Thursday, December 07, 2006

Hannibal (Ridley Scott, 2001)

Again, inspired by the recent Film Criticism Blogathon, another one of my more off-the-wall (leastwise, I'd like to think they were) pieces:

Days of swine and grossness

Noel Vera

(Fragment of a rejected draft for the script of the film Hannibal, by Ridley Scott)


BABE, now fully grown, enters a large wooden arena with his fellow boars. In the exact center of the arena is a forklift; securely tied to this forklift is a large man wearing a hockey mask.

BABE: Are you my mom?

MAN: No, little pig. My name is Lecter. Doctor Hannibal Lecter. Why do you ask?

BABE: I've never saw my mom, so every time I meet someone I ask. Otherwise, I suppose I g0tta go ahead and eat your toes.

LECT: You are welcome to my toes, little pig, but allow me a moment to satisfy my curiosity; it seems that you have suffered a serious trauma when young. Do you miss your mother very much?

BABE: Oh, yes, sir.

LECT: I too suffered a serious loss when I was a youth, the death of my beloved sister. But that story is told in the latest novel written about me, and not included in this film version which, it seems to me, lacks heart. Do you like heart, little pig?

BABE: Oh yes, sir! Especially when it's still beating.

LECT: So do I, little pig, so do I.

BABE: Well, if you don't mind, sir, I'll start on your big toe now...

LECT: But I do mind, little pig. Not that I disapprove of you in particular snacking on my feet; you are, after all, trained to do so, and as we are already somewhat acquainted, having shared childhood memories, I have no objection to sharing my toes with you. I am disappointed, however, in my overall situation.

BABE: You mean, being tied up and having your heels chewed on? Why'd they do this, sir? Are you a bad man?

LECT: Oh, yes, little pig, very, very bad. I am what you might call a man totally without hypocrisy; I treat the world exactly as it would treat me, without regard for any sentiments that might compel me otherwise. If someone tries to kill me, I kill him. More, if someone displeases me, or offends my sensibilities, or upsets the natural order of things--a bad violinist, for instance, or a mediocre filmmaker--I kill him. Or maim him, depending on the nature of his crime or my mood.

BABE: But isn't that the same as what I do? If someone tries to hurt me, I hurt him.

LECT: There's a difference. You do what you do in all innocence, without guilt or remorse; no one will or should hold you responsible for it. Even feeding on my feet would be an act of innocence, since you were no doubt starved before you were released and right now would like to bite my leg off at the knee.

BABE: Oh yes, please sir, may I?

LECT: All in due time, little pig; you speak so avidly, because it is with your whole heart that you speak. We do similar things, but there are certain conventions, certain sentiments that are supposed to prevent me, sentiments such as 'justice' or 'morality.' I don't heed these sentiments and so am considered criminally insane. For what I did, I was arrested and imprisoned.

But that was then; things have changed. There were three novels written about me by Mr. Thomas Harris, and in the first one, Red Dragon, he called me a monster.

BABE: Weren't you mad when he did that? Why didn't you kill him?

LECT: He did a fine job of portraying me, despite the insult; he amused me. In the second novel, The Silence of the Lambs--lovely title, don't you think?--he gave me an even more interesting diversion, a young woman named Clarice Starling. You should meet her, little pig; you would get along well with each other.

BABE: Does she like heart too?

LECT: She won't admit it, but I'm sure she can be persuaded. She has your innocence, little pig, your idealism and freshness. She wanted to catch a killer, and I decided to help her. Mr. Harris in turn liked that about me; it touched something inside him that I was capable of such kindness, and his attitude towards me softened considerably. Of course, while everyone worried about Starling's killer, I managed to escape--Mr. Harris probably felt pleased that I showed such initiative, dismayed that I showed such independence.

BABE: But see, you're caught again!

LECT: That's because we are near the climax of Mr. Harris' third novel Hannibal, named after yours truly, thanks to the success of the second novel.

Hannibal is the end result of Harris evolving attitude towards me. Where in the second he experienced feelings of ambivalence, in the third he shows definite sympathy towards my cause. It helps that the morality of a serial killer doesn't seem so bad, compared to the corruption and stupidity of institutions Mr. Harris once respected--the police, the FBI, the U.S. Government as a whole. Hannibal's real story is Harris' growing disenchantment with society at large; it's both his declaration of independence from the rest of the human race and his oath of fealty towards my, ah, sensibilities, for want of a better word. Quite a disturbing book in its implications when you think about it, only at times it is somewhat cartoonishly written and not entirely persuasive. My nemesis for example, Mr. Mason Verger, is more grotesque than evocative, a horrorshow scarecrow rather than the greater evil to oppose my already great evil. Mr. Harris also hoped to make me more appealing to readers by 'explaining' me through the death of my sister. I had their sympathy all along, of course--I didn't need the help. But Mr. Harris didn't want me to just be the protagonist; he wanted me to be the romantic lead.

BABE: You mean with Clarice?

LECT: Yes, little pig, very good. With Clarice indeed. I hope I can introduce you to her, she'll be coming along any moment now to rescue me.

BABE: You still haven't said why you're so disappointed. Or should I ask? I'm really starving.

LECT: I appreciate your forbearance. In the first novel Red Dragon, I was the shadowy archetype, the inspiration for the terrifying killer named Dolarhyde; in the second, The Silence of the Lambs, I was the imprisoned monster who begins to show signs of compassion. The more that is known of me the more I shrink in stature, and the more human I become to readers. It is a transaction of sorts, awe traded for affection. I suppose ambivalence would be the most natural reaction I can have towards this changing attitude. Still hungry, my little pig? You are salivating heavily now.

BABE: Yes, sir, very much. Couldn't I just nibble on your toenails a little?

LECT: In a little while, not much longer now. All three novels were made into motion pictures. Red Dragon was adapted by filmmaker Mr. Michael Mann into Manhunter, a rather cold film with a nevertheless interesting visual texture. But it was Silence that was the real success, commercially and critically winning a collection of what are known as "Oscar" statuettes.

BABE: Are Oscars good to eat?

LECT: You need a lot of ketchup, little pig. Please, be patient.

Part of the success of Silence may be due to its director, Mr. Jonathan Demme. Mr. Demme is a fascinating man, full of empathy and compassion for the characters in his films.

BABE: He likes heart too?

LECT: Very much. Please move back, little pig, your sniffing of my toes tickles. Thank you. At the same time, Mr. Demme told the more gruesome aspects of my story--my violent and bloody escape, for example--with real relish. You see, little pig, he tends to empathize with all his characters, good or bad; he must have been very disturbed to find himself empathizing with me. So disturbed, in fact, that he refused to direct the third film.

BABE: Who did it then?

LECT: I shan't tell you if you don't move back a little. Thank you. Mr. Ridley Scott directed, with the help of producer Dino de Laurentiis.

BABE: Does Mr. Scott like heart?

LECT: I don't think he has one. Ridley Scott is a gifted hack, able to pour his considerable visual skills on both gold and garbage alike. He was the unfortunate choice to do Hannibal, unfortunate because he doesn't seem to have, or seems to have lost, the ability to tell a story with clarity and coherence. He begins the film, for example, with a fish-market shootout where you couldn't tell who was doing what to whom, what was happening, or why--it's very confusing, the way it was shot and put together. I dislike confusion, little pig; I dislike it intensely.

More, you miss Mr. Demme's way with characters, his knack of using a telling detail or line of dialogue to reveal a person. Take my dear Barney, for example: in Silence, he has a scene in the hospital where he explains the rules of talking to me to Starling, gives her a warm smile, and tells her: "you'll do just fine." Later I thanked him for the services he's done for me, and Mr. Demme treats the quiet little moment as the culmination of years of acquaintance and respect--he is, in those few seconds in Silence, a richer, warmer human being than he is in the many minutes he enjoys in Hannibal. Then there are my face-to-face interviews with Starling, which have an intimacy missing in Hannibal--Demme photographed us full on, in giant close-up, to catch every nuance and shift of emotion; Scott has us talking through cellular phones with a merry-go-around whirling behind, as if he felt that what we were saying wasn't interesting enough. Demme’s focus, in short, is on the human face; Scott’s seems to be on the merry-go-round.

Scott likes to pose his characters against beautiful landscapes and setting suns, and let the visual drama of the setting substitute for the missing narrative drama. He is careless about action sequences, unable to build any sense of suspense--Mr. Demme does a better job at creating tension with his flowing camerawork and elegant, unhurried editing. Scott, ultimately, is a shallow director who loves the surfaces of things; any profundity in his work comes from the script, and the script of this film comes from a novel that does not represent Mr. Harris at his best.

That is it in a nutshell, little pig. I am perhaps not too unhappy with the my growing fame…but I am unhappy about Mr. Harris' inability to maintain the level of writing in his third novel, and extremely unhappy about this slipshod, vulgar, insulting little film they have made of that novel, all for the sake of money. Hence, my distress.

BABE: But...but...that's awful! Terrible! Those, those--swine!

LECT: Aren't they, little pig? "Free-range rubes," I like to call them. Free for the picking--only I'm incapable of doing any picking at the moment.

BABE: Let me help you.

LECT: Certainly. But how, little pig?

BABE: I don't know. I can bite their toes off. But how do I get to them?

LECT: If you go back into the pen from which you came, you'll see to the left side the latch that keeps the door closed. Take a stick in your mouth and lift the latch; it should swing over easily. Go right, take the first stairs you see, and you'll be in the arena's upper seating. Ridley Scott should be the rube in the red shirt to the left of the camera, Dino de Laurentiis the rube in the yellow jacket behind Scott. Mr. de Laurentiis has been eating that hero sandwich for over an hour, the vinegar-and-mustard dressing dripping on his crotch. It should be thoroughly marinated by now.

BABE: Gotcha.

LECT: Will you do me a favor, little pig?

BABE: Yes?

LECT: Have you ever heard of Dante Alighieri? He wrote a long poem, part of which was called Inferno, where various sinners were punished, their punishments formulated according to the nature of their crimes.

BABE: Gosh, really?

LECT: Please don't kill those two, little pig; it's important to me that they remain alive. Just chew off the right foot of each to cripple their vanity, and their eagerness to commit offences against the art of cinema. Then eat Scott's left testicle, slowly and with many significant pauses, to remind him that it takes time to tell a story properly. Leave his right testicle intact as reward for the lovely images of Florence, and for the blackly amusing way he staged the climactic dinner--the single best scene in the picture. That testicle is also to be spared in the hope, foolish perhaps, that he will someday gain the courage to do at least one more film of consequence.

Both of de Laurentiis' testicles you may eat, however; as I doubt that he ever really used them his whole life, they will scarcely be missed. Will you do this for me, little pig?

BABE: It'll be my pleasure! Should I bring you back some toes?

LECT: Thank you, but I'm not that hungry at the moment. Bon apetit.

(With thanks to my evil twin brother Joel for the initial idea).

(First published in Businessworld, 3/2/01)


EdiTrixiaGomez said...

Between Hannibal and Red Dragon, which I saw magkasunod when I was making bantay my father in the hospital two months ago (8-in-1-DVD kasi eh:)), the one with ralph fiennes is the one i remember more distinctly.

Noel Vera said...

It's easier to follow, warmer and more empathic, that's true. But there's something to the earlier version, medyo cold, chilly, that I liked very much. And I think Mann has an eye; Ratner not so much.

EdiTrixiaGomez said...

you remember mike de leon's 'hindi nahahati ang langit'? can you give me a very short description of the plot?

Anonymous said...

I don't remember how I managed to make you think of Babe and Hannibal. Please recount how that happened.
Evil Twin Brother

Noel Vera said...


Hindi Nahahati ang Langit featured Dina Bonnevie as if I remember right Boyet's half sister; when the father dies he has to take care of her. She resists his attempts to control her, goes to (if I again remember right) Edu Manzano as a form of escape. An attraction grows between Boyet and his half sister.

Something like that. Unfortunately, I haven't seen it in three years. But it has lovely scenes--the crystal swan, Edu's car accident, so on and so forth. A favorite of Mike, by the way, even over Sister Stella L., which he doesn't consider really his.


You emailed me (or was it telephoned?) once that you thought the movie could have been better if that was Babe that walked in to eat Hannibal. I took it from there.

EdiTrixiaGomez said...

Salamat, noel.

Nick said...

Hey Noel.
Re. "Hindi Nahahati ang Langit", do you remember that scene where the camera changed orientation such that the actors shifted position on the screen? Did Mike de Leon explain that? Was that a mistake or was that intentional? (But then, Ozu's "Tokyo Story" was full of scenes with changes in orientation.)
Did Mike de Leon also explain why he made such a melodramatic material from the comics?

Noel Vera said...

Nick, it's been years, I'm afraid not. As for the melodrama, he had much darker material in mind at first but had to lighten it--either Charo Santos talked him into making it less dark, or he decided against it. It was the same with Kakabakaba Ka Ba?--he originally had darker material.

As for melodramatic source, I never found out; presumably what's good enough for Gerry de Leon and Lino Brocka's good enough for him, but I wouldn't know the real reason.

Ironically, it's Mike's greatest hit, and years after he was asked to do another komiks story.