With this article being at once the first of a regular series, my first for this particular site, and the first of a brand new year, I thought it appropriate that an introduction or an opening sequence should form the inaugural deconstruction of this column.

This week our theme is the 80s, and though the decade gave us a great spectrum in terms of iconic first meetings between characters, it is Michael Mann's 1986 film Manhunter and the reuniting of FBI agents Will Graham and Jack Crawford, that forms the basis of the following dissection, with the scene's visual details and the symbolism hidden within its imagery being my predominant focus.

Even without a basis in narrative context, Mann's technical proficiency alone is enough to tell a vivid story and depict a specific, established history between two characters in the space of just a few short frames. However, for the sake of clarity, FBI Oldboy Jack Crawford comes to the retired Will Graham with a reluctant offer - He needs Graham's help in tackling a newly emerged serial killer, and has travelled to the latter's expansive beachfront property to ask him personally, face to face.

Despite the central concern of Graham throughout the film being primarily the safety and wellbeing of his wife and child, Manhunter, at its core, is a film about male relationships, and more specifically masculine bonds based in the codes of honour, duty and necessity. For this reason, this initial encounter between the two after a presumed lengthy separation is particularly interesting in terms of how Mann chooses to portray their relationship through visual means.

Fig 1. The original frame, and our first introduction to Crawford and Graham

Above is the first image we see of the pair, a simplistic, almost minimal presentation of two figures against a vast canvas of space. The log they set on, the beach that they occupy and the horizon behind them forming three sections of the frame, each individually holding a connotation about the pair and a relationship that began long before the film did.


Fig 2. The horizon passes joins the agents at the hip

Firstly, the geometry of the frame is such that an instant link is formed between the two - we can observe that Will Graham and Jack Crawford are individuals bound together by a strong, platonic bond through the way Mann literally joins them at the hip with the horizon, a straight, unbreakable and infinite line that passes through them both at the exact same point, fusing them through a natural occurence


Fig 3. The twisting log

Secondly, The log on which they sit could perhaps convey the current tone of the relationship - its shape writhes and twists before joining them, suggesting some sort of possible animosity, or hostility, or trauma. The log is again a purely natural feature that joins them both, much like the horizon, and this will become more important when compared to the following scene.

Thirdly, they sit facing in opposite directions. Crawford gazes out to sea whilst Graham watches over his property and his family with worried intensity. Again this detail is small, but it is integral to the depiction in the sense that it is a stylistic choice that perfectly encapsulates the differing perspectives of the two men. Crawford stares out into a void, the world at large, concerned that his efforts alone may not be enough to save it, and must convince Graham to do the same and momentarily, both figuratively and literally, turn his back on his family and widen the scope of his vision.

These elements form the most prominent ideology of the scene, the struggle of Crawford to convince Graham to assist him, but simultaneously the idea that Crawford is asking him to neglect his masculine duties for the greater good.

Following this, the conflict between them beings to unfold, and Graham reminds Crawford that he quit and that he is reluctant to help, characterised by the changing camera angles to suddenly portray them as separate figures as opposed to the inherently linked pair we have seen just moments previous.


Fig 4 - The horizon line and the coastline continue to pass through the pair


Fig 5. The space between them reduced

Despite the sudden change in angle and perspective, and the fact that the characters now appear in their own individual frames as opposed to sharing one, Mann tightens the space between them, drawing them closer and linking them still with the horizon passing through their respective shoulders. At this point, Crawford offers a kind word, a reassurance of their friendship with the line of dialogue "You look alright now", and the twisting shape of the log symbolic of the hostility between them is relegated from the frame, with only straight lines linking them.

When I submit that Manhunter mainly concerns male relationships, as opposed to Graham's relationships with his wife and son, It is somewhat reinforced by the aforementioned following scene, in which a similar technique is employed in a conversation between Crawford and Molly Graham, Will's hesitant wife.


Fig 6. Molly & Crawford, contained within their own spaces by the mise en scene

The shot we see of them is largely similar to the previous layout, with the geometry of the window and furniture crossing through them at straight angles to denote some kind of history and established connection, but this time there are no natural elements to their bond, and the log and horizon are substituted for cold, steely, manmade structures, representative of the wholly impersonal link that connects them. Furthermore, each character is contained within their own space, a restrictive box formed by the architecture of the house and the frame of the window.

Where our introduction to the relationship between Crawford and Graham is typified by vast open spaces and universal forms of natural connection, the brief depiction of Crawford and Molly's relationship is one characterised by almost the polar opposite. In a sense, we could perhaps draw from this scene that the working relationship between the two males is far above anything Molly could comprehend as an outsider party, and Crawford's attempts to comfort her are close to futile. They both sit facing out to the ocean, their figures silhouetted and devoid of the definition, emotion and depth present in the previous scene.


Kristofer Thomas can be found tweeting here: @KRSTHMS