“…And the Beast from the Sea” is structured as a perverse quasi romantic farce, in which two working-class guys are pitted against one another by a rarefied man who literally lives in a gilded cage. Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) has been trying to jerk Will’s (Hugh Dancy) figurative chain over Francis Dolarhyde’s (Richard Armitage) crime spree for some time, suggesting that the latter has replaced the former as the primary occupier of his affections. (Or of whatever precisely counts as “affections” for Hannibal Lecter.) Will hasn’t been taking the bait, having a variety of other things on his plate (a new wife and superstar killer to pursue will fill one’s calendar fast), but Hannibal escalated the state of affairs this week, disclosing the address of Will’s family to Francis and ordering him to “kill them all.” Does Hannibal mean Will, too, when he says this to Francis? It’s a question that hangs over the narrative. There are only two episodes remaining in the season, and probably of the entire series, so a discarding of subtlety is in order. Is Hannibal in love with Will, or running him through another psychological thresher? If it’s love, does Hannibal want Will back, so to speak, hence his wanting the latter’s family dead, or does he seek revenge for the gall he perceives Will to display in taking a family to begin with? Or is it all of the above? As one considers these questions, it’s fruitful to remember: The F.B.I. never caught Hannibal; he gave himself up to stay closer to Will, which is to say that he feels as if Will hasn’t honored his side of that bargain.
I think Hannibal, in his way, truly loves Will and that Will returns that love, with these truths baffling their internal senses of how the world proceeds. (Hannibal’s bizarro form of honor is directly alluded to when he says that he’s always told the truth, “in my way”—a characteristic that lands several dark punchlines over the course of the episode, as he repeatedly owns up to his manipulations with flippant mater-of-fact-ness.) For Hannibal, love is something that shouldn’t exist, as he’s an über-criminal mastermind, after all, a contemporary Mabuse who destroys people in fashions that suggest a cruel child torturing an insect on the sidewalk. For Will, love in this case is an issue of what it says about him morally: Can a “good” man love a monster and remain unsullied? It’s worth noting that the issue of both parties being men has never been even passingly broached by creator Bryan Fuller and his collaborators, as this casualness informs Hannibal with a cleansing sense of progressiveness that often counterpoints the despairing grotesquerie.
This romantic subtext is the central emotional motor of the series, what keeps it from collapsing into absurdity. On a literal level, Hannibal is starkly bonkers, at times even decisively nonsensical. It’s amazing what Fuller can get away with without losing his audience, and the central relationship between Hannibal and Will is the resonant bedrock that allows for that tonal dexterity, reverberating as a universal symbol of how self-loathing can reliably either poison relationships or keep them from blossoming at all. This acknowledgement of self-hatred has become particularly pronounced since Francis’s arrival on the scene, as he represents a less polished and guarded embodiment of the emotions that drive Hannibal and Will’s power games. (Particularly heartbreaking this week is Francis’s incredulity in response to Reba calling him a man—a detail that astutely reflects the emasculation that drives the increasing emergence of his Red Dragon.) Francis, despite his status as chief, so-far-uncatchable villain, scans almost as a hapless innocent, a pawn battered back and forth between our heroes. That’s a design of Hannibal’s, of course.
This partnership between Hannibal and Francis is represented again by the superb visual conceit of emphasizing settings and characters, not as they are, but as how others see them—a remarkable realization of the “memory palace” concept from earlier in the series. It’s a reminder that objective “reality” might be the ultimate lie we tell ourselves, and that the mind is our ultimate safe house or prison, depending on the brain’s individual state. This device is also a practical context for visually dressing up expository dialogue scenes. When Francis sneaks into Hannibal’s old office to call him at the State Hospital, we see the conversation that follows as if Francis was a patient of Hannibal’s at the latter’s old practice. Hannibal’s in one of his fabulous suits, a typical work of Lucifer-chic with dark, trippy stripes and colors which often cause him to resemble a human Cheshire Cat. Francis is sitting opposite of him, spilling his guts about Reba (Rutina Wesley), while a double of Hannibal occasionally hovers over Francis’s shoulder, physicalizing the idea of a little devil inspiring one’s most destructive impulses (no one’s around to serve as the contrasting angel). Francis relates that same old new-couple’s chestnut: Francis is in love, but afraid the monster he feels he’s nurturing inside him will tear her to pieces. Hannibal throws him the bone of Will’s family.
The center of the episode is a set piece in which all three of the tormented, nesting love stories (Hannibal/Will, Francis/Reba, Will/Molly) come crashing on top of one another, representing Francis’s increasing confusion as well as the realization of Will’s worst fears, which are Hannibal’s happy fantasies: the former’s invasion of Will’s cabin to kill Molly (Nina Arianda) and her son, Walter (Gabriel Browning Rodriguez). What follows is a beautifully choreographed ballet of pursuit and evasion. Francis, with a black cap pulled over most of his face, killing dentures in his mouth, and a leather jacket that fosters his resemblance to the “Gimp” from Pulp Fiction, as well as to Tom Noonan’s version of the character from Manhunter, quietly stalks onto the Graham cabin porch, picking the lock. Detecting something, Molly awakens and glides over to Walter’s room as Francis enters the cabin. Molly instructs Walter to climb out of his window, wait by the car, and count to 100. If she doesn’t join him, Molly says, head to the road. Molly slides down the hallway before Francis sees her, luck briefly favoring her, considering the order in which Francis chooses to inspect the rooms. This is an elegant piece of thriller craftsmanship: Noteworthy for the dignified, nearly defiantly calm silence of it, and for the transcendent grace it allows all of its participants to display. The images lock into place with crystal precision: a close-up of a foot here, a layered shot of a pursuer above his intended prey there, all accompanied by Brian Retzeill’s characteristically adventurous, poignant score, which suggests an aural counterpoint fashioned by the use of pounding drums and something that sounds like a Theremin.
This set piece ushers forth a number of compelling shock waves in its wake. One senses that the women are being shoved aside for whatever awaits the primary characters at the end of the season, confirming yet again Fuller’s bleak view of the world as being socially untenable for troubled visionaries who must walk alone. The doubling of Will and Francis is in place again this week, as they’re both afforded prolonged, painful breakup scenes with their significant others. Francis’s is less mysterious, as he leaves Reba because he doesn’t want to hurt her, but Will’s interlude with Molly in the hospital following Francis’s attack feels just as final. Fuller’s attitude toward Molly is curious: He respects her as a deviation from the “sidelined wife” stereotype, but he also evinces an almost ineffable resentment of her that syncs up with Hannibal’s accounting of the state of Will’s present affairs as embodying a hypocritical pipe dream. Molly isn’t likable; there’s something subtly smug and un-giving about her, something not entirely trustworthy that’s expressed by her near-indifference toward the state of Will’s sick dogs (in reality poisoned by Francis) early in the episode.
Another dissonance is Hannibal’s exhibition of an emotion that could be called pity if we didn’t know any better, toward Francis. Hannibal agrees to a sting operation to help Alana (Caroline Dhavernas) and Jack (Laurence Fishburne) find Francis, but he gives up the charade, warning Francis when the latter begins to lose himself in a barrage of self-hatred that climaxes with heavy breathing and self-hurting that echoes the earlier, scarier self-abuse scenes that are dramatized as a supernatural wrestling with William Blake’s great, famed monster. Of course, this pity has the twinned benefit of directing spite toward Alana and Jack, but Mikkelsen’s delivery of “they’re listening” before dropping the phone has a trace of active human concern. Hannibal pays the price for this sabotage, as he knows he must, with Alana bundling him up in a gurney, strapping a variation of the famous Silence of the Lambs muzzle to his face, standing beside him in a pose that recalls the scene from that film in which a senator visits Anthony Hopkins’s Lecter regarding the whereabouts of her daughter. Alana even has the same bobbed haircut as Diane Baker’s senator, which Hannibal regards with a chilling blankness that’s intensified by the whiteness of the mask.
But it’s Mikkelsen and Dancy’s chemistry that dominates this episode: Hannibal has never been more cheekily, bitterly curdled, Will never more frayed. Mikkelsen’s line deliveries are particularly delicious, specifically when he offers orations that could be describing himself, Will, Francis, or some sort of scrambled variation of all of the above. Quoting Goethe’s Faust, Hannibal offers, “Two souls, alas, are dwelling in my breast, and one is striving to forsake its brother.” He could mean the Red Dragon and Francis, or Will and his world of loneliness versus his doubtful married refuge, or Hannibal could be speaking for himself, as a man torn between nihilism and an affection that manifests itself as demonic cruelty.
For more Hannibal recaps, click here.
Review: That Was Something Lays Bare the Ephemeral Desires of a Lost Youth
By the end, the lesson we’ve learned is that the stories we tell ourselves about the past have always been revised from a previous draft.
Film and theater critic Dan Callahan’s witty debut novel, That Was Something, chronicles the young adulthood of Bobby Quinn, a gay Midwestern transplant who’s just moved from Chicago to Manhattan to attend New York University. Retrospectively, it examines his obsession with the two leading players in the story of his early days in the city in the late 1990s: the enigmatic Ben Morrissey, an irresistible fellow student destined for fame in the art world, and the mysterious Monika Lilac, a dramatic and performative slightly older cinephile whose devotion to silent films is emblematic of her entire character. “I was looking for the keys to the kingdom, and I found them or thought I did in Manhattan screening rooms, in the half-light and the welcome dark,” Bobby declares to the reader in the novel’s opening, and so begins a provocative—and conspicuously wine-drenched—narrative that serves both as a paean to a bygone era and an emphatic testimony about how we never really leave behind the people, experiences, and places that shape us into who we are in the present.
For a fleeting period of time, the lives of these three characters become intertwined and united by their shared passion for the cinema—and for each other. While Ben and Monika enter into a tumultuous romance, Bobby watches from the sidelines as he privately explores his own sexuality, mostly in dalliances with anonymous older men who he meets at bars in Chelsea, having learned to offer himself up “as a kind of virgin sacrifice.” Throughout, Callahan’s frank descriptions of Bobby’s early sexual experiences are a welcome departure from metaphor, while still seeming almost mythical in the way that Bobby recalls them, just like how all of the liminal moments in our lives—the moments in which we cross a threshold and permanently abandon whoever we had been before—seem to mark our personal histories almost like the transitions between the disparate chapters of a novel.
Bobby has been deeply in love with Ben ever since the two met for the first time in a common area of their shared dormitory at NYU, and Ben keeps Bobby only barely at arm’s length—sexually and otherwise—throughout the dazzling weeks, months, and even years of their relationship as young men. He constantly reminds Bobby that they would probably be lovers if only Ben were gay, which is obviously music to Bobby’s ears, fueling many of his private fantasies. And Bobby is also the prized subject of Ben’s budding photography career, often photographed in the nude, and both the photographs themselves and the act of bringing them into the world blur lines of sexuality and masculinity as the friendship between the two young men deepens and becomes increasingly complex.
Callahan cocoons his characters in what feels like a time capsule, capturing them at their most beautiful and glamorous and then presenting them to us as if on a stage—or on a screen, which the characters in the novel would agree is even more intimate, even more akin to a grab at immortality. Other characters drift in and out of the central narrative in the same way that one-night stands and people we’ve met only at dimly lit parties can sometimes seem blurry and indistinct when we try to recollect them later, but the love story that Bobby is most interested in sharing with the reader is that of a queer young man’s obsession with his larger than life friends during a time when everything for him was larger than life.
Callahan’s previous book, The Art of American Screen Acting: 1912-1960, demonstrates the author’s talent for dissecting the subtlety and nuance of the many nonverbal ways in which the icons of the screen communicate with one another, and here too in That Was Something is close attention paid to the power of performance. The novel is also a story about falling in love with a city, even in retrospect—and even after the version of the city that you originally knew is gone forever. And in the familiar yet always poignant way in which the sights and sounds of a lost New York typically wriggle their way into a novel like this one, the city is at first a backdrop before it inevitably becomes a character.
Monika Lilac hosts a silent film-themed party at her house during which the guests have been cleverly instructed to pantomime their communication to one another rather than speak out loud, and to write out any absolutely necessary dialogue on handmade title cards. At the end of the party, the various revelers—wearing only their underwear, at Monika’s command—all together “streamed out into the night and ran like crazy” through New York City streets while being pummeled from above by heavy rain, not caring at all who was watching. And Bobby, from the vantage point of years in the future, recalls:
In any other place, we might have been harassed, arrested, or the object of wide-eyed stares. Not in Manhattan. And that has its flip side, too. Because Manhattan will let you do whatever you like, at any time of the day or night, but it won’t ever pay attention to you. You can be world famous, and Manhattan still basically doesn’t care, most of the time. And if you aren’t world famous, Manhattan regards you at several ice-slicked levels below indifference. And sometimes, on less wonderful days and nights, some attention might be welcome.
In a blurb on the novel’s back cover, Wayne Koestenbaum describes That Was Something as “The Great Gatsby on poppers,” and there’s definitely something of Nick Carraway in the voice of Bobby Quinn as he looks back at his disappearing New York and the people who populated it, the ghost of a city that disappeared forever the moment he looked away. Callahan’s novel enters the canon of the queer roman a clef—as well as the literary New York novel—by mixing vibrantly realized memories of a fleeting youth, ruminations on the origins of desire, and a deeply felt nostalgia for the way things once were into a cocktail that tastes exactly like growing up and growing older in the same city in which you were once young. And the hangover after a night spent knocking them back in the dim light of a Manhattan dive, as anyone who still occasionally haunts the haunts of his youth can tell you, is always brutal.
Bobby is now many years older as he narrates That Was Something, his desires tempered or at least contained by realistic expectations of how and in what ways they might be satisfied, and his relationships with Ben (now famous) and Monika (now vanished) are either nonexistent or else greatly demoted from the centrality that they had once firmly occupied in the narrative of his life. But there’s still urgency in what Bobby is telling the reader. In the novel’s brilliant final pages, we come to realize that the act of looking back at our younger selves is both masturbatory and transitory, mostly an exercise in framing. Bobby has been explaining how age has made him wistful about his moment in the sun, but then he’s suddenly remembering a fantasy that he once enacted alone one afternoon in his dorm room, back when he was still a virgin—and back when all of his fantasies were about Ben Morrissey:
I entered another place with my mind. It felt like what stepping into the past would feel like now, maybe. It was forbidden, and I was getting away with it. … Looked at from the outside and with unsympathetic eyes, it would be pitiful and grotesque, maybe even laughable. So why am I still so certain that something else occurred?
The lesson we’ve learned by the end of That Was Something is that the stories we tell ourselves about the past have always been revised from a previous draft. Just think of all that film that ends up on the cutting room floor during the editing process, to be forgotten and swept away with the garbage after the best take has been safely delivered. Only with the benefit of hindsight can we wipe away the shame and growing pains of early stabs at love and failed expressions of desire and instead render the past beautifully, artfully, just as the cinematic film frame limits our perspective so that all we can see is what the director has meticulously manufactured specifically for us. The equipment that made the image possible in the first place has been painstakingly concealed, so that all we notice—all we remember—is whatever ends up remaining beneath the carefully arranged spotlight.
Sometimes a great novel, like a great film, can at once transform and transport us, offering a glimpse into a lost world made all the more beautiful by the distance it asks us to travel into our hearts and minds. At the end of one of the last film screenings that Bobby attends in the company of Monika Lilac, she says wistfully to him, “You know, you’re downhearted, and you think, ‘What’s the use?’ and then you see a film like that and it speaks to you and suddenly you’re back in business again!” And the film they’ve been watching, she has just whispered to Bobby as the credits rolled in the emptying theater, was the story of her life.
Dan Callahan’s That Was Something is now available from Squares & Rebels.
Blu-ray Review: Peppermint Soda Gets 2K Restoration from Cohen Media Group
Diane Kurys’s poignant debut powerfully evokes the bittersweet feelings of leaving behind the halcyon days of one’s youth.
Diane Kurys’s Peppermint Soda is like flipping through a young girl’s diary, capturing as it does snippets of the small-scale tragedies, amusing hijinks, and quotidian details that define the lives of two Parisian teenage sisters over the course of their 1963-to-‘64 school year. Through a delicate balancing of comedic and dramatic tones, Kurys’s debut film taps into the emotional insecurities and social turmoil that accompany the awkward biological developments of adolescence with a disarming sweetness and subtlety, lending even small moments a poignancy that shuns overt displays of sentimentality or nostalgia. As evidenced by the opening title card, in which Kurys dedicates the film to her sister “who has still hasn’t returned my orange sweater,” Peppermint Soda’s authenticity arises from its specificity, both in its characters’ tumultuous inner lives and the detailed rendering of their friends and teachers, as well as the classrooms within which they passed their days.
Structured as a series of loosely connected vignettes, the film bounces between the introverted 13-year-old Anne (Eléonore Klarwein) and her outgoing, popular 15-year-old sister, Frédérique (Odile Michel), who both attend the same strict, bourgeois private school. While Anne’s concerns often verge on the petty, be it her frustration at her mother (Anouk Ferjac) refusing to buy her pantyhose or at her sister for preventing her from tagging along to social gatherings, Kurys depicts Anne with a uniquely compassionate eye, mining light humor out of such situations while remaining keenly aware of the almost insurmountable peer pressures and image-consciousness that are the driving forces behind most irrational teenage behavior.
Some scenes, such as the one where Anne’s art teacher ruthlessly mocks her drawing in front of the class, are representative of the emotionally abusive or neglectful relationship between Anne and many of the adults in her life, and throughout, Kurys understands that it’s how Anne is seen by her classmates that most dramatically affects her state of mind. In the heightened emotional state of teenage years, the sting of simply not having a pair of pantyhose can be more painful than a teacher’s overbearing maliciousness. But Peppermint Soda isn’t all doom and gloom, as the bitter disappointments of youth are counterbalanced with a number of droll passages of Anne gossiping and goofing off with her friends. Particularly amusing is a conversation where Anne’s friend confidently, yet with wild inaccuracies, describes sex, eventually guessing that boy’s hard-ons can grow to around six feet long.
In Peppermint Soda’s latter half, Kurys seamlessly shifts her focus toward Frédérique, broadening the film’s scope as current events begin to shape the elder sister’s political consciousness. Everything from John F. Kennedy’s assassination to a classmate’s terrifying firsthand account of the police’s violent overreaction to a student protest against the Algerian War lead Frédérique to slowly awaken to the complexities of the world around her. But even as Frédérique finds herself becoming quite the activist, handing out peace pins and organizing secret meetings in school—and much to the chagrin of her mother and her sexist, conservative teacher—she’s still prone to fits of emotional immaturity when it comes to her boyfriend.
It’s through these frequent juxtapositions of micro and macro concerns, when the inescapable solipsism of childhood runs head-on into the immovable hurdles and responsibilities of adulthood, that Peppermint Soda most powerfully evokes the bittersweet feelings of leaving behind the halcyon days of one’s youth. Yet the sly sense of whimsy that Kurys instills in her deeply personal recollections acts as a comforting reminder of the humor tucked away in even our darkest childhood memories. Sometimes it just takes a decade or two to actually find it.
Peppermint Soda is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Cohen Media Group.
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Sound Editing
If it were biologically possible to do so, both Ed and I would happily switch places with A Quiet Place’s Emily Blunt.
If it were biologically possible to do so, both Ed and I would happily switch places with A Quiet Place’s Emily Blunt, because we’d much rather give birth in a tub while surrounded by murderous blind creatures than have to once again write our predictions for the sound categories. As adamant as we’ve been that the Academy owes it to the nominees to air every category, which they agreed to after an extended “just kidding,” it might have given us pause had the sound categories been among the four demoted by Oscar. But no, we must now endure our annual bout of penance, aware of the fact that actually knowing what the difference is between sound editing and sound mixing is almost a liability. In other words, we’ve talked ourselves out of correct guesses too many times, doubled down on the same movie taking both categories to hedge our bets too many times, and watched as the two categories split in the opposite way we expected too many times. So, as in A Quiet Place, the less said, the better. And while that film’s soundscapes are as unique and noisy as this category seems to prefer, First Man’s real-word gravitas and cacophonous Agena spin sequence should prevail.
Will Win: First Man
Could Win: A Quiet Place
Should Win: First Man