Crime in Literature and Film Examination

Crime in Literature and Film

“Red Dragon” by Thomas Harris and “Manhunter” by Michael Mann

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The original version of the novel red dragon was written by Thomas Harris in 1981. In the words of Vest, only few authors have risen to the level of relevance and success as Thomas Harris, who authored just five novels, beginning from 1975. The Red Dragon, with other fictional works in the same series, is a famous fictional book built around a crime thriller. The book was later adapted in the 1986 Michael Mann movie, Manhunter. Some key actors that played key roles in these movie series are Brain Cox, the first ever actor to play the role of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the manhunter antagonist, who became the Red Dragon’s protagonist. However, some other actors like Anthony Hopkins in the movie, the Silence of the Lamb and Red Dragon, Hannibal’s Mads Mikkelsen and Hannibal Rising’s Gaspard Ulliel, all reprised Dr. Hannibal Lecter’s role in the movies that followed. The NBC-National Broadcasting Network adapted the movie to a series called Hannibal in 2012, the TV adaptation of Red Dragon with Bryan Fuller doubling as the writer and the producer and Mads Mikkelsen featuring as Hannibal Lecter.

According to Murphy, these movies are true to their sources and at the same time, bear their directors’ unmistakable signatures; they are different in both appearance and movement. The enthralling fictions of Thomas Harris keep unsettling company with strange breed of clandestine sharers and serial killers who run after bizarre transubstantiation of the flesh and blood of their victims, and the twisted souls that track them.

Summary of the Red Dragon and Manhunter

Will Graham is a specialist forensic who is recuperating from a past case when the F.B.I approached him to help them fish out a deadly murderer who murdered two families. The killings took place one month apart and kindled the fear of imminent attacks within the next month. The killings are mostly gruesome and involve every member of the family. Francis Dolarhyde, an employee of a movie-processing company (Vlastelica), is the serial killer here.

Graham is one troubled man with a very rough past who eventually finds some peace by taking his family to the Florida Keys to live a story book kind of life. But, he is quite aware of the killings and knows no one else can apprehend the killer before he kills more people, except him. All through the story, it became quite clear that the method used by Graham isn’t like any of the methods the F.B.I could come up with-he first identifies with the victim before identifying with the killer, had a very troubled childhood and had a cleft palate problem as a child. This was responsible for his emulation of Dr. Hannibal Lecter and found a way to communicate with him (Vlastelica).

Graham seeks advice from Dr. Lecter, a forensic psychiatrist, a cannibalistic serial murderer and a sociopath, who he risked his own life to put away. Since his insanity made the Jury declare him not guilty, he is being held at the Chesapeake State Hospital for the Criminally insane. Somehow, Lecter succeeds in conveying Graham’s address to Dolarhyde. The killer sets out to have Graham’s family murdered, but got killed in the process. However, he succeeded in sticking a knife into Graham (Lanchester).

Review of the Novel and the Film

According to Vlastelica, one can see from both the novel and the movie Dr. Hannibal Lecter’s gravitational pull. The character in the Red Dragon is in just two scenes, featuring on approximately 400 pages, though he gets referenced in the other scenes, thickening the plot matching with the titular maniac. In Manhunter, Lecktor/Lecter has about nine minutes of total screen time and three scenes. This further shows how his relevance in the movie was improved from the book with the aim of communicating the main plot or theme of the book.

The movie starts with first acts in close tracks with the novel. It concentrates on Will Graham, a physically and spiritually wounded FBI refugee, famous for his ingenuity in detecting crimes from the criminal’s point-of-view and ability to access their psyches. The novel gives an explanation of this as a type of extreme empathy, which explicitly positions Graham as Lecter’s antithesis, but in the movie, the ability of Graham is more of acute perceptiveness and less of new age. After the Lecter case where Graham was attacked by Lecter, Graham left the agency. A dramatizing performance opens this scene. However, Graham returns as an FBI consultant and uses Lecter to enable him develop killers’ psychological profiles (Vlastelica).

Manhunter and the Red Dragon commence following the attack, with Jack Crawford, Graham’s former Boss, coming to pay Graham a visit in the case where two families got killed by obviously the same killer. From what we learnt, the killings were carried out by a Francis Dolarhyde, also referred to as the Tooth Fairy, due to the deep bite he inflicts on his victims. He is also known as the Great Red Dragon. Initially, Graham is to abandon his quiet life where he is assured of safety, but pictures of the victims have a peculiar effect on him, and he soon starts traipsing all over crime scenes (Vlastelica).

The book and the movie both make reference to the back story with Lecter, but quite briefly. As a matter of fact, the history of Lector became so tangential in Manhunter that Mann’s movie never makes any mention of cannibalism. In spite of that, both go the extra mile to mention that Graham has issues of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); the novel makes allusion of stresses that relate to drinking problems while his personality zones him out most times, zombified, and snaps into moments of anger and violence when something is triggered by the case.

Adding to the attack and betrayal by Lecktor, investigating several brutal crimes haunts Graham, most especially, the episode where he shot Garret Jacob Hobbs, the killer he wrestled down before he went after Lecter.

The inability of Graham to make any investigative headway takes him back to Lecter. In the movie, the material is heavily stylized in a clinical way, with several scenes filled with synch music and pastel colors. Two remarkable imageries were those of the serial killer Francis Dolarhyde’s spooky face and the shocked investigator, Will Graham, just like the movie’s color palette (Vest).

The movie is, however, pared down to the level where most of the scenes happen in vacant white rooms that would have been more suitable in the sci-fi dramas of the 70s. The emptiness in the rooms is quite deliberate; a mirror of the cloudiness of Graham, but it provides more distraction that is as effective as an artistic choice, mostly as Dolarhyde’s scenes have much of red and green colors, fine-tuning the point on the yin-yang existing between the criminal and the cop. There is equally a display of the Dolarhyde’s washed out looks as used by Mann is the movie (Vlastelica).

The novel is totally saturated with both despair and sin, down to the two-sentence character that gestures to a woman who just left a funeral in an obscene way, which prompted his girlfriend to hit him. Additionally, warped sex and violence were common sights all through the novel and the antiseptic approach of Mann fails to capture any of it. In the first appearance Lector made here, the set’s brightness countered the character’s darkness in a very ironical way, but Hannibal’s scary nature gets more pronounced in shadows. While Manhunter wielded a great influence on the shadows of the CSI, Mann’s stylistic remove wasn’t emulated by any of those programs. However, the film underlines that Hannibal is not what you can refer to as your average murderer. And Harris conveys this through prose, giving him a present tense description while everyone else gets described in the past: Dr. Lecter has maroon eyes, which reflect the light in tiny red points. Graham had the sensation of each hair standing up on his nape. By having Lecter positioned outside the scope of time, Harris encourages the notion that Lecter cannot be defeated, even in jail, because he has an eternal nature (Vlastelica).

The movie keeps tracking the novel quite closely with regards to Graham. Manhunter dedicates more of his time highlighting the existential burden investigation involves, always getting Graham framed to make sure he is filled with emptiness. Manhunter’s concentration on Graham results to the adaptation of one of the novel scenes where he lets his son understand how much he has suffered under Lector, not only by the attack, but also by getting his mindset approximated. The boy turns out to be the stepson of Graham in the novel, while he is Graham’s biological son in the movie (Vlastelica).

The high points in both the novel and the movie differ substantially with regards to the different ways they treated Dolarhyde. In the novel, the murderer is a substantial character, which gave as much burden as Graham. While he is viewed as a serious threat, the novel helps him build a definite amount of sympathy, making him more anxious than disturbed. Halfway through the book, Harris gives a brief biography of the miserable life of Dolarhyde, starting with a mother who deserted him and grandmother who ill-treated him, and poisoned his opinion on sexuality. Dolahyde has a small deformity, a speech impediment from a cleft palate and mockery it came with, when added to the abuses he faced as a child, triggers the fear and humiliation that manifests itself in the form of violence in his adult life. Self resentment results to the obsession of the character with transformation idea and struggles to imitate the power he observes in the Red Dragon paintings of William Blake. In his fixation, he gets the image tattooed on his body and discovers the original watercolors to enable him consume it, and he has no doubts; sucks up its power (Vlastelica).

However, Manhunter lacks these scenes. The grandmother was missing, the watercolor consumption was missing and Mann ends the courtship Dolarhyde enjoyed with Mc Clane, the blind woman he met. Manhunter’s Dolarhyde had no terrible conflict about the assignment he had after he met McClane and he is all ready to end her life before Graham charged in through his window and shoots him dead in the last minute (Vlastelica).

Significance of the Red Dragon and Manhunter

The novel of Harris stands as a signpost of current horror fiction in the development of the serial killer as an antihero. With the creation of arguably the best fictional criminals ever, Harris makes reference to his habit of making use of real-life serial murderers and forensics to establish a practical subgenre of the crime thriller. The tones of the chapters vary here, which resulted in a diverse and uneven read. The conversation of Lecter discloses his penchant for psychology and the coaching he feels deserve his attention. Harris’ habit of making use of a typical pattern is emblematic of symbiotic ways the hunter and the hunted related, so common in the American tradition. Placing him in a larger popular tradition, reviewers pose the argument that his scientific approach is suggestive of TV franchises like Law and Order, which equally deal with the investigation of crime (Williams).

According to Palatinus, crime movies stick to this obvious psychological necessity by developing psychological fictional works. The Red Dragon’s depiction of special agent, Will Graham, attempting to understand the way a criminal mind works, is a real fictional way of reinvesting forensic profiling, and Lacanian and Freudian psychoanalysis, indirectly. The consequence of the psychological crime thriller is its ability to give a material form to different questions psychoanalysis posed: the experienced trauma from the disintegration of the world into the figurative, imaginary and reality; the trauma experienced from the disjunction of the object and subject, the trauma of repression and otherness, desire and fear.

Williams gives an explanation that one odd feature in the novel, Red Dragon, and the movie, Manhunter is that Lecter was a mere marginal character in the two Harris thrillers. Lecter was a self-made murderer-consultant character, but his unusual ability to upstage the killer himself is not surprising in this age of consultancy. This is displayed in the strangely simultaneous admiration and loathing, often seen in Lecter’s filmic images, a response seen in several movie reviews and several overheard conversations.

The crimes perpetrated by Lecter are not allowed on stage unmediated; they are only allowed in retrospect, and therefore, emit a formalist creative atmosphere over their creator and recounting equally. Lecter’s paradox as a prisoner, who appeared stronger than his prisoners, is the Romantic artist’s paradox. The main point for Harris’s novel structure and the incorporation of the high art themes and how it relates to the masses, is the fact that Lecter’s omniscient artistry, his formal rigor and masterly manipulation of the narrative, would be almost unimaginable outside his prison cell’s spiritual morality.

According to Crane, the gory images seen in lurid horror movies infamous for their shameful disrespect of the human body make mainly unruly incursions into the long-term genre of crime fiction, for instance, the Red Dragon, in conjunction with Manhunter. These improvements by the contemporary horror movie into foreign territories are changing the affective and textual rubrics that permit popular writers to create comprehensible crime stories and well-informed crime fiction readers to make their preferred genre sensible. The intrusion of the horror movie is equally changing the serious nexus that exist between crime stories and extra-generic links to the real world that associate readers share beyond the textual contexts. Portraying persuasive attacks in fictional crime stories now necessitates some frontline writers in the genre to work on bizarre violent displays that overrun the more moderate height of havoc and physical harm that was once usual to the display of illegal use of violence in crime stories.

Furthermore, Palatinus adds that the Red Dragon symbolizes the obsession with the link between art and murder, the aesthetic and monstrous, and the repulsive and fascinating. The pathologization of the image is what is most interesting, and more importantly, the pathologization of art, when seen as a destructive and violent force, which threatens to consume its creator and viewer. Red Dragon creates a contradiction between art and murder, it obviously makes murder appear more fascinating; it encourages the philosophy of art of the minimalist, where the problematization of the magnificent is interwoven with the conceptualization of the aesthetics, the repulsive and the beautiful.

Red Dragon symbolizes the gap where the performance and the conceptualization of art become pathologized with the aim of incorporating interpretation, conceptualization, representation and lastly, aestheticization of violence.

In the Red Dragon, Dolarhyde meets a blind woman named Reba and is attracted to her. Reba is an employee of infrared film. Believing Reba cheated on him with another man, Dolarhyde finally holds her hostage, torments and threatens to end her life. The film deals with contending disability models in three primary ways. First, they keep on exploiting disability as an unusual psychological and physical deformity, mostly falling back on stereotyped blind characters. They also convey blind people as complex human beings to varying degrees, and as sovereign characters that challenge the stereotypes of disability. Particularly, this ambivalence appears in portrayal of blind people who fall victim, and who in spite of their endangered situations, make use of non-ocular senses to give witness. Secondly, in the image of the detective with untrammeled vision who makes use of his visual ability to track down and name the deviant murderer, these movies reaffirm the conventional practice of the normative enlightenment gaze. However, it weakens the idea of an objective gaze, signifying that it is vision and not blindness, that makes one disabled. Thirdly, while Manhunter exploits the sight of disability occasionally, with the aim of furthering the voyeuristic and sadistic gaze, it equally adopts cinematic methods in ways that weakens the belief in vision. They are therefore a part of the media-dominated postmodern world. The movie is equally part of a world looking for ways to recognize the consequences of new outlooks on disability (Conrich).

New changes in fictional crime stories still focus on evil as a usual occurrence, even when there is a depiction of violence in a foreign register. For instance, Hannibal Lecter’s ambitious craftsmanship and several other predators record the wicked deeds of the serial killers and the people charged with hunting them down. In both the novel and movie spin offs, Harris manages to portray complex scenes of unforgettable mayhem. Such works, both the fictional crime novels that borrow from long past genres and the horror movies themselves, feature heavily corporeal violence, as a means of producing either suspense and thrills or a dreadful chill. While there is an ugly homologous display of a broken body, each of the genres gives a radically different account for the author of such an atrocious act. Inspired murderers in the horror movie are not of this world. No matter how fearful their appetites are, these voracious murderers in fictional crime works are mere mortals and not bound (Crane).

Cited Works

Conrich, Ian. Horror Zone: The Cultural Experience of Contemporary Horror Cinema. London: I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd., 2010.

Crane, Jonathan L. “Outsourced: Crime Stories, New World Horrors and Genre.” Studies in Popular Culture 33.2 (2011): 117-136. Web. 16 Feb. 2016

Lanchester, John. “Slapping the Clammy Fab.” London Review of Books (1999): 10-11.

Murphy, Kathleen. “Communion.” Film Comment (1991): 31-32. Web. 16 Feb. 2016

Palatinus, David Levente. “Framing the Body, Staging the Gaze”: Representations of the Body in Forensic Crime Fiction and Film.” Ph.D. Dissertation. 2009.

Vest, Jason P. “Dissecting Hannibal Lecter: Essays on the Novels of Thomas Harris.” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts (2009): 297-300.

Vlastelica, Ryan. Tracking Hannibal Lecter, from Manhunter to Red Dragon. 25 August 2015. 17 February 2016 .

Williams, Nicholas. “Eating Blake, or an essay on Taste: The Case of Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon.” Cultural Critique (1999): 137-162.

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