(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.
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.
He interferes and manipulates.
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.
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.
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”.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.