Francis Dolorhyde was severely damaged from the moment he was born. “He was born with bilateral fissures in his upper lip and in his hard and soft palates. The center section of his mouth was unanchored and protruded. His nose was flat.” He couldn’t feed so the nurses and doctors just left him to cry his little life out. “His crying on the first day was not as continuous as that of a heroin-addicted baby, but it was as piercing.” He was ignored for the entire first day of his life. On the second day, a black cleaning lady saved his life. She fed him with a dropper. Once he survived, the medical staff condescended to give him a rudimentary operation that enabled him to feed. They showed him to his mother but she screamed when she saw him and she left the hospital alone.
I’m not big on empathy. However, I have reacted to this story with genuine empathy towards this character. I actually shed real tears over his plight. And I donated money to The Smile Train in honor of this fictional character. I’m not sure why. I am not physically disfigured. I’m really the kind of superficial bitch who responds to most cases of disfigurement with disgust and dismisses the person as a freak. Go figure.
Francis, left a virtual orphan by his mother’s abandonment of him at the hospital, ended up in an orphanage where he was abused by the other children. At the age of five, he thought his name was “cunt face.” That’s when his grandmother took him to live with her. She didn’t do this out of kindness. She had a grudge against her daughter and took Francis in order to make him a tool of revenge. The daughter had married a politician and Granny Dearest brought Francis to his political events where she introduced the child to everybody and made sure they knew he was the son of the candidate’s wife. He lost big.
Life with Grandma wasn’t nice. She cared for his physical needs but gave no love. One night, five-year-old Francis had to pee urgently. He called for Granny. His speaking ability was very poor. His cries sounded like “Aayma! Aayma! He sounded like an infant goat. He called until he was tired. ‘Mleedse Aayma.'” He couldn’t hold it forever so he wet his bed. Fearfully, he managed to navigate the dark, bumping into the the doorknob, injuring his eye. Finding her room, he climbed into his grandmother’s bed, warming himself against her body under the covers. “I’ve never seen a child as disgusting and dirty as you. Get out, get out of this bed.” She did change his bed and clean him off and dressed his injury. Then, she positioned scissors around his penis and threatened to cut it off, promising she would do so if he ever wet the bed again. “You can find the toilet in the dark and you can sit on it like a good boy. You don’t have to stand up. Now go back to bed.” For the rest of his life, Francis peed sitting down. That’s one of many dysfunctional features of the way he learned to cope with life.
Francis had one friend as a child. A black maid called Queen Mother actually liked him and called him “Possum.” He had a little playmate with whom he shared the sight of each others genitals. Queen Mother saw them and took it calmly. “Look here, boy, you want to see what’s what, well now you see…help me catch that rooster.” Unfortunately, Grandmother also witnessed the scene. She ordered him upstairs and said, “take your trousers off and wait for me while I get my scissors.” He thought Queen Mother had ratted him out and lost the ability to trust his only friend. Grandmother never came to carry out her threat. He never stopped waiting for the thing he dreaded.
While he rejected Queen Mother, he now Loved his Grandmother. That was the first manifestation of psychosis in Francis. I think the psychiatrists call it “reaction formation” when the dreaded foe becomes an object of worship. His “private parts” were evil. He had to protect Grandmother from the sight of them. He relieved his anxiety by performing a ritual sacrifice, killing a chicken with the Queen Mother’s hatchet. Afterwards, “Francis, scrubbing himself at the chicken-yard pump, had never felt such sweet and easy peace. He felt his way cautiously into it and found that the peace was endless and all around him..” He was never suspected.
When Grandmother became too senile to function, her daughter, Francis’ mother, took him to live in her home with her three kids, Ned, twelve, Victoria, thirteen, and Margaret, nine. Ned beat him up, blaming him for his father’s electoral loss and the family’s poverty. He slammed his face into a mirror. Francis took it stoically, showing no emotion.
Francis’ life improved when he joined the army. The army gave him training in photographic work in the darkroom. They also provided surgery to improve his face. Even after the surgery, he never looked at his face in the mirror. He did examine his body which he built up. At age 40, he came upon the Blake painting of The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun. He became obsessed with the painting. “At a time when other men first see and fear their isolation, Dolarhyde’s became understandable to him: he was alone because he was Unique.” This was the beginning of his grandiosity. He was becoming the Dragon. He went to Hong Kong where he had teeth similar to those of his grandmother, designed to fit his mouth. His regular set of teeth was made to fit the “tortuous shape cast to fit the twists and fissures of his gums. Attached to the plate was a soft plastic prosthesis with an obturator on top, which helped him close off his soft palate in speech.” The new set of teeth were for killing. He had come into his destiny, a serial killer “Becoming” the Red Dragon. He picked his victims from home movies sent to the company he worked for to be put on videotape. He was chief of the department processing home movies.
Francis read in his newspaper of choice, The Tattler, about FBI investigator, Graham, consulting with Hannibal Lecter about the murders.
On his way home, traffic was really slow.
Two women in a convertible were in the lane besides him. They wore shorts and blouses tied across the midriff. Dolarhyde looked down into the convertible from his van. They seemed tired and bored squinting into the lowering sun. The woman on the passenger side had her head against the seat back and her feet on the dash. Her slumped posture made two creases across her bare stomach. Dolarhyde could see a suck mark on the inside of her thigh. She caught him looking, sat up and crossed her legs. He saw weary distaste in her face.
She said something to the woman at the wheel. Both looked straight ahead. He knew they were talking about him. He was so glad it did not make him angry. Few things made him angry anymore. He knew that he was developing a becoming dignity.
The music was very pleasant.
The traffic in front of Dolarhyde began to move. The lane beside him was still stalled. He looked forward to getting home. He tapped the wheel in time with the music and rolled down the window with his other hand.
He hawked and spit a blog of green phlegm into the lap of the woman beside him, hitting her just beside the navel. Her curses sounded high and thin over the Handel as he drove away.
Gross. But he had thought himself gross all his life. I see that scene as a sign that he had overcome shame through the power of his new identity.
He wrote Lecter a fan letter in which he gave Lecter a way they could correspond in code. The FBI got a hold of the letter but Lecter had destroyed the instructions for the code. Francis approached a newsstand where the new issue of The Tattler was bundled for distribution.
The newsstand operator squatted in front of his shelves arranging the Tribunes. He had enough else to do. The day guys never did their share of straightening.
A pair of black zippered boots came into the corner of his vision. A browser. No, the boots were pointed at him. Somebody wanted some damn thing. The newsie wanted to finish arranging his Tribunes but the insistent attention made the back of his head prickle.
His trade was transient. He didn’t have to be nice. “What is it?” he said to the knees.
“You’ll have to wait until I bust the bundle.”
The boots did not go away. They were too close.
“I said you’ll have to wait until I bust the bundle. Understand? See I’m working here?”
A hand and a flash of bright steel and the twine on the bundle beside him parted with a pop. A Susan B Anthony dollar rang on the floor in front of him. A clean copy of the Tattler, jerked from the center of the bundle, spilled the top ones to the floor.
The newsstand operator got to his feet. He cheeks were flushed. The man was leaving with the paper under his arm.
“Hey. Hey, you.”
The man turned to face him. “Me?”
“Yeah, you. I told you—”
“You told me what?”
Usually a rude merchant can fluster his customers. There was something awful in this one’s calm.
The newsie looked at the floor “You got a quarter coming back.”
…. There was a time when he would have apologized for disturbing the man and never come back to the newsstand. For years he had taken shit unlimited from people. Not anymore. The man could have insulted Francis Dolarhyde: he could not face the Dragon. It was all part of Becoming.
Powerful and Ruthless
There are certainly features of narcissism here. The “false self” rehabilitating the shame of the despised and abused hair lip. But the Dragon’s grandiosity, power and cruelty soared to prodigious heights. The Dragon found the remarks by Graham and Lounds in the Tattler offensive. He surprised Lounds in a parking garage with a piece of cotton filled with chloroform. Dolarhyde glued Lounds to an old wheelchair. Lounds woke up, thinking he was in a hospital. When he realized he had been kidnapped he didn’t want to see his kidnapper, knowing that he ability to identify him would make the kidnapper afraid to ever release him. But the Dragon said, “When I turn you around, open your eyes and look at me. If you won’t open them yourself, I’ll staple your eyelids to your forehead.” His speech revealed the extent of his grandiosity:
Before Me you are a slug in the sun. You are privy to a great Becoming and you recognize nothing. You are an ant in the afterbirth.
It is in your nature to do one thing correctly: before Me, you rightly tremble. Fear is not what you owe Me, Lounds, you and the other pismires. You owe Me awe.
He made Lounds read a speech into a tape recorder. Then he bit Lounds’ lips off. He taunted Lounds with the lie that he had the lips on ice in a thermos so they could be restored to his face. He drove him to his office and said, “I told you one fib. I don’t really have your lips on ice.” Then he poured gasoline on Lounds and set him on fire. “Do you like being Graham’s pet, Freeeeedeeeee?”
Francis had one chance to be normal. He meets a blind woman, Reba, who would be unable to judge him for his face. He has his first intimate encounter with a woman he didn’t kill. He has a sweet and short-lived affair with her. But a picture of his grandmother “speaks” to him in a hallucination and demands he kill Reba. In a rather far-fetched scene, he steals the original painting from a museum and eats it. This gives him the freedom to choose whether to kill or not to kill. Unfortunately, she gets the mistaken idea that she is two-timing him.
As he believed himself betrayed by the Queen Mother and lost all trust in her, he stopped trusting Reba. His ego was too vulnerable to take a chance. His core belief was that he was unlovable. It was safer to stay alone relying only on his strength. Lecter had given him Graham’s home address through the code they used. Graham had grievously insulted him in the ill-conceived plan to make Graham a target for a sting operation. Instead of taking the bait, the Dragon tricked them all by going after Lounds. True to form, he murdered the pet of his target first. Now that they were closing in, he used Reba to fake his death. Everyone thought the case was over. Graham and his family returned to the house on the beach.
The Red Dragon surprised Graham and his family in their very home where they felt safe. Graham prevailed but with serious injuries. Francis Dolarhyde died. His final crime was brilliant.
A deeply injured human being had risen from the ashes of his shame and self-loathing to reach a pinnacle of dark godhood. Two movies have been made from this book. The first, Manhunter, was very 80’s in it’s style. The film left out the entire story of the faked death, letting him die for real. Graham returns home and happily reunites with his wife and son. The Red Dragon more ambitiously covers the complex end of the story. Unfortunately, the director does something I consider really stupid and which harms the character of Francis Dolarhyde. In that film, Francis’ scrapbook includes the sad story of the time he wet his bed at age five. Bullshit! The grandiose Red Dragon would never put such a story in his album. The album was to glorify him. Even more ridiculous, Dolarhyde pees his pants while Graham imitates the Grandmother (as if he would know what she said). Weak, folks. Very, very weak. Furthermore, while making a brave attempt to stick to the storyline of the book, they couldn’t resist putting in a happy ending.
Here is the way the book really ended. While exiled from their home, Molly and Willy stay with the mother of Molly’s dead first husband. Something changed in both mother and child, a memory resurrected.
Graham and Molly wanted very much for it to be the same again between them, to go on as they had before.
When they saw that it was not the same, the unspoken knowledge lived with them like unwanted company in the house. The mutual assurances they tried to exchange in the dark and in the day passed through some refraction that made them miss the mark.
Molly had never looked better to him. From a painful distance, he admired her unconscious grace.
She tried to be good to him, but she had been to Oregon and she had raised the dead.
Molly packed suppers and they fished and they built fires, and none of it was any good.
After Dolarhyde attacked them in their home, Graham is in the hospital. “He could hold Molly a while with his face. Until they finished fixing it anyway. That would be a cheap shot. Hold her for what?
Lecter summed it up with his letter to Graham.
Here we are, you and I, languishing in our hospitals. You have your pain and I am without my books—the learned Dr. Chilton has seen to that.
We live in a primitive time—don’t we, Will?—neither savage nor wise. Half measures are the curse of it. Any rational society would either kill me or give me my books.
I wish you a speedy convalescence and hope you won’t be very ugly.
I think of you often.