The Cannibal and the Cop: Why I love Hannibal and Clarice

Goodreads allows readers to ask questions of authors, a feature I normally don’t pay a lot of attention to. However, in this case, I found the question interesting enough to warrant a response. My favorite fictional couple isn’t really a couple at all at least not in the traditional sense. Hannibal and Clarice never kiss. They don’t go on romantic dates together. Heck, for long periods of time, they aren’t close enough to touch. However, they are certainly in love with one another.

Hannibal and Clarice don't kiss
Not Quite a Kiss

[Warning: I will be discussing the movies [Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal] because I remember them better than the books. Hannibal is one of my favorite movies of all time.]

If you know their story, you know they meet while Hannibal is incarcerated and they begin to develop a relationship in her repeated visits. It starts out as her working him for information and him using her for his amusement. Each of them is getting something out of the relationship even if only a little bit. Clarice respects and maybe even fears Hannibal perhaps due to his reputation while Hannibal is bored and curious. Not the best ground for a burgeoning relationship, but we all start somewhere, right?

Through his aid, she rises. Then at the end of Silence of the Lambs, he kills some cops and disappears. She cannot and will never forget him. Clarice says to Barney, former orderly at Hannibal’s institution, in Hannibal “He’s with me at least thirty seconds of every day, like a bad habit.” However, she moves on with her life. And he with his.

We later find Hannibal has absented himself to Italy and is building the life of an intellectual there. Still, he knows he cannot outrun his past and he still has some unfinished business with Ms. Starling. The letter he sends her is friendly and comfortable despite the awareness they are standing on opposing sides. He wishes to be free to roam, she wishes to catch him.

The striking question for me in Hannibal, before I realized their real relationship, was: Why come back? He could have killed the Italian cop and disappeared to another place without ever setting foot back on American soil. First theory: He came to do away with Mason Verger. Except he doesn’t care about Verger as he’s already mastered him. Also, that doesn’t follow as Hannibal doesn’t go to Verger, he goes to Clarice. Second theory: He just wants to be back in the States. Again, doesn’t wash because he could have gone somewhere else in the States without interacting with Clarice or putting himself close enough for Verger to catch. Third theory: He wants to finish what he started with Clarice and see where it is going.

Their final scene together in the kitchen right before he cuts off his hand to get out of the handcuffs is a state of their relationship discussion. He says to her, “Would you ever say, if you loved me you would stop?” He admits, without overt sweetness, his feelings for her. She refuses him when she says, “Not in a million years.” Then, despite this rejection which I can only assume he expects since he knows her very well (“That’s my girl.”), he still chooses to mutilate himself instead of her for the purposes of his escape. He loves her so much he puts her well-being above his own. In spite of her staunch resistance to his advances, you see a single tear come down Clarice’s cheek. She mourns his loss and I have to wonder if she is thinking of what may have happened if she had said yes.

It is undoubtedly a dark romance, but it fits the bill.

5 thoughts on “The Cannibal and the Cop: Why I love Hannibal and Clarice

  1. I have always thought that there was more beneath the surface of their relationship. Hannibal choosing to harm himself rather than Clarice simply confirmed it.
    I enjoyed each of the films about Hannibal, but I think my favorite is Red Dragon, which barely even introduces Clarice.
    A separate, but related, question: What did you think about the NBC series Hannibal?

    1. I enjoy the subtly of their relationship. It’s a romance without any of the traditional trappings. I liked Red Dragon but it is definitely not my fave.

      The series, oh the series. I have some strong feels about that thing. It was good and truly stunning to look at, but I found myself wondering what they were going to do next and how Hannibal was managing to stay ahead. I’ve still got to finish season 3 though.

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