Identity crisis in Red Dragon

Red Dragon (2002) has been on my Master List for awhile, but I just hadn’t gotten around to watching it. Maybe it was my high regard for Manhunter (1986), which I found a far superior film to this version. Red Dragon seems to stuff in too many big-name actors, and the pace drags.

If you’re not familiar with either film, the story serves as a prequel to The Silence of the Lambs (1991). FBI Agent Will Graham goes into early retirement because of an encounter with “Hannibal the Cannibal” — sending Hannibal Lecter to prison — but then gets called back in to catch a brutal serial killer. Of course, Graham ends up consulting Hannibal on the case.

About 50 minutes in, Graham (Edward Norton) needs to look up a quotation. He’s shown looking up at a thin white female in her early 20’s (Azura Skye), who’s standing behind a wooden counter and holding a thick book of quotations.

“Ta da! Red breast in a cage!” she says, looking through the book’s index. She then finds the full quotation, “A robin red breast in a cage puts all heaven in a rage,” by poet William Blake. She confirms they have the book the quote’s from, and offers additional resources: “We have some books of Blake’s paintings, too. Wanna see ’em?”

She seems quite friendly — very smiley and slightly flirty — and quite knowledgeable about resources. The film seems to be set the 1980s (I think), which explains her early-Maddona look:  crimped, dyed blond hair, plastic hair clip, skinny tie over a denim vest and black dress, piled-on makeup, and lots of silver and black jewelry.

The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun

Image via Wikipedia

We also spot her — or rather, her crimped hair — in the background a couple of minutes later, as Graham looks through the book of paintings by William Blake. He comes across a biblical watercolor, “The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun” (right), which provides a clue to the killer’s identity crisis.

Martin Raish described the helpful young lady as “a gum cracking young blonde” on his Librarians in the Movies web site, and she seems to serve the same basic function as an Information Provider. Only problem is, she’s not technically a librarian. She’s working in a bookstore — remember those? — not a library.

What are the clues?

  • First, she seems to be standing above him, like she would if she were behind a shop counter.
  • We see lots of wood shelving, but the books are crammed in everywhere, with little breathing space. Quite unlike a library (hopefully).
  • In the couple of shots, you can glimpse a book display in the lower left-hand corner (see below). Multiple copies of several titles are facing outward, like in displays at a bookstore’s front counter.
  • And finally… the actress is listed as “Bookseller” in the credits.

So why the choice of a bookseller, rather than a librarian? It might have simply been a visual opportunity to solidify the time period, and a librarian at that time might not be as believable if dressed as a Madonna wannabe. Most of the film seems to be set at nighttime (because it’s spookier?), so maybe the public library would have been closed already. But I’m probably overthinking it.

A few minutes after the quotations scene, my ears perked up when a fellow detective (Ken Leung) runs off for another clue and shouts for the others to meet him “at the library.” The resulting short scene shows him at the Library of Congress, but alas, no librarian in sight. There is yet another teaser, with a Museum Secretary (Hillary Straney) and an uncredited Museum Curator (Mary Beth Hurt), who both appear for a few seconds late in the film.

The bookseller in this film serves the same function as an Information Provider librarian, but, technically, this films joins others in the Class V category — films with no identifiable librarians.

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