Richard Armitage speaks — inarticulate, or: Hannibal 3.09 [references to gruesome events]

It's a big blurry here, but what an amazing bit of Richard Armitage forearm porn. Wow. Screencap from Hannibal 3.09.

It’s a big blurry here, but what an amazing bit of Richard Armitage forearm porn. Wow. Screencap from Hannibal 3.09.

I’ve found myself in this same odd situation on Friday mornings twice now — I wake up thinking, “Today’s the day!” and “I get to see Richard Armitage anew!” and yet I don’t want to watch the episode. Which is possibly good, since it’s no trouble making myself wait till lunch to view it. But then I have to work all afternoon before I have the opportunity write about it, and that is bothersome. This episode, the parts of it that moved me, really stayed in my subconscious all day long.

Nonetheless, the first paragraph of this post is written with a level of snark that makes me want to apologize to Hannibal fans in advance. I’m sorry; you’ve been really nice to me; I just am not the right audience for this show. Hannibal 3.09 was mostly about the reconstitution of the politics between the series principals — as Jack Lawrence the Jerk, Hannibal the Now-Strangely-Muted, Alana the Boring, and Will the Trembler negotiate how they will relate and communicate in order solve the crimes of the Tooth Fairy Killer. In this sense, I’ve lost out as a viewer because while I know generally what happened in the first half of the season, and that the bonds of the Crime Solvers Dream Team have been torn asunder, I am not up on specifics and so I know vaguely but not exactly why they are all estranged from each other now. I don’t want to know badly enough to watch those episodes, at least not at this point, and I find a lot of it simply not credible (Alana is in charge of the mental hospital that houses Hannibal?). My main reaction to “those pieces” of this episode is two-fold: first, I’ve just noticed how much house porn is involved in this series; second, I realized today that you don’t have to be visually gory to be brutal in a way that makes me not want to watch any more, not ever. I probably already know too much. Seeing Hannibal involved in a calm conversation with Abigail Hobbs before he helps her create a blood spatter scene and (presumably) chops off one of her ears so he can plant it on Will — in other words, knowing what that flashback was all about — made me not want to watch the scene even though I didn’t see anything much more troubling than an antiquated-looking blood draw (seriously, Hannibal, I would think you could at least buy modern medical equipment for your activities). I continue to think that if you want to play a regular role in this series, Will Graham is the most interesting one, but I admit that the weird way that Will now brings Hannibal to the crime scenes kept confusing me. It does underline that the detective in this case is potentially just as mentally ill as the criminal. Introducing Reba into the story makes clear the dark incongruity of everything we are witnessing. Without wanting to get into it, I’ll say only that I find Rutina Wesley truly well cast and effective in this role.

But Richard Armitage, oh. There was not enough of you and it took a long time get there. Oh, oh, Armitage. I am the one who is inarticulate.

Francis Dolarhyde (Richard Armitage) responds to his viewing of his crime, in Hannibal 3.09. Screen cap.

Francis Dolarhyde (Richard Armitage) responds to his viewing of his crime, in Hannibal 3.09. Screen cap.

First of all, Dolarhyde finally speaks in words. A lot could be said about this.

Superficially the most striking matter is that Armitage’s accent has improved meaningfully. For two years, I lived about an hour south of where Dolarhyde is supposed to be from, and he’s increasingly believable as a Midwesterner (in comparison with Into the Storm, where he was passable) if not totally perfect as someone from St Louis or western Illinois. (Sorry, Armitage, you still don’t sound like rural Missouri, but you sound much more American now. Especially the “er” vowel is basically transformed, and I know that’s a hard one.) Consonants in Auslaut are still occasionally a bit too percussive (“thinK”), especially for a Midwesterner, and there’s something odd about the short “u” (“plum”) and “o” (“not”).  In longer dialogue scenes (as at the end of the scene in the darkroom), one doesn’t think of it any longer.

And I’m delighted Armitage has gone back to the regular pitch of his voice rather than pulling it down into the bass register. It makes it easier, I think, for him to sound strained and self-conscious. His voice is not sexy here and that really supports the performance.

The performance of the speech defect, although I’m no expert, I find convincing and it’s paradigmatic of what Armitage seems to be doing with the role. So second, and less superficially: Now that Dolarhyde is speaking, it’s amazing how painfully inarticulate he remains, as if he’s transferred his incapacities, which are mostly no longer audible, into a frighteningly cramped body. Even though he is good-looking, even though he speaks well, as Reba notices, his body says who he really is, and this is why he can’t let her touch him, even to confirm that he’s smiling. In Dolarhyde, Armitage may finally have found a perfect character for his acting style. Dolarhyde’s body surpasses his speech. There’s an amazing moment where he tenses his neck muscles and throat so fully that he really does begin to look like a reptile — such that he says much more in these physical situations. We intuit why he wants to be a dragon, even with the look of distress on his face as he writhes and a tail suddenly appears. His furtive posture, the sudden outbreaks of non-manners (as when he licks his finger after touching the magazine at work, or gobbles the pie in Reba’s home), they signal his illness. But one also gets the sense that the world around him doesn’t care — it’s absent, like his coworkers who eat far away from him in the cafeteria — and the one person who is willing to see him truly can’t do so physically.

It’s just lovely acting. Watching it makes me ache on a sort of pan-human level. Last week I talked about the way that the strong man plays vulnerability, and Dolarhyde is doubly vulnerable here. It’s not sympathy I feel for the killer or the compulsion he’s experiencing so much as that the moment on his face wounds me, the one that I recognize when he’s in pain over his transformation, when the scene shows that the very thing Dolarhyde wants — the power of the Dragon — seems to happen to him against his will. The staging lays the sexual metaphor on too heavily, and in fact, nothing about this show is ever subtle, but laying that general aesthetic problem aside, one really feels, through the twisting, through his muffled groans, that the transformation he wills is also the transformation he dreads. Becoming the Red Dragon is like a lengthy childbirth. It’s a tightly-wound performance, but balanced, and as bizarre as the character and the transformation are, the whole tension between what one seeks to leave behind and what one becomes does feel universally valid — even if this is a mirror image of how that process works for most humans.

I loved this and it hurt to watch it. As a viewer I am trapped in the “can’t wait to see it” / “don’t want to watch” dilemma. Because what Dolarhyde seeks and what he dreads are the same thing, Armitage’s performance sheds some light on a fundamental philosophical problem behind our evaluation of serial killers and other criminals like them: To what extent are they aware of what they do? could they stop themselves? The implication of Armitage’s portrayal of push-and-pull in the emergence of the dragon becomes palpable here in a way that doesn’t let the viewer dodge a confrontation with the possibility that the usual legal dichotomy doesn’t work. Dolarhyde’s struggle and its elements of will, desire, compulsion, pursuit, compliance, and sheer inability to run away suggest the uncomfortable possibility that acts of personal transformation (however criminal or vicious they might be) are simultaneously personally willed and compulsively inevitable.

~ by Servetus on August 1, 2015.

12 Responses to “Richard Armitage speaks — inarticulate, or: Hannibal 3.09 [references to gruesome events]”

  1. Wow! what an incredible analysis Serv’, I can almost feel the serpent twisting inside me…… I’m off now to see if I can find it ‘unofficially’ online ;o)


  2. I’m watching via NBC/Hulu and have to wait till tomorrow 😉 … but this sounds promising again.


  3. Un rôle de dragon sur mesure , pour celui qui a avoué qu’il aurait aimé jouer Smaug à la place de Benedict : modèle excellent . Il s’y était peut-être déjà essayé en secret ?
    A tailer-made role of a dragon, for him who confessed that he would have enjoyed playing Smaug instead of Benedict : excellent model . Perhaps he would have secretly tried ?


  4. Malgré le scénario , la musique, l’esthétisme , les performances des acteurs , je ne peux me sortir de la tête les connotations , les symboles auxquels ce film fait référence sans ménagement ( comme vous je note que les ficelles sont un peu grosses ) . Trop dérangeant , je suis très mal à l’aise ! Je suis incapable de prendre de la distance , pour apprécier correctement à fond la prestation de R Armitage .
    Pourtant il crève l’écran pendant les 20 dernières minutes où il est présent . Son magnétisme et son charisme sautent à l’oeil et me font regarder les épisodes , même en anglais . Heureusement que je ne pige pas tout .
    Les critiques cinématographiques sont assez bonnes , malgré tout pour me faire sourire du bout des lèvres .
    Despite the scenario, the music, the aesthetism, the actors’ performance, I can’t get out of my mind connotations, symbols which this film is unceremoniously reference ( I agree with you). Too disturbing, I am very uncomfortable ! I can’t take distance, to properly fully appreciate the provision of R Armitage.
    Yet he fills the screen during the last 20 minutes where he is present. His magnetism and charisma leap to the eye and make me watch the episodes, even in English. Fortunately I don’t understand completely .
    Film critics are quite good, despite everything to make me grin a little.


  5. Fantastic description. I am with you, I find the rest of the show pretty darn boring. But he is just amazing. And Rutina as Reba? Fantastic. The chemistry is great. Inspired casting. I want more but wish I didn’t have to sit through the rest of it.


    • I think one reason that it’s hard for me to be invested is that I feel jerked around by the show … the dead people who aren’t dead, for instance, that is a plot device that I always find cheap.

      I think Rutina Wesley is really good — a nice contrast to the darkness all around her. I am not totally convinced that she’s blind. But she at least has me wondering.


  6. I find the pace of the show similar to watching paint dry. But I blame myself because I did not see any of the previous episodes, and I can’t help but think if I knew what was going on, I’d appreciate the show more. I agree with Kim that the two R’s, Reba and Richard, are wonderful to watch.


    • That Abigail Hobbs stuff was just … uch. I am watching these on lunch breaks and I thought … uch, really, you are taking up ten minutes of my life that I will never get back with this stuff?

      If you had watched previous episodes, you would understand what was going on now better. I don’t know if tha tmeans you would appreciate it more.


  7. […] the last episode wondering about the role of free will in personal transformation, concluding that Armitage’s performance of Dolarhyde’s desire to change left us on the cusp between will …. So personal transformation was in the air for me as a theme, and thus the beginning, where we get […]


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