Tag Archives: Manhunter

Kim Greist: MANHUNTER’s Burning Source of Light

“What are you dreaming?”

Audiences spend the entirety of MANHUNTER (1986) in the wake of a dream world conjured from the imagination of a man who housed a genuine taste for killing, with only the briefest of glimpses at what danced before the closed eyes of his purposeful pursuer sprinkled throughout. Make no mistake, however, the dream world of Will Graham was every bit as integral to Thomas Harris’ story as the Tooth Fairy’s.

Francis Dollarhyde (played to steely perfection by Tom Noonan) envisioned the Leeds and Jacobis, Reba McLane (Joan Allen), and a third family who would never know they were spared; but for the fascinatingly intense Graham (William Petersen), it was a beautiful blonde sipping a Dos Equis on a boat deck in Florida.

Both needed their dreams to survive—to exist—but despite our long enchantment with the Harris universe and the exploits of MANHUNTER’s characters, the time has come to celebrate the incredible performance of Kim Greist, who was far more than just a beautiful blonde whose sole purpose was as muse for her husband.

Director Michael Mann has a history of devoting far more time, attention, and development to the men of his pictures, and MANHUNTER was no exception, but on its surface, it would appear that Molly Graham was nothing more than someone for Will to live for. While that’s true to an extent, one must delve deeper into the quiet strength Greist injected into the character despite limited screen time.

Though our first cinematic exposure to Will Graham didn’t find him manipulated by Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina), the man was driven by empathy, his conscience unable to erase the images of the Leeds and Jacobis, factors that allowed Graham to—as Dr. Sidney Bloom (Paul Perri) would say—“do a good job of getting [himself] all bent out of shape.”

Enter Molly.

Greist dreamTo say she was Graham’s moral compass would be an over-exaggeration because Graham held clear perspective on right and wrong, but he respected his wife’s enough to discuss helping Crawford on the case. Molly called Graham’s bluff—a recurring theme—pointing out that he had already made up his mind and wasn’t asking. When he posed it as a question, though, Molly responded that he should stay with his wife and son, but quickly noted that such a sentiment was selfish, and she knew it. However, Molly did offer that “we have it more than good,” planting the suggestion that there was not only more to life than hunting killers, but that once more immersing himself in that world could pull him away from all that mattered, his family.

Though Graham held tight to that family, his empathy had a tendency to plunge him into a sensibility where Molly and Kevin (David Seaman) fell into the landscape of his consciousness, so driven that he would lose sight of what it would mean should he never return home.

The beauty of Greist’s performance, the glowing intensity of her quiet strength, was that she never passed on an opportunity to jolt Graham out of his dream-state and back to reality.

Though Graham flirtatiously joked that hotel rooms “elicit romance” and “we have to stop meeting like this,” in MANHUNTER such locations also dripped of symbolism. An unfamiliar place one inhabits for a short while, just as Will found himself entrenched in the world of Francis Dollaryde, and to an extent, Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox) throughout the bulk of the film.

The first time we see Graham in a temporary home, he’d grown weary of watching home videos of the families slaughtered by Dollarhyde and moved to the phone to make a late-night call to Molly. Despite the fact that his wife was groggy (for the record, no one plays half-awake like Greist) and doesn’t even engage in a real conversation with his partner, just hearing her voice, reacquainting himself with the warmth of his love as she dreamed was all it took for Graham to have an epiphany about what fueled Dollarhyde’s fantasies, foreshadowing to “smell yourself.”

“What are you dreaming?”

Greist blue

Later, this time Molly sharing a room with her husband, she stared into his eyes with an intimacy and understanding that only those who know someone completely are capable, and declared “Time is luck, Will.” Molly sensed that her partner was losing the battle with his imagination—the empathy of his dreamscape—and needed a reminder that risking his life to find one man would come at an expense that they couldn’t afford to pay. The ferocity of Will’s gaze communicated that the message had hit home. Graham was once again centered, if only momentarily. Molly was that magnet to Graham’s core which drew him out of depths from which he would otherwise be helplessly confined, without whom he would be doomed to nothing more than the task at hand.

Attributes that culminated in the couple sitting on a dock to discuss what came next, where Graham revealed that he would go to Atlanta, alone. Molly again called him out, this time for doing exactly what he said he wouldn’t. Though Graham was forceful in sharing that the killing had to stop, Molly didn’t storm off or become demonstrably upset because she knew that Will’s heart was in the right place, so she simply poised herself in thought, eyes searching for words that would resonate. Disbelief, disappointment, and fear radiated from Greist’s expression before she opened her mouth, but in the end, she countered with a jab which she knew would register, “William, you’re going to make yourself sick or get yourself killed.”

Molly had a foot in each plane—the dream world and physical—and it was Greist’s character who fueled all things Will Graham. She provided him with nourishment of the body and soul, but also incentive and inspiration, and the one thing which no one else was capable: telling Graham what he needed to hear and immediately putting whatever chaotic situation he found himself into real terms, a much-needed reminder that decisions and their subsequent actions had consequences.

Molly was the antidote to the “ugliest thoughts in the world,” and the reason Will returned home—not as a shell of himself—but the same man as the morning he departed.

Kim Greist’s abbreviated yet amazing performance as Molly Graham was a dream realized.

Greist beach

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Can I Borrow Your Imagination?

“Then you really might know what it’s like,

Then you really might know what it’s like,

Then you really might know what it’s like to have to lose.”

We first met the equally gifted and cursed Will Graham in Thomas Harris’ 1981 novel, Red Dragon, the best-seller that also introduced us to Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Outside of our imaginations, however, it would be almost five years before we would see the purposeful-looking profiler in flesh and blood on screen in Michael Mann’s Manhunter (1986), and another 16 before his last theatrical appearance in Red Dragon (2002).

From the novel, and subsequent films, we understood Graham to possess the uncomfortable and unwelcome talent of pure empathy, an ability to assume the point of view of brutal killers. While it was an ability that allowed him to translate evidence in a way that others simply could not, Harris’ words informed us of the toll it took on Graham, but it was a phenomenon that we’d never truly witnessed on-screen.

Until Bryan Fuller resurrected the Lecter universe with NBC’s groundbreaking Hannibal series in 2013.

Do you see?

After more than thirty-one years, two films and a novel, we were finally given the opportunity to truly observe Will Graham for the first time through the brilliant vehicle that is Hugh Dancy.

Prior to the opening scene of the program’s initial episode, we’d only been offered glimpses of what Graham could conjure through his unique imagination. Be it with William Petersen talking himself through the thought process in Manhunter, or the briefest of visions presented through the lens of Edward Norton’s reluctant voyeur, we never truly delved into Will Graham’s mind.

Hannibal set about changing that, and while this writer will be the first to say that Mads Mikkelsen’s Lecter is the finest portrayal of the cannibalistic caretaker, the reason that the television series soared for 39 episodes was the presentation of Will Graham.

As Damian Swift and Mark Shannon were the first to achieve the feat of penning Jason Voorhees (Derek Mears) as not only human, but human being with Friday the 13th (2009), Fuller and company allowed a similar peek behind the curtain. Graham was no longer an edgy, hesitant hero with hundreds of thousands of miles on his engine, but for the first time, the price of Graham’s gift was put on full display.

Dancy’s exhibition of Graham was closer to self-diagnosed Asperger’s and autism than a jaded veteran detective. Interaction was not just difficult, but strained and stressful. Not once was there an I-told-you-so revelation that altered the approach to a case, but rather a sad, reserved interpretation of “the ugliest thoughts in the world.”

The beauty of Hannibal, and of Dancy’s portrayal, was another line from Everlast’s “What it’s Like,” – “God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in his shoes” — a lyric that applied not only to Graham, allowing himself into the headspace of a psychopath, but to the audience that embarked on that same journey through Graham’s eyes.

tumblr_inline_ohuslmj6nP1s38ndg_500And Fuller’s Hannibal wasted no time in communicating that we weren’t in Kansas anymore.

That first view found Graham analyzing the surroundings of a crime scene, then rewinding to the very moment he’d summoned the courage to kick the door in and experience the heinous thoughts, actions and sentiments of the perpetrator.

Graham entered the home with confidence, and upon putting down Mr. Marlow (Wayne Downer), emphatically declared “He will die watching me take what is his away from him. This is my design.” Next, he shot Mrs. Marlow (Bernadette Couture) “expertly through the neck,” paralyzing her before she hit the floor, setting up the first true indication that this was not the Will Graham we’d thought we known over the course of three decades.

Graham slowly walked toward the downed victim and said “which doesn’t mean that she can’t feel pain,” his eyes searching for the words, Dancy whispered a tormented “It just means,” before continuing “she can’t do anything about it.”

The empathy of Graham not only allowed him to adopt unwanted points of view, he also empathized with the victim, and the awful thoughts and visions running through his mind.

Graham would go on to point out that the work Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) had recruited him to do was “not good for (him),” as we laid eyes upon the incredibly expensive emotional, psychological and physical tax of Graham’s imagination.

Hannibal’s Will Graham was not a damaged, yet contented family man who didn’t want to look anymore, he was unstable and fractured long before he stepped foot inside the Marlow home. A fragile tea cup whose crevices were sure to weaken every time he opened his eyes. Or closed them.

And it was Dancy who made each new fissure at once agonizing and exquisite, in a beautiful turn that if we’re honest about it, is the very reason fans continue to clamor for a fourth season, almost three years after Hannibal was taken off the air.

Because of Hugh Dancy, there is still a desire, dare I say a need, to borrow Will Graham’s imagination.