Haunted Houses: The house as a metaphor for the mind in Hannibal

(Disclaimer: This is the second post that @weirdymcweirder wrote on Hannibal, I only host it in my blog because she doesn’t have one. )

In Hannibal, houses reflect their residents’ identities and are imprinted with their presence. More than that, spaces are transformed into something more than a sum of dimensions in physical reality. They become visual metaphors for their residents’ minds.

The house as the mind

Will’s house in Wolf Trap is isolated, in the middle of an empty field, away from the city and close to nature. It is humble and unassuming, filled with his surrogate family of strays. It is simple and practical. In Aperitif and Potage, Will seems eager to return to it, away from the horrors of working for Jack Crawford.


“It,s really the only time I feel safe”, Oeuf, 1×04

And then everything changes.

Hannibal Lecter is standing outside Will Graham’s house. He peeks through the window. He opens the door effortlessly. He is in. Will invited him into his house as a friend and into his mind as a psychiatrist and Hannibal went through his drawers and “scrambled his brain”. In his stroll around Will’s mind, Hannibal is condescending as he is admiring.


He invades and provokes.



“You stood in the breathing silence of Hobbs’ home, the very spaces he moved through. Tell me Will, did they speak to you?” Oeuf, 1×04

He interferes and manipulates.


“Somebody got inside his head and moved all the furniture around.” Roti, 1×11

From this point on, Will’s house is desecrated, little by little, as Will’s mind is being corrupted. What used to be a refuge, becomes a space defaced by nightmare. In Fromage, Will himself takes a hammer to it just like he allows his mind to get hammered by images of violence. However, he insists it has become easier for him to look. From the outside, his house looks idyllic. Inside, there’s a gaping hole in the wall.


“In the walls of our hearts and brains, danger waits.Mizumono, 2×13

Later on, in Roti, house objects melt as Will dissolves into water, losing his grasp on reality and identity.


It is fitting that it is on this same bed, where Will lost all sense of self and became fluid, that Jack and Alana debate his true nature in Kaiseki.


“He came here looking for Will. -Isn’t that why you’re here? Kaiseki, 2×01

They both went back to Will’s house looking for answers, but he is no longer there. An absence pervades the space. There are no answers to be found.


Will has closed off his mind. No more confessions, no more “house visits”. Alana is not allowed into the house for the rest of the season. Jack just runs through it to reach the truth about Hannibal on the other end, when he sees that Chilton can’t possibly be the Chesapeake Ripper – he’s not “certain” enough. Only Margot is reluctantly invited in, bringing with her a sense of understanding and a hope for connection. But it’s a relationship driven by necessity and lined with duplicity. Their first scene in Will’s house, in Shiizakana, is staged more like a session or a polite interrogation.


There are fishing rods lined up behind Will, as they are both on a fishing expedition, trying to learn more about Hannibal, but without revealing too much about themselves. Even their sex scene in Naka-choko begins from a place of intimacy but ends with them apart. Will is in another bed, inhabiting in his mind a different space, and Margot sneaks out of the house, nothing there that she needs anymore.

But more important than the people invited into Will’s house are the people who forcefully invade it. This is not a simple stroll anymore. We’re past fiddling with lures and going through drawers. It is not just nightmares that paint the walls. It is actual blood. To complete the desecration of Will’s safe space and establish his superiority after being challenged by Will in the opening scene of Tome-wan, Hannibal makes Will’s living room the stage of his most brutal performance: Mason’s guided self-mutilation. Nothing about Will is “clean” now: his house is a crime scene, his dogs have been fed human flesh and his mind can now perceive the most despicable acts of violence as “problem-solving”.


“[In a crime scene], the very air has screams smeared on it.” Buffet Froid, 1×10

When Randall Tier comes through the window in Shiizakana, he does so as a stag, as an instrument of Hannibal’s immovable will. It’s a visualization of what Hannibal did to Will’s mind: he broke through his defences, made an opening and leaped confidently inside; majestic, omnipotent, terrific. And by the end of the season, Will almost dies getting him out of his head.



“A stag got lost in the storm, came through there…” Naka-choko, 2×10


“…got a few scratches getting him out.” Naka-choko, 2×10

In Yakimono, we get a rare glimpse of the house of a secondary character when Chilton discovers what happened to Abel Gideon. Chilton’s house, referred to as “my property” by Chilton rather than “my house” or “home”, accurately reflects its owner’s persona. There’s nothing in the house that is his. It doesn’t feel“lived in”. It feels like it jumped into existence right out of an interior designer’s portfolio. Beautifully decorated, expertly crafted, completely empty.

But it is Hannibal’s house that makes the metaphor as subtle as a red plaid suit in a court house. In the dining room, a “living wall” of herbs covers the stench of death coming from the basement through bullet holes in the floor.


“There are holes in the floor of the mind.” Mizumono, 2×13

The kitchen hides horrors behind hi-tech appliances and pristine chopping boards. The bedroom evokes the violence of a drowning as much as the relieved abandon of letting yourself sink into the deep blue.


His home is everything Hannibal is: elegant and vulgar, beautiful and grotesque, welcoming and forbidding. When Hannibal’s true nature is revealed in Mizumono, duplicity is no longer necessary, appearances no longer important. His kitchen becomes what his mind has always been; a red abattoir that smells of rust and rosemary.


The mind as the house

In Hannibal, the mind is often described as a finite space, concrete and three-dimensional. It has walls to keep things out, floors to keep things in, even furniture that can be moved around to confuse. Hannibal intends to live there if he is caught. He will turn his memory palace from a mnemonic device into a home, a vast construction of recollection, perception and impression. He will wander through its countless chambers, basking in the light in some, hiding in the shadows in others. He will see his sister and he will sit in his office, opposite Will, talking about good, evil and everything in between. He will remember and he will fantasize and he will plot.


“The foyer is the Norman Chapel in Palermo.” Mizumono, 2×13

But will he be happy? Hannibal knows that minds are dangerous places to live in. Climb a staircase and you can stumble on a repressed memory. Turn the corner and feel an old scar ripping open. Peel the wallpaper and find betrayal writhing underneath. Should you choose to live inside your head you can only ever be alone, untouchable and untouched.


“…can’t get out of your own head” Roti, 1×11

Will also knows that. He has been living in his own head for so long that now all he wants is to lead a more exterior life.


That’s why even his mind palace, his innermost sanctuary, is the “great outdoors”, a stream that flows always onward, structureless and serene.


But Will can never be alone there. Without walls to hide behind, the world will keep finding ways to intrude and disrupt the peace.



By the end of the season, there is no safe place for Will to escape to anymore.


“…Stay with me.” Naka-choko, 2×10


Even in Mizumono, Will does not follow Hannibal’s advice. He does not wade into the quiet of the stream. He remains on the blood-stained kitchen floor, there, in the middle of unspeakable horror, present until the very end.


And if “our sense of self is a consequence of our social ties”, as Will says in Sakizuke, maybe that’s for the best. Living in your mind, however vast or beautiful, with nothing but imagos to keep you company, is an impoverished existence, as Hannibal is bound to find out.


About karvounaki

"I'm a quitter. I come from a long line of quitters. It's amazing I'm here at all."
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7 Responses to Haunted Houses: The house as a metaphor for the mind in Hannibal

  1. Gulliver says:

    That was so wonderful! I have missed the interpretations of Hannibal by you and your friends — there were at least 4 last year. Question: is there really a mosaic skull in the floor of the Norman Chapel at Palermo? I can find no mention of it other than in Hannibal. But to further comment on your article, I also see nationality in the houses: Hannibal’s is quintessentially European, Will’s essentially working class American, Chilton’s is that of a parvenue, and Bedelia’s is that which Hannibal internalizes and copies, but to excess: more herbs, a bigger kitchen, taller windows. Bedelia also models the body language that Hannibal mimics. As you say so beautifully, “the house as the mind.” Will’s house is the only house filled with love — his dogs love him deeply. Hannibal, Chilton and Bedelia live alone.

    • karvounaki says:

      Thank you for your kind words. There were indeed 4 posts written by me and one brilliant post on parallel landscapes (image/language) written by @weirdymcweirder last year. And, just ICYMI I wrote this thinkpiece on entropy right after episode 2×11 http://karvounaki.wordpress.com/2014/05/17/peace-in-the-pieces-disassembled-deconstructing-hannibal-part-v/ and I am already working on a post about Jungian archetypes in Hannibal, so there’s plenty more where these came from. 🙂
      I do believe that you are correct in assuming that Hannibal mimics Bedelia’s behavior, mannerisms, taste etc. In the 4th part of my analysis I hypothesized that this is a result of psychoanalytic transference. I can’t wait to learn more about this relationship, it is one of the most fascinating things on the show.

      • Gulliver says:

        Fascinating, as usual. It will take me a few more reading to fully comprehend it. But here are some initial reactions.
        –Please include the concept of the imago in your Jungian analysis. (Jungian/Freudian I suspect I mean.)
        –How does Prigogine’s work relate to your notions of entrophy? Could Hannibal be a disciple of Prigogine in his psychological reconstructions of at least some of his stressed patients?
        –I watched a film of Kipling’s Kim not so long ago — the one with Errol Flynn I think. In it Kim is working with Lurgan, who drops a jug and then attempts to hypnotize Kim into seeing it re-assemble. Kim resists by mentally reciting the multiplication tables in English. Is Hannibal mind fucking in a similar manner to Lurgan? (We know him much Hannibal loves mind fucking!)
        –Is the teacup an Imago? Or, perhaps more accurately, are Imagos suspectible to becoming broken teacups it they ever take material form in our world?
        –Whitehead said “All philosophy is footnotes to Plato.” I am beginning to think that, for me, all film is footnotes to Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal. How does this happen? How does something become sufficiently rich that it is seemingly capable of being the source of everything else?

      • karvounaki says:

        1) I started researching imagos but ended up focusing on the shadow archetype. So, I think the next post will mostly describe all the different ways the shadow archetype is presented in the series. The truth is that I am poorly informed on the subject, I ‘ve never read Jung’s own writings (the Freudian perspective was much easier for me to write, especially the post on how the three protagonists are symbols of the id/ego/superego psychic structures, because I have read Freud, and I felt confident in my hypothesis). But, I will try to research the imago more, and, if possible, include it in the analysis.
        2) I’m pretty sure Hannibal loathes Prigogine’s fixation on irreversibility since he, himself is so fixated on reversibility. But my knowledge on the matter does not extend beyond some wiki links, so I might be wrong about that. 😉
        3) I *need* to watch this asap!
        4) I think, and correct me if I’m wrong, that the best example of an imago in the series is that of the Hannibal/Wendigo hybrid that Will keeps seeing when he finally realizes who/what Hannibal is. It is Will’s subjective image/projection of what Hannibal really is (although there is a scene where Hannibal/Wendigo appears without it being in Will’s imagination/dreams/hallucination and that puzzles me) and it fits perfectly to the definition of a Jungian imago.
        5). I love the notion that “all film is footnotes to Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal”. ♥

    • karvounaki says:

      About the mosaic skull, I have no idea, but I’m sure Weirdy who wrote the post will know more on that.

    • I’m really glad you enjoyed it!
      I think you’re right about how the houses reflect class and nationality and these are also elements that shape the relationships between the characters. In the 2nd season, for example, Mason is the vulgar “new-money American”, equally disconnected from -and scorned by- Hannibal’s “sophisticated European” and Will’s “working-class American”. Try this essay on the socio-economics of Hannibal: http://www.overthinkingit.com/2014/02/03/hannibal-economics/
      I think you’ll like it!
      And you’re right, of course. Hannibal does for Bedelia’s house what he does for the murders he copies in season 1: he elevates it into art. He mimics her style in decoration and psychotherapy and I should have put that in, I realize now. 🙂
      I found nothing about the skull on the floor either, though I have to admit I didn’t research this extensively. But wouldn’t it be like Hannibal to redecorate? What’s a mind-palace foyer without a memento mori? 😛
      Thank you for your insightful comments. Keep them coming!

      • Gulliver says:

        Thank you for the Shana Mlawski article! (But yours is more lyric I think.) There is one more dimension to the houses/art matrix — time. Hannibal lives in the past. In the 18th century in music, and in the 9th century in the palermo branch of his mind palace. When Hannibal cooks for Sorbet, he runs blood through a centrifuge to separate it. Modernist Cuisine chefs actually do things like that, but they use real centrifuges. Hannibal pretends that he did the separation in a device that one could find in a normal kitchen — a spinning juicer maybe?. That device would never have been able to separate blood. So Hannibal (or perhaps the set decorators) lie to continue to propagate the illusion that Hannibal lives in a previous century. And, although he does use an iPad, his recipes are hand-written in copperplate script on cards. There is intellectual complexity to modern music (Philip Glass and others) and complexity to modern art and Hannibal abjures these. So it is a statement. Obviously life was better (in Hannibal’s estimate) in the past. His suits are cut in Edwardian style — 1901 to 1910. Chilton’s house is the complete opposite of course. (Confession — my house would look like Chilton’s had I that kind of money. As it is, it looks more like Will’s, complete with dogs.) So what about the past so fascinates Hannibal? I think that he is getting off on an aesthetic that has accumulated emotional reactions. New stuff, like Chilton’s, has no accumulation. I think Hannibal feeds on emotion, which is why he loves Will. Hannibal feels the accumulated emotional reaction of the visitors to the Norman Palace or the listeners of Bach’s Goldberg variations. He is an aesthetic-emotions cannibal as well as a meat cannibal. (Chilton of course is a vegetarian — no aesthetic cannibalism for him. And Mason is as disgusting as his eal.)
        Bryan Fuller and crew are writing book on the art of Hannibal, but I think your ideas might be better: more richly lyric.

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