Trust and domesticity are nothing to be indulged in Mann’s world. There is an abundance of evidence of this notion in his adaptation of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, the novel which first introduced breakaway star of The Silence of the Lambs Hannibal Lecter. Lecter (played here by Brian Cox) is exactly as creepy and unsettling as Anthony Hopkins was in his iconic, multi-film portrayal of the part, but he is not quite the “star” villain. Just as The Silence of the Lambs was about using Lecter to catch Buffalo Bill, Mann’s Manhunter (1986, 16 years prior to Brett Ratner’s remake) is about FBI criminal profiler Will Graham’s (William Petersen) pursuit of serial killer Francis “Tooth Fairy” Dollarhyde (the creepy and effective Tom Noonan).
Dollarhyde wants to be accepted for who (or what?) he is and thinks he’s found this acceptance in the potential love of a blind girl (Joan Allen) who works for the same company he does. Dollarhyde sleeps with her and believes he is finally at peace with himself, only to convince himself that she is cheating on him with a co-worker. This sets him off once again on a murderous rampage. Not only does this sojourn into the territory of love disrupt his serial killing pattern for a time but it allows Graham the time he needs to figure out who/where Dollarhyde is and, ultimately, kill him.
Unlike most Mann heroes, Graham manages to immerse himself in his work all the while being aware that he has a home life to “return” to at the end of a job well-done. Despite the trauma he’s suffered, the unresolved psychological deficits he has from empathizing with serial killers, and the stress of his current case, Graham will ultimately always have a loving family to support him – something Dollarhyde seeks but cannot find. Thus, if domesticity is probably what keeps Graham sane, it is what ultimately brings down his serial killer prey.
Certainly the idea that serial killers have some kind of deficit when it comes to their domestic capabilities comes as no surprise really. However, what about all those people they interview when a neighbor is accused of killing tons of people. They always say “He seemed like such a nice, normal guy…” Francis Dollarhyde would be ecstatic to know that he could have been accepted as such – even if only after being caught.