James Fallon, the neuroscientists who discovered his own psychopathy when he saw an MRI scan of his brain, shares with me a love of Thomas Harris’ books featuring Hannibal Lecter. Silence of the Lambs is well known but fewer people are aware of a prequel to that famous novel, The Red Dragon, which has inspired two movies, Manhunter (1986) and The Red Dragon (2002). Dr. Fallon discussed the characters with particular reference to Manhunter. He considered the character of Will Graham, the detective who solved the crime, a “pro-social psychopath.” According to Fallon, “Graham recognizes that he has the same urges and lack of interpersonal empathy as Lecter. Although he is not a murderer, he is, in fact, a psychopath, or at least a near-psychopath, what I like to call Psychopath Lite. He might score 15 or 23 on the PCL-R, just under the 30-point score cutoff for full psychopathy, but other than that, you might think him completely normal. When my wife, Diane, and I saw the film in 1986, she pointed to Will and said, ‘That is you.'” Perhaps it is because I rely more on the book than on either movie, but I have a very different view of Will Graham.
I see Graham as an empath. His unusual gift is the ability to project himself into the mind of the killers he is tracking down. He knows their thoughts because his empathy gives him the ability see the world through other people’s eyes. His ability to empathize is not limited to knowing the minds of killers. For example, when talking with his boss, Jack Crawford, “heard the rhythm and syntax of his own speech in Graham’s voice. He had heard Graham do that before, with other people. Often in intense conversation Graham took on the other person’s speech patterns. At first, Crawford had thought he was doing it deliberately, that it was a gimmick to get the back-and-forth rhythm going
“Later Crawford realized that Graham did it involuntarily, that sometimes he tried to stop and couldn’t.”
It is mentioned in several places that Graham finds his ability to known the inner worlds of killers painful. On Page 8, Crawford tells Molly, his wife, “he has the other thing too. Imagination, projection, whatever. He doesn’t like that part of it.”
“You wouldn’t like it either if you had it, ” said Molly. Psychopaths are notoriously comfortable with our psychopathy. Finding excursions into the mind of another psychopath would probably not bother Graham were he one, himself, not even if he were “pro-social.”
Graham killed a man once in the line of duty. He did it to save a life. The perp, a man named Hobbs, had been in the process of cutting a girl’s throat. Had Graham not shot him, the girl would have died. Despite the blamelessness of what he did, the mere fact of killing someone got him deeply depressed.
“Willy, the business with Hobbs, it bothered me a lot. You know, I kept it on my mind and I saw it over and over. I got so I couldn’t think about much else. I kept thinking there must be some way I could have handled it better. And then I quit feeling anything. I couldn’t eat and I stopped talking to anybody. I got really depressed. So a doctor asked me to go into the hospital, and I did. After a while I got some distance on it. The girl that got hurt in Hobb’s apartment came to see me. She was okay and we talked a lot. Finally I put it aside and went back to work.”
“Killing somebody, even if you have to do it, it feels that bad?”
“Willy, it’s one of the ugliest things in the world.”
Psychopaths don’t get depressed or remorseful over things we’ve done, even things that are seriously “wrong.” I can’t imagine a psychopath, even a “psychopath-lite,” getting so strung out over a killing that wasn’t even ethically wrong. I would think this alone could put the question at rest.
In my blog post, Thomas Harris, Part Two, I touched on another thing that showed Graham for what he was. Dr. Bloom, the psychiatrist, explained Graham’s psyche, “… what do you think one of Will’s strongest drives is? … It’s fear, Jack. The man deals with a huge amount of fear.” Fear is something psychopaths don’t have much of. Bloom goes on to say…
“Fear comes with imagination, it’s a penalty, it’s the price of imagination…. What he has in addition is pure empathy and projection,” Dr. Bloom said. “He can assume your point of view, or mine — and maybe some other points of view that scare and sicken him. It’s an uncomfortable gift, Jack. Perception’s a tool that’s pointed on both ends.”
Clearly, Thomas Harris considered Graham to be an empath. His ability to know what killers were thinking didn’t come from his similarity to those killers. He could empathize with anyone. He could feel guilt, depression and fear.
Hannibal Lecter liked to play with Graham’s head and nurture his worst fears. He kept harping on the notion that Graham was just like him. When Graham visited Lecter in prison to try to get his help in catching the killer he was after, Lecter said, “You just came here to look at me. Just to get the old scent again, didn’t you? Why don’t you just smell yourself?” As Graham is leaving, Lecter issues one last sally. “The reason you caught me is that we’re just alike.”
When a plan the cops set up to try to trap the suspect misfired, a man Graham hated came to grief instead. Lecter used this occasion to guilt-trip Graham.
A brief note of congratulations for the job you did on Mr. Lounds. I admired it enormously. What a cunning boy you are! … You know, Will, you worry too much. You’d be so much more comfortable if you relaxed with yourself.
We don’t invent our natures, Will, and I’d like to start by asking you this: When you were so depressed after you shot Mr. Garrett Jacob Hobbs to death, it wasn’t the act that got you down, was it? Really, did you you feel so bad because killing him felt so good?
The book goes on to say, “Graham knew that Lecter was dead wrong about Hobbs, but for a half-second he wondered if Lecter might be a little bit right in the case of Freddy Lounds. The enemy inside Graham agreed with any accusation.” That’s an enemy that doesn’t live inside psychopaths.