What Are You Watching?: “Hannibal”


Hannibal (2013 – 2015, NBC)

Over the summer, I made it my mission to start watching Hannibal. Having heard rave reviews from multiple people, I went in with high expectations, all of which were met and surpassed.

Hannibal is the story of Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), a gifted criminologist who works for the FBI as a profiler. Will has a power that allows him to enter a crime scene and mentally envision how the crime was committed based on blood splatter, body manipulations, and such. Will’s gift takes a mental toll on him — as it would anyone who was surround by death — so Will asks for assistance solving a complicated case of a serial killer. Enter Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen).

The name “Hannibal Lecter” is familiar because it is the name of the psychotic protagonist from the 1991 film Silence of the Lambs. In the film, Dr. Lecter was institutionalized for violent acts of murder and cannibalism. With this echoed in the NBC series, I wondered how long it would be until the character in the series mirrored that of the one in the film… turns out, not long at all.

The show is brilliant for numerous reasons, one in particular is that it wrestles with the concept of insanity. The series establishes Hannibal as a brilliant doctor who is by far one of the most looked up to in his field. He’s also a good person who is working with the FBI on cases to help catch criminals. But Hannibal is also cast as a psychopath who feeds on human organs. It makes the viewer question whether Hannibal is insane or not.

Something that really won me over, as a film minor, is that the cinematography of this show is unlike anything I have ever seen before. The shots complied in this series not only enhance the story but elevate the show to an art form.


In season two, episode six, “Furamono,” we are introduced to a body whose organs have been replaced by rare poisonous flowers. The body was put into a tree  and became intertwined with it. This shot – like many in the series – shows the brutal beauty of the show. Here we have a body that has been violated and stripped of its organs, but this is juxtaposed with the bright flowers and beautiful blooming tree. It’s an allegory for life and death – the concepts of being born again, returning to the earth, and the beauty of the unknown all are hearkened from this still. It also is reminiscent of the crucifixion of Christ in the way the body is posed – arms outstretched to either side, hanging from a tree. The medium shot allows the viewer to focus on the body and centralizes the bright flowers blooming from the chest. It also makes the parking lot that the tree is in look more like an ocean oasis, thus making the viewer more enticed and uncertain about why they are so drawn in.

One of the more recent moments of beautiful cinematography in the series is in season three, episode eight – “The Great Red Dragon.” In this episode, Will encounters a case in which the murderer is killing families and, after killing them, breaking the mirrors in the house and placing the shattered mirror fragments over the eyes and mouths of the victims. This allows the killer to see themselves in their victims. The shots of this are chilling. The tight framing on the face of the victim allows the audience to see the ruination of beauty. But with the mirror pieces, we’re able to see someone else’s life move through them, similar to how a gun kills the person it’s shot at but makes the shooter feel alive.  

From it’s beautifully realized mise en scène to it’s captivating storyline, Hannibal is by far the most brutally beautiful television series I have ever watched.

Hannibal‘s third and final season concluded on August 29th, 2015. Episodes are available for streaming on NBC.com & Hulu.

— Michael Cotter, Poetry Editor

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