Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Hello Neverland: Dr. Lecter, I Presume.

My intention was to study on the flight from London to Charlotte, Virginia, but despite nine and a half hours in which to do so, the environment inside a plane isn't most conducive to having textbooks out and making notes on the Romantic poets. Besides, I had an entire season of Hannibal to watch.

The first time I'd even known that the exploits of Dr. Hannibal Lecter had been made into a television show was seeing an advert on the side of a van announcing season two. The only thing that piqued my interest was they'd managed to cast a quirky-looking Hannibal and strayed from the path that Hannibal Rising had taken. 

Charming as the character is, and Gaspard Ulliel being a good actor, the two just didn't meet in the middle and mostly due to a lackluster script, the film had tanked.
I can't say I'd been terribly enamoured of any film adaptation of Thomas Harris' books. Hannibal, the 2000 movie that saw the return of Anthony Hopkins to the lead role, hadn't exactly set my world on fire. Controversial as it may be, I had watched The Silence Of The Lambs around the time I was sixteen years old and found the book to be infinitely better.

I was about twelve when I first heard the mention of Dr. Lecter himself. My aunty had been reading The Silence Of The Lambs during a family camping holiday. I was only briefly aware of what the film phenomenon consisted of, in that it was a scary film with a profoundly disturbing poster. Even the name unsettled me, were all the lambs dead? During a beach outing, my aunt made a joke about my father being like Hannibal Lecter.

"Who is Hannibal Lecter?" I asked, wanting to know why my father would be anything like a man with such a strange name. 

"He's the cannibal in Silence Of The Lambs. He eats people". she answered.
I wasn't the most conventional child. Although my parents were strict with what I could watch and listen to, they seemed to think that any book was within limits, seeing as I was reading and that could only mean good things. Maybe it was an act of rebellion at not even being allowed to watch Dirty Dancing, but the more disturbing the book I could find, the better. I quickly grew out of Goosebumps and Stephen King, starting on true crime books, especially as a pile of them had appeared in our hallway after my father had brought them home from work.

There must have been not only rebellion, but some affinity towards my father's job, which probably explains my wonderment towards superheroes to this day. My father was a policeman, and as far as I was concerned, he went out at night to solve crimes and save people.

So I begged my aunty to lend me the book with the terrifying cover, and I spent the entire night in my tent reading it at the speed of fever, because she was leaving the next day and wanted it back but mostly because I was gripped. I don't know what a twelve year old nerdy Gibraltarian boy and a twenty-something American FBI agent had in common, but I fell hard for Clarice Starling.

 I loved her courage, her intelligence, her strength and her morals. I adored this world Thomas Harris had created that seemed believable but also had an edge of urban magic to it, a place where all the serial killers I had read about existed in a tiny geographical map of the imagination and the elegance was in overcoming and saving the day. I was captivated by the sick intelligence in devising things such as a well to hold people in and a suit made out of a body.

I reluctantly gave the book back the next day and that was that for about a year, because the internet was in its infancy and I lived in the back of beyond. I told everyone I wanted to be a forensic scientist even though I was terrible at science and not exactly resilient when it came to blood and guts. I found library books on real serial killers and pursued other crime books. I felt an ecstatic sense of triumph when browsing through a second hand book store the name Thomas Harris flashed into my eyes.

 I read Red Dragon and although Francis Dolarhyde was suitably macabre, I didn't love Will Graham as much as Clarice Starling (sorry Will). I finally picked up my own copy of Silence Of The Lambs with an elegant black and gold cover, and I read it until it very literally fell apart.

So it wasn't only the sub-par movies or my feeling uncomfortable at poor Clarice's final, passive fate. The years passed and other things came into my life that interested me more. I had real contact with death and that made me a touch less fascinated and less disconnected at the experience of death and murder. Victims no longer felt like simply collateral to a narrative, it happened in the world. (Not that this stopped me spending my 29th birthday in a Paris cemetery).

One name brought everything back, Bryan Fuller. When I was in my early twenties, living back at home and getting fat while hiding from the world, I watched a lot of TV shows. I related to Jay from Wonderfalls and Ellen from Dead Like Me. Headstrong, smart, sarcastic, angry, completely lost. The concepts were genius, the writing was fantastic, and of course Bryan Fuller was much too smart for television. 

Both series were cancelled before their time, Dead Like Me being an especially bitter story of what happens when idiotic studio executives get in the way of good writing. I found out Bryan Fuller had also been part of the writing team on Star Trek Voyager, another show I had watched religiously growing up.

What's more, he sparked a flame in my little head that said I could be gay, quirky, a little lost, a little nerdy and comfortable in the craft of writing as a way of seeing and being in the world. I didn't have to chase the vision of a gay man as simply an empty-headed MDMA freak forever attending circuit parties. Not that I know the first thing about Bryan Fuller's life, and now that I'm older and wiser I see that people can be whatever they want and we can all live on the same planet, but something about knowing you could be smart and gay and successful just blew my mind and redefined me as a more confident person.

So when I heard Bryan Fuller was attached to Hannibal, I knew it would be more than just a vapid cash-in. Binge watching on the plane, it was more than just an entertaining show, it was a writer at the height of his powers forming a complex and emotional narrative that looked fantastic and had become incredibly successful. I was heartened, I was inspired all over again, and I am incredibly happy watching this show.

Now that twelve year old nerdboy even has a name. Fannibal.

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