"I'm not even sure that I'm awake now." -- "Hannibal"
"I'm still dreaming. This is all my dream. It’s almost like real life." -- "Louie"
The mark of David Lynch's surrealist "Twin Peaks" links the seemingly different "Louie" and "Hannibal," thus far 2014's most captivating series. Challenging viewers to think beyond the usual parameters of television programming, each show is steeped in dreams and yet irrevocably tethered to the anxieties and desires of waking life. The oneiric images conjured by their protagonists' active imaginations are not only used to further plot points but also show how the comedian Louie (Louis C.K. playing his alter-ego) and the FBI profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) invoke dream logic to better comprehend themselves and the people around them.
Dream Logic Revelations
Both series' dream-like manipulation of time enriches the storytelling, each mapping out nonlinear, spatially aberrant landscapes. "Louie" episodes are often unburdened by what came before or will come after, creating an apparent disconnection among plots and characters and thus demanding active viewer engagement to discover more hidden associations. Its flashback episode ("In the Woods") is as detailed and realistic as the rest of the season yet still retains a feeling of the memorial -- a stage of Louie's life that has been made suddenly more vivid by its present relevance.
Meanwhile, "Hannibal" characters move between spaces in strange, physically impossible ways; the first season finale is a mind game of lost time and instantaneous trips between cities, constructing a puzzle not to be solved without revisiting the past via memory.
This spatial and temporal freedom is inherited from the Lynchian cinematic universe, suggesting characters that are fluid, non-static and eccentric. Will and Hannibal understand each other through recognizing the truth of their respective and interchangeable masks and, in one scene, morph into each other (not unlike Bergman's "Persona").
Also, while Hannibal’s dining room unfolds as a stage upon which the characters perform for one another (to both deceive and reach mutual comprehension), Louie often highlights the constant performative aspects of his life -- as a comedian who presents himself on stage or as cumbersomely stepping into the alien roles of father and husband.
In one scene, he performs (and auditions) for David Lynch himself (in a multi-episode guest-starring spot), in front of the velvet curtains typical of Lynch's work (as well as that of his predecessor, Buñuel). As such, these series explore how dreams structure our lives as films, reduced in scope yet limitless in possibility.
Fantastic imagery is not a mere interlude interrupting otherwise "realistic" frames; instead, the border between "real" and "fantasy" is nearly nonexistent, instilling an illuminating, surrealist order. Will’s hallucinations of the stag; a demonic, black-horned Hannibal; or the ubiquitous ghost of Garrett Jacob Hobbs blend into the already stark, highly saturated backgrounds. His imagination infuses the canvas with violent, though often serene, images that establish an intriguing continuity between illusion and fact. (To aid him in constructing these striking visuals, "Hannibal" creator Bryan Fuller has called on regular "Twin Peaks" director Tim Hunter to direct episodes.)
"Louie," meanwhile, exaggerates the absurd via the surreal for comedic effect. In the pilot, a helicopter suddenly appears during a disastrous date to rescue a woman from Louie’s unwanted romantic advances. In the latest season alone there are countless examples: During a frustrating meeting, Louie suddenly screams out the window, unnoticed by the others. Suffering a hangover, he makes his way through a crowded coffee shop, with the clientele's conversations and physical encroachments exaggerated to show his half-asleep, miserably over-sensitive state. In yet another example, he awakes to the sound of drilling to then have the construction enter his very bedroom and the workers pile up with him, viscerally evoking the constant disturbances of living in Manhattan.
In "Elevator Part One," Louie's increasingly anxious and emotionally unstable daughter Jane awakes from a nightmare and, rather than go back to sleep, chooses to carry out her waking day as if she were still dreaming. Out of curiosity and fear, she steps onto the subway platform while Louie stands panicked, stuck on the train after the doors have closed. When Louie finds her, he is enraged, telling her that she is awake and could have been killed, that she should not escape into a fantasy. Yet Louie is speaking to himself as well, well aware of his own proclivity for fictionalizing his life, not only due to the autobiographical nature of the series but also his consistent skirting of the line between reality and imagination.
While acknowledging the dangerous terrains they maneuver, these series embrace the truth of fiction as an elevated way to face fears without the debilitating shock of their direct confrontation.
Though their otherworldly imaginings may often isolate them or weaken their control over reality, Will and Louie are marked by a particular ability to think beyond conventional reason and embrace fantasy to face real-life problems. Following in the footsteps of "Twin Peaks" protagonist Agent Dale Cooper, whose Black Lodge is a dream place offering revelatory secrets, each of these men is attuned to how dreams may function in both sleep and waking states, giving shape to what may otherwise remain dangerously hidden.
The “Hannibal” killers create crime scenes of aesthetic precision and elegance by taking their horrific fantasies and materializing them out of human flesh (turning human bodies into praying angels, string instruments, beehives, mushroom gardens, or the “eye of god”). Will closes his eyes and uses the memory of his highly detailed perception of the scene to deconstruct its "design” and trace the identity of the killer. This forces him into the mental and physical space of the killer -- not a real space but rather one Will creates with the super-logic of his imagination. Continuing in the tradition of artistic depictions of violence through dream-like imagery (Caravaggio, Gericault, Bacon, Kahlo), the aestheticization of the horrific becomes a way to gain approximation without revulsion. However, paralleling the spectatorial experience, Will struggles to maintain distance despite his intellectual fascination.
Looming over "Hannibal" is Dale Cooper's fate in "Twin Peaks": Overtaken by the villain BOB, who inhabits the bodies of men and, exploiting their buried sexual and violent desires, commits otherworldly crimes against young women. Will’s ability to transform himself figuratively into a serial killer exposes him to becoming one, which is precisely Hannibal’s objective. His presence in Will’s dreams, even as the object of his wrath, is welcomed evidence of the destructive impulse within him.
Water, Sexuality, and Dark Impulses
Dreams invite both freedom and vulnerability. When Will is imprisoned, he is able to abandon his cell for the still-constrained spaces of his mind and often finds himself fly fishing in a quiet river.
This single, seemingly banal experience is a repeating, unifying force that grounds Will in a childhood memory. However, as the Black Lodge ultimately exposed Dale to BOB, the river is subject to invasion by flowing corpses and Hannibal himself, who emerges from its waters in his demonic form. The fluidity that is his strength is also his weakness, and Will frequently dreams of flooding as a sign of his lack of mental stability and increasing self-doubt.
Fire has been a present force in the work of Lynch, as it is in "Hannibal," from the dream of the burning stag to Hannibal's always-burning fireplace. Yet, the subtitle to "Twin Peaks" and the name of its prequel film "Fire Walk with Me" is taken from a biblical verse in which water is also a key element.
"Louie" also utilizes water as a kind of ambiguous fluid portal between the real and imaginary. The "Elevator" episodes of season four feature recurring news reports of a massive storm killing scores of people (but, most importantly, LeBron James); at the climax, the storm finally reaches Louie's world, and he has to save his daughters and wife from the flood.
In dreams, horror, sexuality, wonder, and absurdity regularly coexist in a contradictory mixture of sentiments. The sexual tension between Hannibal and Will blooms in their mutual romantic interest in Alana (with whom they share what is shot as a threesome fantasy).
In one instance, Alana turns into a watery substance as she attempts to draw out Will's memories (of Hannibal). In "Louie"'s "Model," an attractive, freewheeling admirer seduces Louie by stripping to her underwear and diving into the ocean (another water source) in the near pitch black of the night. Despite his clear bewilderment and fear, he is aroused and follows her. This reaches its climax when her simultaneously aggressive and stimulating tickling leads to an accidental act of violence -- kicking off the rest of the season, which explores Louis's conflictive, often unstable relationships.
Louie's struggles to understand women and the pivotal moments of connection -- particularly after a seeming irreconcilable misunderstanding -- are often expressed as half-conscious experiences. Yet there's also an acute awareness of details that, while limiting his perspective, nurtures his comedic sensibility.
In the scene in which the young Louie is staying at a hotel with his then-wife, it first appears to be a dream when his wife speaks to him and only a muted sound is heard. He then opens an until-then unperceived window, and we hear her voice. This sheds some light on his interest in Amia, a Romanian woman who does not speak English: He meets Amia while helping her aunt when she is trapped in an elevator (another kind of metaphor for a dream-limbo space). Their inability to verbally communicate becomes an exercise in the speechless evocation of feeling and words -- in one surreal scene, she mimes the process of showering in order to relate the word "hair dryer," and in another she and Jane unexpectedly break into a joint concert of violins.
The flooding imagery of the fantastical storm returns in the season finale's quiet closing scene, in which Louie finally unburdens himself, undresses, and joins new girlfriend Pamela in a bath, causing all its water to overflow. Yet, there's no longer any anxiousness about escape. In Lynch's "Eraserhead," the protagonist baths with his neighbor only to begin drowning, transported to a darker, menacing place. Louie, however, is finally able to remain in the moment with Pamela, afloat in her arms, at last at ease in his own skin.
Dream logic and its subversion of the normalized boundaries of tone, genre, and between reality and fantasy add layers of texture to "Hannibal" and "Louie," offering openings in our perception that draws us closer in curiosity. These series dare audiences to discover truth through creation, with the promise of a lucid dream that may nevertheless have started as a nightmare.