Hannibal Lecter is one of my all-time favorite movie/book characters, so naturally Hannibal is one of my favorite films. Of course, there are small bits here and there that I dislike (namely Clarice not being Jodie Foster and that the ending of the film got dramatically changed) but that's alright. It's still a pretty great film. And one of the greatest scenes in said film is the penultimate dinner party between Hannibal, Paul Krendler, and Agent Starling.
Oh, also, obvious spoilers ahead in this simple scene composition dissection (haha, you see what I did there?). And if you have a very weak stomach... proceed with caution. It gets a little gory.
"Oh, hello, Clarice. I was just making some delicious snacks with my good buddy, Paul! Come and nosh with us, dear!"
During the beginning of the scene there're a lot of jittery, swoopy camera moves following Clarice (no doubt because she's just been knocked out with a generous dosage of morphine and is just starting to get out of her drug-induced stupor). We, along with Clarice, don't exactly know what's going on with Paul and Hannibal eating dinner together, so as the camera gets less loopy, we start getting a little bit more grounded, trying to regain a clear sense of thought as we begin to scrutinize the scene displayed before us.
Hannibal is on the far left, towering over Paul who is in the far right bottom corner. What does this communicate to us? Hannibal's obviously got the upper hand here and is lording his power over Paul, now childlike and helpless in his extremely drugged-up state.
Framing! Clarice and Paul are equally set up in each of these cuts through the use of candles, the lamp (in Paul's case) and the edge of the doorway (in Clarice's case). It's a lot easier to focus on the two of them during the scene with a sort of imaginary box surrounding their bodies. Plus, with each cut, and if we laid the two pictures over each other, they're facing each other as in a conversation: Paul on the left, Clarice on the right.
There's a diamond pattern going on here in this scene, between Paul and Clarice who are both pretty much helpless against Hannibal at the moment, whose head is at the top of the diamond, and right now he's the one who is in charge of this scene. At the bottom point of the diamond is the snowglobe, Clarice's weapon of choice when she first tried to defend herself against Hannibal. Of course, that didn't work out as planned, so this is, in a sense, visually telling us that weapons aren't going to be much use at the moment. Clarice is stuck for now, and we're trapped as well, about to witness what horrible, unimaginable thing Hannibal has done now.
...hahaha, I just love Paul's face here.
More of Hannibal asserting himself as the dominant villain here...
...and ta da! The moment of truth! I can only imagine what's going on in Clarice's mind at that moment, and of course... well, this whole time we've been projecting ourselves onto Clarice. We don't need to completely see what's going on on her face to realize that she's horrified. I mean, we're horrified! As Hannibal frames Clarice's/our face as he lifts off the top portion of Paul's skull...
...things get dark. VERY dark. Our entire attention is focused on that delicious looking brain of Krendler's. Hannibal is still towering over him, his face light and illuminated (albeit somewhat shadowy under his brow), but look at Paul: his face is pretty dark and the light is just being reflected on where the top of his brain is and makes it the center of attention even more so.
And finally, we get to see Clarice's reaction. Her skin is SUPER pale now, shadowy and low lit, nothing behind her. Empty. And of course, I'm sure she feels completely empty inside, too. No matter how much of a jerk Paul was, she doesn't believe for a moment he deserves it (and depending on your feelings, you may feel the same exact way towards his character). But, again, the shot reinforces the emotion.
I'll stop here for now, and hopefully I can get through the rest of the scene later. I'll leave you pining for some scrumptious Paul-brains until next time.