On Ben Whishaw’s Body part 2
In The Hour, Whishaw’s character Freddie Lyons is all skin and bones and good suiting, pipestem neck and black Brilliantined hair. As a reporter for one of the first investigative TV programs, he represents a kind of urgent political intelligence; by contrast, his competitor Hector Madden is beefcake. And yet Freddie gets far more skin time than Hector, or even than the women he’s with. He is, as ever, the object of the gaze. He’s the one we see half-naked with Lix, in a shot that gives us more of his body than hers; he’s shirtless with Bel, seen from both sides in a mirror, though she’s already dressed; and it’s his body we see naked in the bath. (I could write an entire essay on Ben Whishaw’s bath scenes. Directors seem compelled to get him naked and wet as often as possible. Not that one can blame them.) (Then again, where is one more vulnerable than in the bath?)
“Nobody else in the series is victimized this way, so blatantly, nowhere else is there such a violent spectacle.”
I’m late to this party, obviously, but I don’t know how anyone can read Freddie’s beating as isolated from the violence enacted upon Rosa and Kiki (not only physical but also sexual and verbal violence). No, we don’t (thankfully) see the details of the attacks on Rosa and Kiki, but the camera definitely lingers on the bruises and cuts left on Kiki, and we’re shown sexually violent pictures. The shadow of violence against women shadows Freddie’s beating, and there’s something to be said about Freddie offering himself up as a proxy/offering in lieu of Kiki.
Freddie’s sacrifice of himself is also an offering to Bel, who has been, thus far in the series the only one truly concerned with Rosa and Kiki as people, and her fear for their safety only underscores the real danger of Cilenti. But I think the scene cuts deeper than the spectacle of Wishaw’s vulnerable body. The death of Rosa takes place off-screen, rendered invisible— as the deaths of so many women of color are— while the beating of Freddie is rendered in perfect detail. It’s just not Freddie’s body, I’d argue, that we are even really seeing, but the shadow of Rosa and Kiki’s.
1. This show is beautifully shot. I love the color palette and the eerie dream sequences.
2. The acting and dialogue are generally subtle and restrained.
3. Will Graham is the sexiest person in the world.
4. Every time Hannibal says, “I…
Yeah, Ian told me that we do get a throwaway line about the mushroom guy, but (as I said to him) I think that’s a crazy way of abandoning a cool idea, both in Hannibal and in Se7en which is where they nicked the idea from. (Don’t lie, writers, we know you did.) How weird and amazing would it be to spend even a tiny bit of time with somebody who went through that? Why even show somebody waking up half-alive if you’re just going to drop the idea immediately with a “Poochie died on the way to his home planet” line? Because at that point you’re just using the idea to squeeze out some extra squirm from the audience, at the expense of the (admittedly imaginary) victim, and that doesn’t sit well with me. ”BOO! He’s still alive!” “AAAH!” “No, I’m kidding, he’s dead.” “Phew!” Like that’s not the most interesting exchange a writer can have with an audience, you know? And it’s dehumanising.
Although the victim in this case was a dude, I do want to remember the words of our Dear Leader Mandy Patinkin here: “I thought it was something very different. I never thought they were going to kill and rape all these women every night, every day, week after week, year after year. It was very destructive to my soul and my personality. […] I’m not making a judgment on the taste [of people who watch crime procedurals]. But I’m concerned about the effect it has. Audiences all over the world use this programming as their bedtime story. This isn’t what you need to be dreaming about.”
Criminal Minds replied that their show was about “the heroes who protect men, women and children everyday.” I roll my eyes at that a bit, so how can I argue that Hannibal is different, a show that really is more interested in the art of serial killers than in catching them? Killers get caught on Hannibal, but the writing of the show isn’t especially interested in how, except when the “how” is “Will Graham’s superpowers”. The episodes frequently skip steps of the investigation to just get to the good parts, which is okay, but it says something.
I really liked Will saying “it’s the ugliest thing in the world” about killing, and I know how much weight that carries in a show that’s so much about the aesthetically beautiful.
I guess what I’m getting at is that when the Patinkin quote first went around tumblr, people frequently agreed with it. I did myself. It expressed some of the ick feelings we feel about the endless procedurals that focus on murdered women. Hannibal is a beautiful, interesting show that I like very much, and it absolutely uses women’s murdered bodies as part of its aesthetic, so what can I say in its defence? That it’s okay when it’s stylish? That’s pretty much Hannibal Lecter’s own justification for his crimes.
[ETA: I know that victims on Hannibal are more balanced gender-wise than the victims of procedurals, or the victims of real-life killers. And Hannibal tends to avoid rape/murder so far, which again is not the way real serial killers tend to operate. But the images that the camera tends to linger over are women’s bodies and women in the act of being murdered—the Shrike’s victims especially.]
Waking up in the middle of the night to soothe the cats so I hope this is coherant, but yeah, absolutely— this is something that E and I were talking about today, and the troublesome nature of procedurals that uses the (usually white) woman’s dead body as this point of beauty, and I don’t think that Hannibal avoids this nearly as much as it needs to, especially because (not to get all Freudian on you, as you were, and I’m not the first person to point out the connection between Wound Man and St. Sebastian) the focus on penetration of the body, and we all know what that means.
I don’t know? I know that Fuller has said that we’re not going to see rape at all, which strikes me as a tidy side-stepping of the issue. Especially because as you point out, that shadow is always going to be present over a murdered woman’s body.
I guess my question is— and if this is even possible— is if by exploring killing as a performance art, it gives the whole thing a more dreamlike air? In Pushing Daisies and Dead Like Me, we don’t take death as seriously because of how it’s really more of a vehicle to explore the characters, but here the display of the bodies both invites and repulses that impulse. The bodies are so surreal and abject and beautiful that there’s a removal of sorts from the ugly reality?
I also think that in some way we are supposed to adopt the aesthetic-as-moral-defense in order to align ourselves (or resist aligning ourselves) with Hannibal? Will’s repetition of this is my design points to that focus as well— this is, in fact, design, and that’s the nature of insanity. Our moral touchstones— Bloom, Bev, maybe Jack to a lesser extent— don’t view it as design. This is Hannibal’s attempted seduction of Will, and perhaps the show’s attempt to seduce us as viewers only to make us recoil later on?