Monday, July 14, 2008

Dear Clarice...

If you'll pardon this interruption in the usual content here for a moment, and just a moment I assure you, there's a little tidbit I'd like to share with you.

Of late, I came across the movie Hannibal again. Third in the series of books by Thomas Harris featuring Dr. Hannibal Lecter, in some ways it's the best of the bunch.

The movie Hannibal contains a lovely letter from Dr. Lecter to Clarice Starling, after Dr. Lecter heard news of Starling's involvement in a bloody shooting:

Dear Clarice,

I have followed with enthusiasm the course of your disgrace and public shaming. My own never bothered me except for the inconvenience of being incarcerated, but you may lack perspective.

In our discussions down in the dungeon it was apparent to me that your father, the dead night watchman, figures largely in your value system. I think your success in putting an end to Jame Gumb's career as a couturier pleased you most because you could imagine your father being pleased.

But now, alas, you're in bad odour with the FBI. Do you imagine your daddy being shamed by your disgrace? Do you see him in his plain pine box crushed by your failure; a sorry, petty end of a promising career? What is worst about this humiliation Clarice? Is it how your failure will reflect on your mommy and daddy? Is your worst fear that people will now and forever believe they were indeed just good old trailer camp tornado bait white trash and that perhaps you are too?

By the way I couldn't help noticing on the FBI's rather dull public website that I have been hoisted from the Bureau's archives of the common criminal and elevated to the more prestigious 10 Most Wanted list. Is this coincidence, or are you back on the case?

If so, goody goody, cause I need to come out of retirement and return to public life.

I imagine you sitting in a dark basement room bent over papers and computer screens. Is that accurate? Please tell me truly, Special Agent Starling.

Regards, your old pal Hannibal Lecter, M.D.

P.S. Clearly this new assignment is not your choice rather I suppose it is a part of the bargain but you accepted it Clarice. Your job is to craft my doom. So I am not sure how well I should wish you but I'm sure we'll have a lot of fun.

Tata, H.

Full of whimsy and a keen insight into the character of Starling, it's one of my favorite movie lines.

At once both contemptuous and challenging, it's also a note of concern in it's opening lines.

One finds out later in the book Hannibal that Lecter's perspective comes from the death of his sister, and the soldiers who ate her to prevent their starvation.

Of course, this point was also covered in a later film, but that was frankly a disaster not worthy of the earlier efforts.

Still, I find it an interesting thought. Those who've suffered horrible events are very different from others in their ability to endure events. What would drive others over the edge into madness they can put in perspective, so to speak.

Lecter's own "disgrace and public shaming" was the result of his capture, exposure as a serial killer and cannibal, and subsequent incarceration in a prison for the criminally insane. This seemed only an inconvenience, compared to earlier events.

Not that Dr. Lecter represents a paragon of sanity, of course. As Trevor Goodchild noted, that which does not kill us makes us stranger.

Just as Dr. Lecter gained the ability to endure lesser torments than that which broke his sanity, his sanity was nonetheless broken.

So this letter from Dr. Lecter to Clarice Starling represents both an individual surmounting events and that same individual becoming permanently divorced from mainstream humanity.

An amusing thought, to be sure.

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