Saturday, September 26, 2009

Manhunter analysis - part 16: Contrapasso in the movie


Dante Alighieri, attributed to Giotto, in the chapel of the Bargello palace in Florence. This oldest picture of Dante was painted just prior to his exile and has since been heavily restored. [Image from the Wikipedia 'Dante Alighieri' page, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.]

This post is a continuation of our discussion of the symbolism, metaphor, and allegory that are contained in Manhunter. We have talked about the book of Revelation, and now we will look at a different topic, that of contrapasso. Contrapasso is the process by which souls serve penance in Dante's Inferno (Hell), according to the nature of their sins in life. A literal translation would be "counter-suffering." It is the ironic cosmological law ensuring that "the punishment fits the crime." An example of this would be in Canto 20 of the Inferno,[a] where the fortune tellers and diviners walk backwards for eternity, with their heads turned around to face behind them, and their eyes blinded with tears.[b]

Two examples of contrapasso in Manhunter are the punishments that Mrs. and Mr. Leeds undergo when they are killed by Dollarhyde. As shown in the screencap at left, the Leeds are in their kitchen, eating, in the family's home movies that Graham views while in his Atlanta hotel room. Both of them are guilty of the sin of gluttony (overindulgence in food or drink), which is one of the sins punished in Dante's Hell. Mrs. Leeds' contrapasso for gluttony is to be strangled (recall that Dollarhyde's bullet initially disabled her, then she died by strangulation). And, Mr. Leeds has his throat cut; this is his contrapasso for gluttony.

There is also contrapasso in the torture and death of Freddy Lounds: he is a writer for The National Tattler, and in this capacity he engages in gossip. The Tattler's writers violate the privacy of celebrities and other individuals by informing the public on their private matters, an example of this being Lounds' story about Will Graham being in the hospital recovering from the injury inflicted on him by Lecktor, complete with a photo of Graham in bed with his wound exposed. Lounds' contrapasso is to be bitten on the mouth by Dollarhyde; later, in the hospital scene, Graham asks the doctor who treated Lounds if he said anything before dying, and the doctor answers that he did not. Also, recall that Lounds is 'knocked out' by Dollaryde (in the garage scene) by having a piece of cloth placed over his mouth (the cloth no doubt contained some kind of noxious chemical, such as chloroform).

Above left: Dollarhyde bites Freddy Lounds on the mouth. Above right: Earlier, in order to facilitate kidnapping Lounds, Dollarhyde pressed a chemical-containing cloth over his mouth and nose to render him unconscious.

a. The Inferno is divided into 33 sections, or cantos.
b. Wikipedia, 'Contrapasso'. Web, n.d. URL =


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