“There are shallow rollers, and there are deep rollers. You can’t breed two deep rollers or their young, their offspring, will roll all the way down, hit the ground and die. Agent Starling is a deep roller, Barney. Let us hope one of her parents was not. “
There are books and authors that come up a lot in my life. They come up in conversation with friends or with my brother. They come in the forefront of my mind while I walk the dog and watch the crows in the trees above my home. David Sedaris. Alice Munro. Jonathan Franzen. Robert Harris.
I read Hannibal the first time when I was about fifteen years old. I remember because I wrote a book report on it which I still have. I got a B on it. Maybe B +. It’s been a long time since I fished out the essay but it’s here, among my papers. I had seen the film Silence of the Lambs in a friend’s home perhaps a year before I read the book. I remember the friend and I remember how scared I was watching the movie. There was also the VHS cover that had haunted me throughout my childhood. Peeking around the corner and up the tall racks of the Horror section of any given video store, I always came across the same cover. The moth. The skull. We would look at each other. Picking up the VHS box, turning it over and over again, I must have wondered about all the things this movie was, or maybe was not. I felt the same things picking up Blue Velvet. There were others, I’m sure. VHS copies representing so much of my future and my love of horror. Film. General whimsy and madness just waiting to be discovered.
So why bring up Hannibal? I have a point. I am currently re-reading the book. I always knew I would come back to reading it again. I have been fanatical about the entire franchise for a very long time now, especially loving the Hannibal series which divined so methodically my design. So it comes up. Hannibal just comes up. I think what astounds me so much about the books - and to an extent, the movies, of course - is not how behind the times certain themes were. Yes. There are problems, some that have not aged so well. But one character I think about a lot - think about more often then I care to admit - is the character of Clarice Starling. Not Hannibal. Clarice. In the novel Hannibal, Clarice is thirty-two years old. She has become hard. Her career has stalled in ways she has never imagined. Someone with all the potential in the world has not been able to rise in the ranks of the FBI due to reasons that are political, typical and sad. Clarice is angry and she is disappointed. She is not in control of the person that she has become. She has given her all to a line of work that has been unforgiving and unkind. This is not who she imagined she would be. This is not the place she imagined she would inhabit. And then she experiences further set back and blame when things go out of hand during a drug raid and she is left raw and broken by consequences of the failures. Clarice walks around the bowels of bureaucratic red tape. Men surround her, all of them waiting for her to fail. How fucking ahead of its time - well, not really because it was only speaking of the facts - is the treatment of Clarice Starling by all the men in her life. And then by a brutal, patriarchal system that casts her out to get slaughtered when she tries too hard to be just like them. Hard like them. But being hard as a woman is not the same thing as being hard like a man. We face more a difficult task in navigating the stigma that comes with being hard. Being a Bitch. Clarice faces sexual harassment by her direct superior - harassment she faces for years - and takes it like proverbial champ because why? Because this is what is expected? She is a professional. This is what she tells herself. She is the best at what she does - strong, tough talking - and she works, and she works, and she works. So it is no surprise that Hannibal writes to her when she is at her lowest point, aware of her difficulties through the press clippings and some very public humiliations, it is no surprise that the devil finds her and asks her if it was all worth it? Did it matter? Does it matter still, after everything that has transpired and all the things she witnessed and experienced? What’s the point?
I am thirty- two years old. There is hardness to me that I do not justify to others. I don’t care about people think. I work hard and quite often find myself both running away from the same things I am chasing. It is not my career but the things that could have been, should have been, and then the fuck it attitude that comes with knowing that it gets harder each day to look into faces of people I don’t respect and smile. I don’t care to be liked by those same people I don’t respect. And that is a glorious and beautiful thing to experience. These are the hard edges that I know make me less amicable and yet, why should it matter? Ahh the thirties. Less of that girl. Fuck the girl. Like Clarice, there is a steely resolve and unflinching need to stand my ground. Especially among those who claim to wield the hammer of cruel power. And then there is the question of failure. Or maybe it is a restlessness that would allow someone to fall straight back down to the ground in an elaborate display of both my strength and carelessness. I can go anywhere and do anything. These things are more true now then they have ever been. There is the business and then all the things that surround it, corridors of possibilities, so how high up should I fly? Or roll back? It is both a cruel and beautiful thing to be thirty-two years old and thankfully, so fucking gratefully, unmarried and childless. So now the future opens up and I think, should I go back to school? Get a better grasp on marketing? Or move somewhere. Some new town or city. Of course my brother is still healing and that makes things complicated. I don’t know. There is a vulnerability to Clarice that leads to her downfall at the end of Hannibal. I won’t say what it is since the ending in the book is quite controversial. It is vastly different then the ending in the movie. I think both endings serve a purpose. A lot of people hated the ending of the book. I didn’t hate it. And as I reach it now, reading the same book I read all those years ago, so enthralled with Hannibal then but less so now because Hannibal was never really about Hannibal, I think of Clarice. I think her ending is not so strange. The question of whether her ultimate faith at the hands of one man, or any of those men who cast so dark a shadow over her life, and despite the question of any hardwired behavior, we are left to ponder if Clarice ever really had any control over her own life. But I don’t think she thinks about it. Not anymore. And maybe that’s the point. Ultimately -
God, I wish I could have seen Bryan Fuller’s version of Clarice Starling. What a thing that would have been. More for me think about when I walk my dog.