. Will, the man who feels too much, is broken and haunted by the fact that his natural empathy is driving him crazy. He doesn’t quite understand Hannibal either, although it takes some time for him to realize the monster he’s looking for is his suave and seemingly sane new best friend.

To call this relationship abusive is actually underselling it. Hannibal almost kills Will by hiding a diagnosis, and then frames him for murder when he realizes Will can see his true self. Even after getting Will out of prison – just to let him know who’s boss in this relationship – Hannibal takes it to the next level and almost literally eviscerates him, in a scene where I wasn’t sure if he was going to kiss him or kill him, or both. (In the end, it was just the stabbing, but it was close.) Hannibal wants to break away from Will, and Will wants to break away from Hannibal. But neither can quite do it. Will wants justice; Hannibal loves playing games with the man he can’t fathom. In the end, Hannibal is Will’s choice for self-destruction. Why kill yourself when you can get killed by the monster who loves you, and can kill him in turn?

Rewatching Hannibal, it’s kind of amazing it made it to network TV at all. Yes, it’s way too dark and gory for network, but also, it’s way too gorgeous. The cinematography rivals films at all times. The set design and careful consideration of iconography is fascinating, and at the best of times makes you think you’re watching someone else’s fever dream. (And that may have indeed been in the point in the first season, when Will is gravely ill.) There are procedural elements, sure, and sometimes I wish there wasn’t, but none of that takes away from the fact that this series has genuinely unsettling and frightening moments. It also has weirdly beautiful moments as well.

Again, all the cinematography, sure, but I’m thinking of small character moments too, such as when Will talks down the killer who was coming to kill him, because he knows she’s sick and delusional, and if she really knew what was going on, she wouldn’t want to hurt anyone. Here you see the full depth of his empathy, and how that could be used as a weapon against him. Or when Hannibal saves the dying FBI director’s wife, because he knows she wants to die, and keeping her alive is the cruelest possible thing he could do. She knows this, she tells the director as much, but he doesn’t believe her at first. A cruel, truthful echo of the real world, where women are often the first to warn, and the first to be ignored.

If you’ve seen the series, you’ll know that – spoiler alert? – it ends in a type of cliff hanger (almost literally again), although there’s heavy inference that they didn’t die. Which I totally accept – no, they probably didn’t. This is TV, after all. But can you envision the twisted relationship of Will and Hannibal ending any other way? In Hannibal, to love is to die. And sometimes it feels that way in life too.

What’s scarier than that?

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