Film Corner: Will Graham is a Raging Asshole

[Content Note: Murder, Rape, Animal Cruelty, Misogynistic Language, Red Dragon spoilers]

I wanted to like Will Graham.

No. Stop. Wait. Let me first back up and give everyone a little view into the super-happy-unicorn-fun of pop-culture blogging in our corporate dystopia wasteland:

I wanted to head this post with a screenshot from the Red Dragon movie. I figured that would be easy.

First, I googled for the screen capture that I wanted: a picture of Will Graham as played by Ed Norton sitting cozily next to his wife Molly Graham as played by Mary-Louise Parker. I needed this very specific screenshot in order to make a point that I very much wish to make. It wasn't available on Google. Not terribly surprisingly, this one was [cn: gun violence] as was this one, neither of which I wanted. The first one has a tendency to focus on Will Graham's manpain over Molly's pain (this is made more explicit in the book) and the second one is more of an evaluatory image of Molly being attractive and reticent. I wanted an image which represented communion. I couldn't find it.

But that was no problem: I had purchased a used copy of the Red Dragon movie on blu-ray after I wrote about The Silence of the Lambs. (I could feel this post coming on, I suppose.) I don't usually buy movies on blu-ray, but the price was right and I knew I'd want a good picture quality for the blog. So I got up from my desk, popped the movie into my computer, lined up to the scene I wanted, played the pause-play-rewind-play-pause game until I had precisely the shot I wanted, and pressed the PRINT SCREEN button on my keyboard.

Some of you know what's coming next.

Apparently, enough people in Hollywood have managed to make enough of a fuss about piracy that they've convinced every major blu-ray computer program company to disable the print screen functionality of the computer on which the blu-ray is playing: if you try to take a screenshot from a blu-ray movie, you receive a black screen instead. HA HA THAT IS JUST GREAT. Even though I've paid for this movie. Even though it would be utterly ludicrous for someone to screen capture every frame in order to "pirate" the movie. Even though there are numerous much easier ways out there to pirate movies. Even though all these things, because corporate dystopia wasteland.

What I have learned from this then, is that if I ever want to video blog anything ever again, I have to either buy the damn thing in DVD format or I have to buy (or rent) from Amazon Instant Video because Amazon (so far) hasn't disabled the print screen capabilities there. (And which I have so far only dabbled in with television shows only because I'm not sure how I feel yet about not owning a physical copy of my movies.) And in the meantime, if I want to get the screenshot I need for my post, I need to shell out even more money for one or more workarounds. Lovely.

I mention all this not because I want solutions posted in the comments (please don't post any solutions in the comments for various legal reasons which should be obvious) but because (a) I like to help other bloggers avoid the pitfalls I fall into and (b) absolutely none of this ridiculous waste of my time and my money helped to endear Will Graham to me.

But I digress.

Oh, look! Pictures! (Thank you, Amazon Instant Video rental!)

I wanted to like Will Graham.

Special FBI investigator Will Graham is theoretically my kind of investigator: he is both blessed and cursed with "pure empathy" and he solves cases with the Power of Feelings. How can I not like that, when it's one of the things I like most about Joan Watson on Elementary?

And, in fact, I do like Will Graham when he is played by Ed Norton. (Note: I haven't seen the movie Manhunter nor the show Hannibal, and currently have no intention of watching either.) And perhaps this shouldn't be surprising -- Ed Norton frequently brings a wonderfully wounded vulnerability to so many of his roles that it seems very natural to me in retrospect that he should play a purely empathic character -- the more I think on it, Ed Norton should be playing all the empathic characters, in everything. Yet reading Red Dragon this week has thoroughly convinced me that Thomas Harris should not be writing them.

Will Graham, as written by Thomas Harris, is a fictional character who is super-amazingly-special and the-absolute-bestest at catching serial killers because he has "pure empathy" that he can't turn off, because of his special empathic brain. He doesn't really like his super power and wishes he could turn it off; our first description of him comes from his former boss (FBI agent Jack Crawford because no one in these books is ever called Hyman or Lynn or Leslie, unless of course they're a serial killer) who notes how Will effortlessly slips into conversational rhythms, mimicking the speech patterns of whoever he is talking with because of his amazing empathy, while simultaneously noting how much this talent bothers Will:
   Jack Crawford heard the rhythm and syntax of his own speech in Graham’s voice. He had heard Graham do that before, with other people. Often in intense conversation Graham took on the other person’s speech patterns. At first, Crawford had thought he was doing it deliberately, that it was a gimmick to get the back-and-forth rhythm going.
   Later Crawford realized that Graham did it involuntarily, that sometimes he tried to stop and couldn’t.
And later:
“What he has in addition is pure empathy and projection,” Dr. Bloom said. “He can assume your point of view, or mine—and maybe some other points of view that scare and sicken him.
Already my interest is piqued because this speech thing is a thing that I do. (We had a discussion thread on this once somewhere, and as I recall it's not terribly rare. It may or may not be a subconscious defense mechanism: people are less likely to hurt you if they think you're similar to them in meaningful ways.) But it's all a horrible lie because Will Graham doesn't actually empathize with "people"; he empathizes with white adult men who are near him in age without being elderly. Or, in other words, Will Graham empathizes with people who have social privilege and/or fit the usual serial killer demographic.

Fine. Okay? Fine. If you want to have a fictional character whose super-power is empathizing with the privileged, the powerful, and serial killers, then fine. But do not keep lying to me and telling me that this person is doing it with Pure Empathy. Because every page in this book, every word on each page, drives home the point that Will Graham doesn't empathize with women or children or the elderly or those less powerful than he because they aren't real people to him.

Graham doesn't empathize with other police officers who are frustrated with dealing with the secretive and heavy-handed FBI; every time there's any jurisdiction friction between the groups, it's Crawford who steps in and smooths the feathers. (With a strong implication that Graham is too special to be wasted on petty little things like group coordination. Pure Empathy must be employed only for profiling.)

Graham doesn't empathize with the female victims of the serial killer (Francis Dolarhyde, aka the "Red Dragon"): the individual women he murders and rapes. The Red Dragon technically has more victims than just these women -- his m.o. is to murder the entire family -- but his focus is on the women, and the women are why he picks those particular families. But instead of getting right down to understanding the women in order to understand why the Red Dragon focused on them -- which is, you know, his job -- Graham farts around getting to know the husbands because they are the ones who own the women, and Graham doesn't want to transgress on that ownership:
Graham followed him through the house out of an odd sense of obligation. Learning about him first was a way of asking permission to look at his wife. Graham felt that it was she who drew the monster, as surely as a singing cricket attracts death from the red-eyed fly.
Clear as day, Graham is empathizing with the husband, who owns the wife, rather than empathizing with the wife first and foremost. Much later in the book he will wonder if the women are responsible for their deaths, proving that he will never at any point in this novel seriously consider empathizing with these women as actual people
Graham wondered if Mrs. Leeds and Mrs. Jacobi ever did their marketing in tennis clothes. That was a fashionable thing to do in some areas. It was a dumb thing to do in some areas because it was doubly provocative—arousing class resentment and lust at the same time. Graham imagined them pushing grocery carts, short pleated skirts brushing the brown thighs, the little balls on their sweat socks winking—passing the husky man with the barracuda eyes who was buying cold lunch meat to gnaw in his car.
This is doubly infuriating because Graham's empathy is supposed to be compulsive and uncontrollable: he's supposed to pop into peoples' heads without meaning to, yet any time there's a head to pop into, he invariably dives into a point of view that preys on women and blames them for it. Even if that point of view is only hypothetical. Even if the victims are real people. Will Graham would rather compulsively empathize with a hypothetical man who may or may not exist to watch women shop than to understand the women who presumably did shop but may or may not have shopped "provocatively". That's not empathizing; that's judging. And, in this case, victim-blaming. Yuck.

Graham doesn't empathize with his step-son, a young boy who seems to care about Graham very much at the beginning of the book. When a gossip rag maliciously reports that Graham was institutionalized for depression (and falsely implies that he was institutionalized because he is dangerous to others), the young boy asks Graham tentatively about it. Everything about this makes sense: the boy loves Graham and is worried about him; the boy also loves his mother and is worried about her. He's trying to keep everyone safe, and he's trying to be as diplomatic as the average eleven-year-old can be. But Graham resents him for asking, and resents the Tattler for creating the situation, as opposed to resenting the Tattler for unduly worrying a child he (supposedly) loves:
Resentment raised a minute blister in Graham. He had justified himself to an eleven-year-old.

Graham doesn't empathize with his wife. Here is where I really start to see red, because this book is so misogynistic in its handling of Molly Graham. Remember when I thought that maybe Harris was attempting to be some kind of feminist ally (and largely failing) when he tried to show the sexism that Clarice Starling encounters in the FBI? Well, I take it all back and chalk it up to my PURE EMPATHY AND PROJECTION (ha) because this book is misogynistic as fuck.

Let me set the scene for you. Jack Crawford rolls up into town and tells Will Graham that he needs Will to drop everything and jet off to work on a serial killer task force, when oh-by-the-way the last case Graham worked ended with him being nearly stabbed to death. Graham decides that he must go (compulsion! instant guilt-free!) because if he doesn't and if the killer strikes again, he'll feel like it was somehow his fault and his home and family will be tainted for him forever. Graham asks Molly if she thinks he should go, and she points out that he's already made up his mind. And this is an interesting point we'll come back to: Molly empathizes with Graham. Molly doesn't have Pure Empathy. She isn't employed by the FBI as a super-special profiler. But she empathizes with Graham more than he does with her, despite that being supposedly his unique talent.

This is realistic. Marginalized people often learn how to empathize with privileged people as a form of protection. I'm not in the least bit surprised that Molly can empathize with her husband, nor that she can recognize and point out times when he's only pretending to ask for her opinion as opposed to really asking for it. But because the book is written this way, we have an interesting situation where empathy only flows up the chain of privilege. Women (Molly and others) empathize with Graham because they are worth less than him. They empathize up to him, just as young Willy empathizes up to his mother Molly. And Graham, the bestest character evah on the protagonist side, empathizes up to serial killers like Hannibal Lector and Francis Dolarhyde. This is a problem, and more on why in a minute.

Without Molly's freely-given permission or her blessing, Will jets off with nary a backward glance behind him. Calls are exchanged in which Molly tries to be kind and understanding and loving; she playfully offers him phone sex at one point, though he turns her down. Then Will makes a series of poor choices and his nemesis Hannibal Lector ends up sending the Red Dragon a message that includes the Graham family address and instructions to kill Molly and Willy. The FBI is forced to uproot Molly and Willy from their home to a safe house -- Willy has to leave his home and his friends; Molly loses her job, and laments the loss of all the hard work she'd invested in her career. Their dogs are given to the shelter where they hope they will be adopted out rather than put to sleep, but it's been established that they keep the dogs because they're "ugly" and no one wants to adopt them, so.

Shortly after this, Crawford decides that the best way to catch the Red Dragon is to agitate him to go after Graham individually, who can be monitored by FBI surveillance and who can wear kevlar at all times -- though that won't protect him, they note, if the Red Dragon goes for a headshot. There's a long drawn-out conversation between Crawford and a colleague about how immoral it would be to put Graham in a trap without informing him first (which is true), yet they never once consider informing Molly, despite the fact that, safe-house or not, she's also in danger the more the Red Dragon focuses on the Graham family. They already know he targets women, not men. And yet Molly doesn't get to know even though Graham does, because Molly isn't a person. Graham is, and as her husband he owns her.
   [CRAWFORD] Will you help us stir up the Tooth Fairy, Doctor? A lot of people are dead.”
   [BLOOM] “Only if Graham knows the entire risk ahead of time and assumes it voluntarily. I have to hear him say that.”
   [CRAWFORD] “I’m like you, Doctor. I never bullshit him.
Later, after the trap has gone badly and ended with someone other than Graham dead (no shit):
   He made a third martini and called Molly. She had seen the television news at six and ten o’clock and she had seen a Tattler. She knew that Graham had been the bait in a trap.
   “You should have told me, Will.”
   “Maybe. I don’t think so.”
RIGHT. His trap got his "pet" (a man he was working with) killed because the serial killer murders the pets first. Graham knows that now. He also knows that the killer focuses on the wives. But Graham still thinks he shouldn't tell Molly about these things. And she's supposed to fall the fuck into line.

And so after the Red Dragon has targeted not-Graham but someone he considers close to Graham (i.e., the "pet"), Molly decides -- without putting it into these words, mind you; she's nothing but kind and polite throughout this entire novel -- that the FBI is fucking around with matches and she can't trust them to keep her informed. She takes Willy up to his paternal grandparents, who haven't seen him in a while. (It's implied they've not seen him since his father, Molly's previous husband, died.)

Graham isn't happy about this decision to live with Willy's grandparents and repeatedly sulks about this arrangement without ever really airing out that he's pissed off because Molly isn't waiting on a widow's walk somewhere for him to decide to come back home. She's taking care of herself and Willy while cheerfully reminding Graham that there's a place open for him when he's done with his work, but she's not sitting around in limbo. And that burns him up, Pure Empathy notwithstanding.

When the case is finally over, Graham immediately demands that his return into their lives and his sexytimes be done on his schedule at his insistence. I'm just going to quote the entire phone conversation because it is PERFECT. And by "perfect", I mean "gut-wrenching and horrible".
   [MOLLY] “Hello.”
   [GRAHAM] “Hi, hotshot.”
   “Good news, huh?”
   “Looks like it.”
   “I was out in the garden. Mamamma came out and told me when she saw it on TV. When did you find out?”
   “Late last night.”
   “Why didn’t you call me?”
   “Mamamma was probably asleep.”
   “No, she was watching Johnny Carson. I can’t tell you, Will. I’m so glad you didn’t have to catch him.”
   “I’ll be here a little longer.”
   “Four or five days?”
   “I’m not sure. Maybe not that long. I want to see you, kid.”
   “I want to see you too, when you get through with everything you need to do.”
   “Today’s Wednesday. By Friday I ought to—”
   “Will, Mamamma has all Willy’s uncles and aunts coming down from Seattle next week, and—”
   “Fuck Mamamma. What is this ‘Mamamma’ anyway?”
   “When Willy was real little, he couldn’t say—”
   “Come home with me.”
   “Will, I’ve waited for you. They never get to see Willy and a few more days—”
   “Come yourself. Leave Willy there, and your ex-mother-in-law can stick him on a plane next week. Tell you what— let’s stop in New Orleans. There’s a place called—”
   “I don’t think so. I’ve been working— just part-time— at this western store in town, and I have to give them a little notice.”
   “What’s wrong, Molly?”
   “Nothing. Nothing’s wrong. . . . I got so sad, Will. You know I came up here after Willy’s father died.” She always said “Willy’s father” as though it were an office. She never used his name. “And we were all together— I got myself together, I got calm. I’ve gotten myself together now too, and I—”
   “Small difference: I’m not dead.”
   “Don’t be that way.”
   “What way? Don’t be what way?”
   “You’re mad.”
   Graham closed his eyes for a moment.
   “I’m not mad, Molly. You do what you want to. I’ll call you when things wind up here.”
   “You could come up here.”
   “I don’t think so.”
   “Why not? There’s plenty of room. Mamamma would—”
   “Molly, they don’t like me and you know why. Every time they look at me, I remind them.”
   “That’s not fair and it’s not true either.”
   Graham was very tired.
   “Okay. They’re full of shit and they make me sick— try that one.”
   “Don’t say that.”
   “They want the boy. Maybe they like you all right, probably they do, if they ever think about it. But they want the boy and they’ll take you. They don’t want me and I couldn’t care less. I want you. In Florida. Willy too, when he gets tired of his pony.”
   “You’ll feel better when you get some sleep.”
   “I doubt it. Look, I’ll call you when I know something here.”
   “Sure.” She hung up.
HAHAHA ISN'T THAT PERFECT? So, just to recap, Will Graham left his family without hardly even a notice, endangered their lives once without meaning to but in a way that completely uprooted them from their safe space and lost them their livelihood, then endangered their lives a second time without warning them, then got in a huff over them finding a safe space with people who aren't genetically-related to him and his magic sperm, then demanded that they uproot themselves entirely with barely a thank you to their hosts or a notice at their workplace, then aggressively interrupted Molly when she tried to explain, then undermined her sense of worth by saying that the people who have been taking care of her don't actually like her, and then insulted them when Molly wouldn't accept his crap. THAT IS SOME PURE EMPATHY RIGHT THERE.

When Graham goes home again, he immediately decides that any new distance between him and Molly has less to do with his series of bad decisions and treating her like furniture in his life and more to do with the fact that she's a horrible person for staying with her dead husband's parents rather than in a safe house that could be compromised by a leak (accidental or deliberate, since they've demonstrated total unwillingness to warn her about traps) at the FBI at any time:
   Graham and Molly wanted very much for it to be the same again between them, to go on as they had before.
   When they saw that it was not the same, the unspoken knowledge lived with them like unwanted company in the house. [...]
   She tried to be good to him, but she had been to Oregon and she had raised the dead.
   Willy felt it and he was cool to Graham, maddeningly polite.
Right. She is being cool to him because seeing Willy's grandparents reminded her that she has a dead husband which she had hitherto previously forgot. She is certainly not being cool to him because he's a raging asshole who might put her through this ALL OVER AGAIN next week if Crawford shows up on the doorstep with a new case file. Ditto for Willy, who is "maddeningly" polite because fuck that little shit. Who does he think he is, protecting himself emotionally from future abandonment?

Rather than reassure Molly that he isn't going to leave her again and/or get her killed by any more serial killers, he rubs her nose in the fact that everyone else thinks he's a Big Damn Hero (so why doesn't she?):
   “These people were probably on his itinerary,” Crawford wrote. “Safe now. Thought you’d like to know.”
   Graham showed it to Molly. “See? That’s why,” he said. “That’s why it was worth it.”
   “I know,” she said. “I understand that, really I do.”
   The bluefish were running under the moon. Molly packed suppers and they fished and they built fires, and none of it was any good.

Graham decides that the best thing to do to resolve all this is to sit Molly and Willy down and lecture them about how they are his property and need to start acting like it: politeness isn't going to cut it in this household when he deserves unadulterated admiration. PURE EMPATHY!
   Graham had decided to talk to both of them together.
   The expedition did not begin well. Willy pointedly put aside the rod Graham had rigged for him and brought the new surf-casting rod his grandfather sent home with him. They fished for three hours in silence. Graham opened his mouth to speak several times, but it didn’t seem right.
   He was tired of being disliked.
Oh, Graham. You're not going to be very happy with me then, are you?
   When Molly had gone, Graham was tempted to talk to the boy by himself. No. Willy would feel whatever his mother felt. He’d wait and get them both together when she came back. He’d do it this time.
   She wasn’t gone long and she came back without the sandwiches, walking swiftly on the packed sand above the surf.
   “Jack Crawford’s on the phone. I told him you’d call him back, but he said it’s urgent,” she said, examining a fingernail. “Better hurry.”
Sure. Because eleven-year-old boys aren't autonomously separate from their mothers, in much the same way that wives shouldn't be autonomously separate from their husbands. And lest you think I'm exaggerating, the serial killer will pick this moment to turn out to be Not Dead After All and leap out from the bushes and stab Graham in the face. Graham lives, but he is badly scarred for life and it's very heavily implied that Molly leaves him either because she's a shallow bitch who thinks he's ugly now or because she's a shallow bitch who can't handle being targeted by serial killers once a week. But either way, it's very important that we all recognize that Molly is a shallow bitch.

*deep breath*

This book is long. The mass market paperback is 480 pages. The audiobook is 12 hours long. This is possibly the first book I've ever listened to where I longed for an abridged version -- usually I abhor abridged versions because they leave out important information. Here it seemed like there was an unusual surplus of stuff that not only wasn't necessary but actively undermined the entire conceit of the book. Will Graham is nothing but Pure Empathy, yet he treats everyone around him like pure shit: he either ignores their feelings or aggresses against them.

And in 480 pages, despite hearing from multiple different points of view, we never once hear from Molly.

In Chapter 15, when Graham teaches Molly how to shoot in case the Red Dragon comes after her, the point of view character is a nameless "rangemaster" who watches Molly and Graham from afar, a man who is more interested in the guns they are using than he is in the woman who is terrified for herself and her baby. And when the rangemaster does tear his eyes away from the gun porn, he -- like Graham and like Harris and like (Harris hopes) the reader -- focuses on the only important person in the room: Graham.
   The man was very gentle with her and encouraging, but he seemed sad about something.
   [...] The rangemaster thought he should be pleased with her, and told him so. She had come a long way in one day. Graham thanked him absently. His expression puzzled the rangemaster. He looked like a man who had witnessed an irrevocable loss.
FEEL HIS MANPAIN. But don't feel Molly's pain because Molly isn't a person. She's a woman. She's a possession. She's a bitch who doesn't do what Graham wants her to do and who leaves him when he's most injured. She may have consistently empathized up to Graham, but she refused to accept that he could never be expected to empathize down to her level, and she refused to give him the adoration that was his due.

Other women admire Graham; topless-bar-owner Wendy ("Wendy of Wendy City", Graham repeatedly calls her, because he doesn't care to learn her last name) reassures him that it's not his fault when the trap designed to bait the Red Dragon ends with her boyfriend being killed rather than Graham. During the funeral, she mournfully tells Graham to come see her for a drink sometime; Graham watches her leave and then longs abstractedly for sex because "funerals often make us want sex— it’s one in the eye for death." Empathic Graham doesn't consider that maybe not everyone wants sex at a funeral, that maybe there are other points of view than his, because those points of view don't matter. They're not worth empathizing with.

Men admire Graham most of all. There's a huge and totally-unnecessary conversation about how incredibly special Graham is and how incredibly worthy of study his amazing mind is. (Emapthy! It's so RARE! Only ONE WHITE MAN has mastered it in the history of humankind!) When Crawford and Bloom segue to talking about the trap and how it would be So Very Wrong to use Graham without his consent (though it's alright to use Molly without her consent), Bloom explains what a burden it is to be Graham: 
   “It’s fear, Jack. The man deals with a huge amount of fear.”
   “Because he got hurt?”
   “No, not entirely. Fear comes with imagination, it’s a penalty, it’s the price of imagination.”
That last sentence has been highlighted 83 times by kindle users. In contrast, the sentence where Bloom says Graham has Pure Empathy (which might reasonably be highlighted as a valuable point re: protagonist characterization) has only been highlighted 32 times. I can only hope that the other users, like myself, highlighted this last sentence in order to blog about what shit writing it is. It is shit writing because it directs the focus, always and completely, to super-special Will Graham. Does Molly feel fear, in the days when she is told nothing and her imagination is left to run wild? No one cares, really. It's Graham who is the star of the story.

And the thought occurs, somewhere in the middle of the book, that not only is Graham an obvious fantasy insert persona for the white male reader -- constantly being talked up by his colleagues as well as by newspapers across the nation as amazingly talented -- he's a very peculiar sort of power fantasy. He "compulsively empathizes", but not with the sorts of people that the reader doesn't care about: marginalized women and children and elderly people and people of color. No, he compulsively empathizes with powerful and interesting men: his empathy library is almost entirely limited to Jack Crawford, Hannibal Lector, and Francis Dolarhyde.

Will Graham empathizes with monsters while ignoring their victims. And he does it compulsively, without choice or consent, so that there's no shame attached in his empathy, no suggestion that perhaps his focus might be better directed elsewhere. Yet isn't that what society does already, writ large and without the compulsion?

Most of us know who Hannibal Lector is. Yet I was only barely able to find another last name for Molly: Foster. Is it her maiden name or her name from her previous marriage? (I note that Willy has the same last names as she, Foster Graham, meaning that he has taken Will Graham's last name. That's relativity rare nowadays, changing a step-son's name to the step-father's surname. Did he do that because he loved Will? Or did Will insist upon it? We don't know.) The Red Dragon's victims are almost invariably referenced by surname in the book; there's only a handful of mentions I could find of Mrs. Leeds being Valerie, as Graham usually refers to her as Mrs. Leeds. If the first victim, Mrs. Jacobi, has a first name, I can't recall it. (She's not even credited on IMDB, though her husband and children are.)

Names indicate importance and focus, and these things direct empathy.

We empathize with Hannibal Lector: as far as I can tell from reading up on the series, the next two books (Hannibal and Hannibal Rising) both feature Hannibal as an anti-hero protagonist, someone we're supposed to empathize with and possibly even root for. And we empathize with Francis Dolarhyde: there's SO VERY MANY LONG CHAPTERS in this book about his genuinely terrible childhood and the abuse he suffered.

Yet this approach is not unusual or surprising or particularly creative; we empathize with killers in fiction all the time. Look at Edward Cullen. Look at Spike in Angel. Look at Ender Wiggins. Look at Dexter. Look at Sweeney Todd. None of this is new, although in fairness much of it is newer than this particular book. Still, I'm sure we could easily come up with older examples of celebrated anti-heroes if we plumbed the Epic of Gilgamesh, Greek mythology, the Bible. And yet Will Graham is considered amazing, radical, and revolutionary for being able to empathize with killers, and there's a strong undercurrent throughout the novel that no one else ever does this:
   “Mrs. Leeds was a good-looking woman,” Graham said. “You’ve seen the family pictures, right? I’d want to touch her skin in an intimate situation, wouldn’t you?”
   “Intimate?” Distaste sounded in Crawford’s voice before he could stop it.
Graham is the only person on earth who can think like a serial killer, who can empathize with one to the point where he can twist rape into romance. (But he empathizes compulsively and tries to stop, so it's not his fault!) Everyone else on earth is horrified and disgusted by such an idea, because everyone else on earth recognizes that Rape Is Terrible, to the point where they can't even imagine how to think otherwise, even if it would save lives. No exceptions. In fact, Graham's ability to view rape as romance is so unique that his brain should be studied. He should be published in psychology journals. It's that rare, the ability to mentally objectify women into sex objects against their consent.

Yes, really. 

The funny thing is? Reading the reviews of the Red Dragon movie (which I actually liked just fine because Ed Norton fixed ALL THE THINGS), I'm struck by how many people complain about the ending being different -- the book is darker, ending with Graham disfigured and alone and broken; the movie is brighter, ending with Graham recovering from his wounds with Molly and Willy by his side. Yet it seems obvious to me, and I expect it was obvious to everyone involved in the production of the movie, that Norton's Graham can't end that way.

Whether Harris knew it or not, Molly left Graham because Graham refused to see things from her point of view -- that impression can't help but bubble up from between the pages. The Molly that stuck with him this far doesn't feel like she would then go no further because of what happened at the eleventh hour, not if Graham were as willing to work with her as she demonstrably has been willing to work with him throughout. Book-Graham isn't willing to work with her, so when she leaves him it seems to us (because we think of women as people and not possessions) entirely reasonable for her to leave because of that. Cause and effect.

But Norton's Graham really is empathic and really does see Molly as a person. He empathizes as strongly with her and Willy as he does with Crawford and Dolarhyde, maybe even more so because it doesn't hurt to be in their heads. He likes empathizing with them. And that fundamental change in Graham's character -- playing him as he should be played, based on his core characterization, rather than treating that core characterization as nothing more than a guilt-free card to sympathize with serial killers because it can be fun and interesting to do so -- creates an equally fundamental change in his relationship with Molly: she doesn't leave him because he doesn't drive her away.

I don't see that as a cheery ending for a cheery ending's sake; I see it as fixing a fundamental flaw in this rottenly misogynistic turd of a book.


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