Duality by Slipk…er-Manhunter (1986)

Michael Mann’s love scene in Manhunter between Reba Mclane and Francis Dollarhyde defines Reba’s metaphorical role as the angel in William Blake’s “Red Dragon” painting, who is opposed by Dollarhyde, the Devil. The two opposing forces converging hints to the possibility of Dollarhyde to change from his evil ways.

The scene opens on the William Blake painting of “Red Dragon” and the characters in the painting are brought to life through the innocent Reba, and the predatory Dollarhyde. The eerie green lighting in the room Reba emerges from is very out of place for her character and it calls our attention to the fact the she cannot see the ominous, green glow she is standing in. Her naivety due to her blindness makes her stand out as innocent to the much more sinister reality we know is the case: she is not in a warm and loving house, but the pit of the dragon who has killed in that very room before. Reba is associated with the angelic sun-girl in the painting because of her innocence, in contrast Dollarhyde represents the Red Dragon in the painting through his predatory glances. When he is watching the home movies of the family he is planning on killing, his look of outward regard is followed by a point-of-view shot that switches off between the sexualized body parts (chest and legs) of the mother in the video and Reba on the couch next to him. His reaction is hungry like a dragon’s or tiger’s would be, because both are creatures he is paralleled with. His pleasure is derived from fantasy as he closes his eyes after staring down Reba and the mother; Reba senses his pleasure, but ever the innocent and naive due to her blindness, she is unaware of how disturbing his arousal really is. It is interesting to see how Reba is literally blind to the harshness of reality, whereas, according to the psychological conclusions drawn about him, Dollarhyde purposefully ignores the harsh reality of being unaccepted and tries to live in a fantasy world where he sees the people he lusts after accepting him. Michael Mann frames these two fantasy-world-dwellers as they are kissing with symbols of their counterparts in Blake’s painting: the bright, sun-like light from the projector representing the angelic sun-girl and a picture of the surface of the moon, the barren hellish landscape symbolizing the devil and his pit. As these two celestial beings come together, the lines begin to blur between them.

A mixture of light and dark add complexity to Dollarhyde’s character as he gets closer, physically and emotionally, to Reba. The lyrics in the song “The Big Hush” playing in the background speaks of a “flame in the dark” (the devil) and a “bright hard star” (the sun-girl) and then says “these creatures look the same now.” As Reba and Dollarhyde’s love making brings them together as one physically, it also muddles the separation between the two opposing forces. It is a dramatic shift, seeing Dollarhyde sharing an emotional connection with someone else. When he is lying in bed with Reba afterwards the camera zooms slowly towards his face, excluding Reba from the shot. This isolation from the lens is reflective of Dollarhyde still feeling isolated emotionally even with Reba right there next to him. It is such a strange idea that he could be so close to someone so different and that that person could genuinely accept him that he is in disbelief and cries. I don’t believe they are tears of happiness or tears of sadness exactly, but tears of confusion. When he wakes up, the shadow and sun split a line across his face — as they do in other places in the film as well. Dollarhyde moves in and out of shadow as his mindset moves in and out of feelings of isolation and psychosis. Reba, the sun-girl, gives him a chance to move out of his pit, and when he gets out of bed he literally walks toward the light of the dawn and her. The slow zoom in to the two of them is representative of their coming closer and closer together as we come closer and closer to them. Despite the impossibility of such drastically different beings coming together, we see Dollarhyde given a chance for real love instead of the lustful predatory love of the Red Dragon. It adds complexity to this villain’s character by giving him a chance to abscond his evil ways.

Originally written 1/23/15

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