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QUEER REPRESENTATION IN HANNIBAL

If you’ve been scrolling through Netflix lately, (which, we all definitely are in lockdown) you might have noticed an old franchise trending on the home page. Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, Red Dragon, all popular films from Hannibal the cannibal, based on the novels by Thomas Harris. Traction has soared on this franchise, especially aided by the popular thriller/horror tv show Hannibal, which has been streamed Netflix for years now.

Hannibal, the TV show, debuted back in 2013 and gave a new look to the iconic serial killer. Adding more to the horror and criminal genre the movies were known for, by diving into darker subject matters, and creating a nightmarish elegance to its story. Another addition the Hannibal show has become well known for is the unique love bond between the characters Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) and Will Graham (Hugh Dancy). The love between these characters, known as Hannigram to the fans, is not squinting gay subtext, it is completely unsubtle. 

Despite Hannibal’s cancelling back in 2015, fans have been starving for a new season, and with CBS recently green-lighting a series based around Clarice Starling, it’s clear the Hannibal Lecter franchise is still on everyone’s minds and has potential to return. Creator of the show Byran Fuller did adapt Harris’ novels Red Dragon and Hannibal for the show but did not cover story elements from Silence of the Lambs, mainly because he couldn’t obtain the rights from MGM. He had hoped to include Clarice in future seasons, but with the show being cancelled, her character never appeared on the small screen. 

But back to Will and Hannibal. Let’s do a quick summary of the relationship between these two characters in case you haven’t seen the show, or your minds need a little refreshing. 

Will has the unique gift of empathy, he can get into the heads of killers, understand their motive and reasons for murder, and this, in turn, helps the FBI catch them. Jack Crawford, Agent-in-Charge of the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI often exploits Will for this gift, pushing him to his limits. However Will worries what doing this will do to his psyche, as he describes himself as being unstable. So Jack enlists the secret cannibal and murderer Dr Lector to become Will’s unofficial psychiatrist.  Hannibal, in turn, becomes obsessed with Will and also exploits Will’s gift to dangerous limits, mainly in curiosity to see what will happen carefully pulling the strings without anyone knowing. 

This leads to a lot of mayhem for Will, he’s confused between reality and the fantasy in his head, leading to being framed for Hannibal’s murders, and many more. But throughout the show, the building relationship between these characters becomes more than platonic but never reading confirmed sexual attraction. Instead, the show confirms their love in many different approaches. 

When Will and Hannibal take care of Abigail, the orphaned daughter of a serial killer, Hannibal repeatedly calls them her “fathers”. This word is clearly supposed to hint at what kind of relationship Will and Hannibal will have in the future. 

In season one, Will does not attend a therapy appointment and Hannibal is pining. It is a wonderful and powerful scene. Hannibal staring at the empty chair Will usually sits in, checking the appointment calendar, touching the phone longingly, then abruptly leaving to search for him. The scene is played as romantic, with touching music. The pining Hannibal feels is often trope repeated plenty in heterosexual media. 

did you just smell me
gif credit to NBC

In Will’s dreams, Hannibal directly calls him his ‘beloved’ several times. Freddy Lounds, a criminal journalist refers to them as ‘Murder Husbands’, showing that their relationship is clear to everyone else around them. Hannibal even draws fanart of them both together as Achilles and Patroclus. This is a famous example of lovers from Greek Mythology. This clearly is not just friendship between them both, and Hannibal even shows Will this drawing, which is both an adorable and hilarious scene.   

Bedelia, Hannibal’s psychiatrist calls Will to his face ‘Hannibal’s bride’. Will asks, “Is Hannibal in love with me?”, and Bedelia replies, “Could he daily feel a stab of hunger for you, and find nourishment at the very sight of you? Yes. But do you ache for him?”

ladder
gif credit to NBC

 In a scene where Hannibal is shaken after seeing Will and hearing his words of forgiveness, Bedelia says, “Betrayal and forgiveness are best seen as something akin to falling in love”, and Hannibal replies, “You can’t control with respect to whom you fall in love”. Will is silent but this scene speaks loud as he releases the extent of his own emotions.

The final scene of Hannibal really puts this into motion. Will and Hannibal are running from a serial killer known as the Red Dragon, in this runaway Will and Hannibal take the time to stop at Hannibal’s remote home on top of a cliff, drink wine together and talk about how much their bonds mean to them. They literally stop to drink wine together as a mad man is on route to kill them both! Eventually, Will and Hannibal are able to kill the Red Dragon, leaving them both in a bloody state, stabbed, beaten, on the verge of death. The two sensually embrace each other, struggling in pain, the writers tease the expectation of them to kiss, but instead, they hold each other closely. Will whispers that “it’s beautiful” and Hannibal whispers “this is all I ever wanted for you”. And the two fall over the edge of the cliff to the water below. It feels right for the relationship to have this end, for it to become sexual wouldn’t be right. It feels more like the show acknowledges and confirms the intense feelings the two have for one another. 

a kiss
gif credit to NBC

This story is a very groundbreaking piece of queer fiction, it’s a love story between two men, a detective and criminal that isn’t about the love story. There are a lot of LGBTQIA characters across media, tv and movies these days, but Hannibal offers a distinctive perspective that isn’t often found. Rather than having a story around a queer character is solely based on their sexuality and/or gender, or having a queer character story amongst many heterosexual six characters, Hannibal really finds a place in the middle. The characters are never expressed as being queer, nor is the story revolved around it, but the three seasons build and evolve Hannibal and Will’s friendship to be deeper than love and not idiosyncratic because of its queer nature. 

With this shows many creative ideas and outlandish scenes, including kaleidoscope lesbian sex, murals out of dead bodies, cannibalism made to look delicious, it’s easy to get lost in its themes and colours and aesthetic dream shots. But amongst all it’s beautiful madness, Will and Hannibal’s relationship is what the show is built on, and what the three seasons progress on, ending on that tender embrace.

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