It is hard to synthesize a show as complex as Hannibal in a few words: elegant horror is a possibility, but there are better adjectives out there: grotesque or abject. For the Bulgurian-French philosopher Julia Kristeva, abject is “the in-between, the ambiguos, the composite”. A phenomenon that “disturbs identity, system, order” and that “does not respect borders, positions, rules”. This makes even more sense when we think about the origin of the word grotesque: a type of ornamentation found in the Domus Aurea, a Roman palace, in which “plant, animal and human forms interwoven fantastically.”
Hannibal himself is purely grotesque: he’s extremely smart and polite, but a cannibal at the same time; he is seen by Will Graham as a hybrid being (neither man nor deer); he can generate situations purposefully without actually moving a finger in order to manipulate and poison everyone around him, blending his own desires with those of the others. Being a killer is not his most dangerous aspect but blurring the bounds of essential concepts such as good and evil.
This is not the only aesthetic term related to Hannibal, in fact, the show is full of references to the history of art. The most obvious one is the use of the body (in this case the corpses) as a piece of art. Since the 60s, thanks to performative artists like Yoko Ono, the Vienna Actionism movement, or in the 70s with Vitto Acconci the artist’s body has turned into a modern canvas.
The corpse on the left (one of the victims in Hannibal) and the body on the right (a member of the Vienna Actionism) try in their own way to send a message, and idea (divine justicie in the former and the loss of strength of paganism in the later) through the body. Performative art meets conceptual art while an idea stands at the center of the artistic act.
In this crime scene the human mural is not just a happening (an artistic intervention where the audience’s action is needed), it is also a wonderful installation that make us think about the emptiness that the dead eyes are seeing. An eye that looks into God’s eyes and only reflects death.
The XVIII and XIX century art (baroque, romanticism, and even symbolism) are mirrored in the food design. The opulent, decadent and grotesque plates on Hannibal’s table share the same tragic pathos as the paintings from those centuries.
The soundtrack composed by Brian Reitzel is an essential part of Hannibal’s atmosphere. Without its experimental approach, the mix of all kind of electronic sounds, the use the noise, the atonal piano… Hannibal would not be as creepy as it is. Probably the most avant-garde OST since Twin Peaks.
There are many other connections with different arts, but I would like to finish talking about the hypocritical art of making a show about cannibalism and psychokillers suitable for children over 14 years old. You can show people eating other people, people creating honeycombs into other people’s heads, extreme self mutilation, but, NEVER, EVER, a nipple.
The Homecoming Queen.