‘It is a privilege to be timeless’: On Time in Orphée (Jean Cocteau, 1950)

Jean Cocteau’s 1950 film Orphée is the retelling of the classic Greek myth on the legend Orpheus, in which Orpheus has to travel to Hades in order to save his love, Eurydice. However, Orphée presents things differently, as Orpheus (played by Cocteau’s lover and the wonderfully handsome, Jean Marais) finds himself falling in love with a princess, who is Death, that came to visit him in a local café. Unlike La Belle et La Bête (1947), in which the protagonists are (arguably) awarded a happy ending, Orphée finishes in a much more somber tone, reminding audiences what has been communicated throughout the film thanks to the constant shots of mirrors and reflections; that love, no matter what time or place you are in, can never be defined or translated. However, the films are similar in that they both present an idiosyncratic and poetic interpretation of time travel – Belle travels to and from the Beast using a lavish glove as a transportation device, while Orpheus and co. glide through mirrors into Hades; whilst one travels within the confines of the same world and the other from life and death, the scope and breadth of the distance they travel to and from remains just as impactful due to the reasons for doing so.

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Just like Belle transporting back to her home is futile due to her love for the Beast, Orpheus knows that traveling to Hades in order to save Eurydice is in vain since he evidently is not going for “both” of them, as he explains to Death’s driver, Heurtebise, but for Death herself. Yet, the Death he is striving after is his own death; this is unrequited love at its greatest peak, as for Orpheus to be with Death would be fruitless, since the only way this could happen is if he were to die. It is here we can draw parallels to the filmmaker’s life as Cocteau and Marais’s relationship was affected by the fascist air left in the remnants of the war – perhaps, at one point, to the infamous lovers, they felt their love was only possible if it were to transcend the very essence of time itself, and the only way that is possible, according to this film, is through death.

The voiceover at the opening of the film declares, “it is a privilege of legends to be timeless.” This, along with the dramatic, non-diegetic composition by Georges Auric (whom also worked on La Belle), and the well-known tale of Orpheus all draw the spectator in to the dramatic, grandiose setting; the inevitable decline from this state begins as soon as Death appears. Ginette Vincendeau describes the legendary Greek’s humanisation yet transcendence perfectly in her essay for the BFI, stating the film “navigates between myth and realism, boulevard theatre and surrealist poetry, the fantastique and post-war politics.” The point here, in terms of the film’s time travel theory, is that there is none: instead it’s an abstract, poetic concept that would play on the radio channel Marais’s character becomes obsessed with.

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The dolly shots presented in the Hades sequences (which have inspired other directors, for example Spike Lee) by director of photography Nicolas Hayer emphasise the point of time travel in the film: it is supposed to be poetic and outlandish because the form of time travel the film manifests is something we see everyday; the decaying of our faces and exacerbation of our personality. Heurtebise was not wrong when he declared that it “takes long to die,” yet, this film reminds viewers that through art, in all its forms, audiences can time travel to different worlds.

Love Crime: A Review of HANNIBAL Season Three, Episode Thirteen – THE WRATH OF THE LAMB

Well, here we are. I am one month late to the Hannibal reviewing/mourning/crying dinner party, but that was because I was mostly in denial. But, like a stack of bodies mounted on top of one another in the middle of the beach, this can’t be ignored any longer.

The final episode of Hannibal opens with Francis Dolarhyde (played by Richard Armitage) manipulating Reba (Rutina Wesley) through carefully planned actions, with the atmosphere of claustrophobia and panic heightened by the intense close-up shots, which are all mostly in the perspective of Reba — what Dolarhyde (or *deep voice* THE DRAGON) describes to her is the next thing audiences can see. As the scene continues, we witness the destruction of everything: the stag’s head, the building in which Dolarhyde’s fantasy was made true, and so much more. The meaning of this scene is heightened further due to the music, by Brian Reitzell, reverting back to the synth-like church music introduced to audiences at the beginning of the season. Every tragedy in this show plays like a Greek tragedy by Sophocles or Euripides; each tragic scene arouses pity and fear in the viewers’ hearts, while reminding us, through imagery like the stag’s head, that this is not over – there are still other Acts to come. This is emphasised by the finale scene, in which Hannibal and Will take down the Red Dragon for good — Dolarhyde is dead, but, according to the dragon-winged shaped CGI blood left under his body, his fantasy of being a dragon lives on; the only way he could have accomplished this is through death, where dreams are limitless.

Hannibal 3x13 - The Wrath of the Lamb - Richard Armitage (Francis Dolarhyde, Great Read Dragon), muerte, death

However, this is not about Dolarhyde, or Alana Bloom, Jack Crawford and Abigail Hobbs. It’s not even about the dogs. This season finale made it pretty clear that this is building up to, the most important aspect of the show, and the most important concerns in Will’s and Hannibal’s lives: each other.

At Hannibal’s glass see-through house, which is introduced to us through a series of montages and establishing shots showcasing the scale and isolation of Hannibal’s world (notably showcasing the contrast of the open house with the isolated, lonesome exterior), we see the extent to which Will’s and Hannibal’s relationship has come. Compared with the long distance shots through the high, black gate of Hannibal’s gothic mansion that could be seen in a Hammer film, the openness of this sequence tells us what we already know: Hannibal and Will are on their journey to the final act, indicated by the high establishing shot of them in the stolen police car driving toward their final destination, merging with their surroundings. This is a vital juxtaposition to the world Hannibal had been inhabiting for the past six episodes, with his fine Art and dignity, and therefore freedom, being taken away. In this world, in just one cut, Hannibal immediately regains his taste, poise and status.

This episode constantly recalls on previous episodes from the past two seasons; we see references to the mind palace from episode one, the micro shots of the blood dripping that was introduced to us through Bedelia’s character, but, most importantly, Bryan Fuller reminds spectator’s of the tea cup shattering metaphor from season two.

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While not directly referenced, the high angle medium shot from Hannibal’s perspective of the shattering of his bottle of wine (after being shot by Dolarhyde) is reminiscent, at least to me, of this vital metaphor that has been used throughout the show. It is here, perhaps, that either one of the show’s central characters realise they are fine china to one another; delicate, needing to be put back together. It could even be said both characters were shattered tea cups from season one, and to be put back together they needed to join forces and commit an act of beauty that will bond them forever.

And so, we have Francis Dolarhyde’s death. Before this sequence, which Matt Zoller Seitz describes as a choreographed dance, Bryan Fuller doesn’t forget to remind viewers of the fact that watching Hannibal is an experience – a moment in time in which nothing will be the same again – through Mads Mikkelsen’s character, who declares that the Red Dragon is “seized by a fantasy world, with the brilliance and freshness and immediacy of childhood,” while Dolarhyde, when setting up his camera to film, states “watching the film will be wonderful, but not as wonderful as the act itself.” Both statements are one and the same, as it is pointing to something one can never have once the act is over; as much as one would want to, we can never go back to the magic and mystery of childhood. Nor can, when Dolarhyde commits the act, the Red Dragon recreate each murder; he has it on film, but even he says it is not enough.

Zadie Smith, when writing about joy, described how joy “is such a human madness” due to the fact once we have experienced it, we can never experience it again, and know this. We know that after a joy we will feel a kind-of depression due to not being in that moment ever again, yet we continuously crave this and yearn for this. This is the teacup metaphor in human emotion, as Hannibal to Will is joy, and vice versa.

Perhaps, then, when they fall into the eroded sea, they are doing it because they know that the extravagant, dream-like, romantic and horrific moment they created together can never be achieved again; this is the greatest moment for them, and the only way to end this is to combine themselves together in the next fairytale, death.

Siouxsie Sioux and Brian Reitzell’s Love Crime plays as we watch Will and Hannibal fall into the stag-shaped nothingness, which is also everything. As the scene ends, Will Graham’s words echo in the moment of darkness: “it’s beautiful”.

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After the credits, Bryan Fuller, Martha Laurentiis, and everyone at Hannibal leaves fans with a scene just for them: Bedelia waiting at the dinner table, minus a leg on her body (it’s the meal for tonight), a seat for Will, a seat for Hannibal, and a seat – the one that would be closest to the camera – missing, because we are in the seat, and always will be.

Hannibal is over now, but thanks to the fact that the show is art, it will take the path of the paintings Hannibal obsessed over, and live on forever.