Monday, July 27, 2015

Ode to Sociopathic Love: Hannibal Lecter

One of the most common arguments I hear against someone - real or fictional - being a sociopath is that the person loves someone else.  While I understand the presumption that a psychopath/sociopath cannot love, it simply is not true.  They love, just not in the same manner or presentation as the average/neurotypical person.  Theirs is a selfish, incredibly intense, love that can come and go seemingly at random…but it is love.  A love that a fair number of fictional “psychos” feel, including Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter.

There is little argument whether Hannibal Lecter is a psychopath; he’s a serial killer who cannibalizes and sometimes serves his victims to others after all.  He’s cool, calm, calculating, and enjoys playing with peoples’ brains (pun intended).  That being said there’s also little doubt that he feels intensely for FBI agent Clarice Starling.  In the movie, Hannibal, antagonist Mason Verger questions Hannibal’s interest in Clarice: “Does he wanna fuck her, kill her, or eat her?"  His assistant/caretaker, Cordell, replies: "Probably all three, though I wouldn’t want to predict in what order.” …Cordell is probably right.  More than anything Hannibal wants to possess Clarice - the exact manner of possession is something that he likely doesn't even know from one moment to the next.

At the end of The Silence of the Lambs Hannibal calls Clarice to say goodbye.  He wishes her well and seems proud of her accomplishment in becoming an agent.  He assures her that he will not come after her and holds himself to that promise; both of which might seem unlikely (if not impossible) for a psychopathic serial killer such as him.  Yet ten years pass without him reaching out in any way, something that would be near impossible for an empathic person in love.  That said when they do reconnect his feelings are the same as ever: “Does this mean you’re back on the case?  If so, goody goody."  In fact, he's so delighted to have her back in his life he essentially stalks her.  If given the option it would appear Hannibal would much rather have her hunting him (and vice versa) than anyone else.

Hannibal comes out of hiding to be near and protect Clarice.  He risks getting caught for her, he kills others because they disrespect her and put her at risk, and at the end of the Hannibal movie he sacrifices his hand for hers.  For him it's as if no time at all has passed; he's just as intense in his feelings as before he left.  …And at the end of the Hannibal book the sociopathic love is even more evident as he drugs and works to brainwash Clarice into becoming his sister (another love of his); something that would be considered abhorrent to do to a loved one to most, but seems perfectly reasonable/sound to Hannibal.  (Dr Lecter fails, but they do appear to become lovers.)

Hannibal’s love is aggressive, possessive, and sometimes cruel.  He has no trouble dropping her when he must (like while on the run), but all the intensity of his feelings for her return the moment she’s back in his life.  No one may stalk, use, or torment Clarice...except for him.  No one may threaten her, but him.  Hannibal would never allow Clarice to capture or kill him - I have no doubt he’d have killed her if he really felt he must to survive and remain free - but he will do whatever he feels he has to in order to ensure her safety.  He is hers only as long and as much as he allows, but she is completely his.  That is how Hannibal Lecter loves.


Miss Crystal said...

Question: did you read the books, especially "Hannibal?" You make a one sentence reference to the end of "Hannibal" and it falls into that cliched assumption about the end of the novel that undermines over 300 pages of the novel and glosses over what is actually going on in the last few chapters. I don't know if you're interested but I have a currently 6 piece (and I'm working on the last piece) series on my tumblr that analyzes Hannibal and Clarice's relationship and how it's set up from beginning to end, and especially how it works within the context of the Gothic Romance because "Hannibal" really is a Gothic Romance novel when you get down to it.

Since you're an English and writer like myself, you might be interested:

Melissa said...

I confess, the only reading of the books I did was something of a skimming back in high school and college and they have all sat on my shelf awaiting a thorough read ever since. (Shameful, I know.) It was one of the reasons I focused mainly on the films, which I've seen multiple times. Perhaps sticking strictly to them would have been wiser for me in the end...or perhaps I should get off my butt and read the novels already...probably both. *insert embarrassed laugh here*

I am very interested - both as a lover of the characters and of Gothic Romance - so thank you for sharing. I'll start reading it over this weekend and (no doubt) also start following you on I look over your Tumblr blog I see we likely have a fair amount of interests in common. :-)

Thank you so much for commenting and, again, thank you for sharing the link to your own analysis of Hannibal and Clarice's relationship. I can't wait to read it! :-D