Manhunter

Manhunter ★★★★★

I have, since first seeing the movie, been thinking about when Will Graham (William petersen) goes and sees Hannibal (Brian Cox) for the first time and he, relaxing in socks that are propped on a bare wall, reveals nonchalantly that he receives calls from psychologists looking for input from "cornfield universities" while also publishing his own work. It's not unheard of for criminals to interact with the outside world, even in acceptable professional ways, but Hannibal is a serial killer and not the kind of intelligent but cruel and calculated killer that Anthony Hopkins portrayed or the sexy and magnetically suave persauder that Mads Mikkelsen played in the TV series, but a fish whose disregard for human life, despite being intimately familiar with it, is well documented in-universe if not the viewers, who get a snippet about his basement when he is asking Graham about the policeman who found it ("Emotional problems, I hear.") Will goes to him not because he has insight, not at first, but because he's so perfectly purposefully cruel, the kind of dedicated monstrousness that's lauded except in circumstances where you butcher people and ignored even in those circumstances that you do, provided you're smart enough.

The justice that Mann conceives of isn't systematic and it isn't punitive, but it is a private relationship with the self about the considerations of your own actions. Will is ultimately successful because he accepts that the process of profiling involves hurting himself mentally in extremely bad ways, obsessing over of the "why" to the point of institutionalization and ostracization, his son asking him in the supermarket while muzak plays why another kid would say he's crazy. It's the reason why Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) brings him back on in the first place: he doesn't care about Graham getting hurt if it means catching the guy and he doesn't care about protecting the families if it means catching the guy, telling Graham to give it up on the night of another murder, describing the sure to ensue murder of presumably a family as a crime scene, "fresh, fresher than it's ever been." Francis Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan) has a burgeoning love interest in Reba (Joan Allen) and guides her hand along a anesthetized tiger's fur. He reacts awkwardly to her, like someone would around a crush, and her blindness allows her to trust in him, to see the true self hidden by the terrible cruelty of the families he's murdered. This is bullshit, of course, Will even says so when he's focused on the home videos of the murdered families, hypothesizing that Francis is killing them because he wants to know what it's like to imagine himself in their domestic tableaus, now frozen in death. He says it must have come from being battered or abused, something awful, that it's sympathetic but the crimes done in response are inexcusable. Will wants to kill Francis and he eventually does. The movie magic of showing his humane side, his hurt side, are all intentional smokescreens, and a part of the same societal structuring that gets serial killers like Hannibal into cells where respectable people can ask for his opinion.

Manhunter is a movie where people try to impose their will on the material word in elaborate ways and the film in turn imposes that contrast on the viewer; the clean white prison cell, symbolic of order, where Hannibal is relatively free to continue on speaking to people, his greatest strength; the vibrant blue of Graham's family's beachside home, dim and silent to accentuate the danger of Hannibal speaking to Dollarhyde via toilet paper, ultimately broken up by a beat cop and not a murderer; and the William Blake painting itself, hanging behind Dollarhyde as he kills Freddy Lounds (Stephen Lang,) who didn't have the requisite ability to mutilate himself with empathy to escape Francis's will, which itself did not survive the culmination of Will's own focus when he crashes physically through the painting after the car crashes outside his home. It's important that no one else is allowed to the climax because no one else deserves to be there, in a sense least of all Will because he had to be coerced into being there by the FBI; Jack incapacitated in the car, the other police scrambling, Reba out of frame, Hannibal in his cell, and Molly Graham (Kim Greist) at home with their son. The black hole that is Will's concern has to face off with the oppressive violence and sympathetic portrayal of Dollarhyde, whose narrative is stopped not with argument but with a bullet. Psychopaths don't get to become heroes, no matter how forceful they are, and if they do, in Mann's films, it's in extremely limited contexts with extremely fatal ends.