The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal: Dr. Hannibal Lecter

It is really difficult to separate some literary characters from their movie counterparts. Take Legolas from Lord of the Rings. When I read through the trilogy in middle school, my main goal was to just get through them so I could say I read them. Or at least that was my feeling through The Two Towers. One of these days I’m going to reread it. Now that I’m older I can get a better handle on the dense text.

In any case, my favorite parts were the first part where the four hobbits are journeying to Rivendell in The Fellowship of the Ring, the scenes between Eowyn and Faramir in The Return of the King and the appendix that told the story of Arwen and Aragorn. Legolas was pretty cool and I liked his interactions with Gimli but otherwise…eh. Wasn’t foaming at the mouth about him.

And then the movie came out.

Dear lord. A craze swept us nerdy girls into a frenzy. It’s difficult for me not to think of the movie characters when someone mentions LOTR but it’s especially true for this man.

With Hannibal, the case is similar. Except more so because I saw these two movies first, then read Thomas Harris’ books. (Out of order too. I found Hannibal at a goodwill last year and I just took out The Silence of the Lambs this month.) When I think of Hannibal, I see Anthony Hopkins. I hear him. I couldn’t help comparing the book character to Mr. Hopkins.

And, sin that it is, I like him better.

Maybe it’s because that first impression is

Before we delve further into dissecting Dr. Lecter, let me give a brief synopsis of the books (if you haven’t seen Silence of the Lambs, you should see it. Hannibal is a little more gory and doesn’t have Jodie Foster so that is probably optional. Silence of the Lambs is more psychological horror than anything else. I hate scary movies but I love this movie.)

In The Silence of the Lambs, a serial killer named Buffalo Bill is on the lose, abducting and skinning parts of young women. FBI trainee Clarice Starling is sent to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter. He is a brilliant, cultured psychiatrist. He is also a cannibal and described as “a pure sociopath.” But his knowledge of the criminal mind and of Buffalo Bill in particular may be necessary to solving the case. It won’t come easy however, for every piece of information he gives he expects Clarice to give him some detail of her life.

In Hannibal, Dr. Lecter changes from sinister mentor to the target of a FBI Hunt. Out to find him are the FBI, a twisted billionaire maimed because of Lecter and Clarice Starling who, seven years after the Buffalo Bill case has fallen from grace in the eyes of the public and her superiors.

So he is a brilliant psychiatrist who wants to eat people. He is polite until you get on his bad side, then he will egg you on or if he really hates you, find a way to eat you. His outward appearance isn’t made to draw reactions of ZOMG HAWT.

She could see that he was small, sleek; in his hands and arms she saw wiry strength like her own.

“Good morning,” he said, as though he had answered the door. His cultured voice has a slight metallic rasp beneath it, possibly from disuse.

Dr. Lecter’s eyes are maroon and they reflect the light in pinpoints of red. Sometimes the points of light seem to fly like sparks to the center. His eyes held Starling whole.

(The random switching of tense bugged me at first but I either got used to it or got so caught up in the story that I didn’t care anymore.)

So what is the appeal?

I think part of it is the bad boyness that everyone is susceptible to in some degree. (Or bad girl, if any straight men read this. BTW, who does read this? I only know two who have admitted as much.) If dark things weren’t tempting then Adam and Eve wouldn’t have eaten that fruit. And this man’s character would not be so incredibly popular:

It was only a matter of time before he showed up in this blog

But I think specifically, it’s the way Hannibal probes Starling’s mind. He knows that she needs his information, he knows she’s become dedicated to saving these women that Buffalo Bill is preying upon. Starling will eventually give everything she has to save them and what Hannibal wants most is to know her mind, to drink from her pain. In a way, it’s like a seduction.

“You’re very close, Clarice, to the way you’re going to catch him, do you realize that?”

“No, Dr. Lecter.”

“Good. Then you won’t mind telling me what happened to you after your father’s death.”

Starling looked at the scarred top of the school desk.

“I don’t imagine the answer’s in your papers, Clarice.”

And a little later…

“No. Precisely so. We begin by coveting what  we see every day. Don’t you feel eyes moving over you every day, Clarice in chance encounters? I hardly see how you could not. And don’t your eyes move over things?”

“All right, then tell me how-”

“It’s your turn to tell me, Clarice. You don’t have any beach vacations at the Hoof and Mouth Disease Station to offer me anymore. It’s strictly quid pro quo from here on out. I have to be careful doing business with you. Tell me, Clarice.”


“Dr. Lecter, when there’s time I’ll-”

“We don’t reckon time the same way, Clarice. This is all the time you’ll ever have.”

Both book and movie are very smart by giving us just enough Lecter but not too much. We go along, wanting more banter between Clarice and Lecter. We want to know what he knows so the case is solved but we also want to see him. That charisma is what makes him mancandy. And if we were basing it on just The Silence of the Lambs I’d be giving him a higher grade.

I liked Hannibal, both the movie and the book. But there were things I disliked. In this book, Hannibal has lived seven years in freedom in Florence and hasn’t been a threat. But an Italian policeman named Rinaldo Pazzi is starting to get suspicious.

There were a few unsettling things about Hannibal. There was the creepy rapist billionaire villain Verger who makes children cry so he can put their tears in his martini. (I’m honestly not kidding. Props to Harris on creativity.) There was Rinaldo Pazzi’s death. I understand that Hannibal only acted when cornered. They even make a point to say how he only likes to eat the rude if he can. But it still rubbed me the wrong way because I had become invested in Pazzi who, like Clarice, was a policeman fallen from grace.

My main issue with it is the ending. It’s a spoiler. A big one. It was not the ending in the movie so if you don’t want to know it then don’t go any further















So in the movie, Hannibal and Clarice part ways. In this however..

Clarice has pretty much lost her place at the FBI and was about to be killed by man-eating pigs at Verger’s farms. Hannibal saves her.

Well he puts her under drugs for an unaccounted amount of time. It is probably a week, maybe more. She tells him everything about her life and he tells her his, including the little sister he lost in Lithuania to German troops. He puts her under hypnosis and appears as father to help her find closure.

Well…alright. I could deal with this.

Then they have dinner together. I don’t think she’s drugged at the time. She seems pretty aware. Hannibal bring in Krendler, Clarice’s nemesis from the FBI. He lobotomizes him and books up a piece of his brain. Krendler is fed some and the couple dine upon it.

After this is a tender moment where they discuss Hannibal’s sister Mischa. This alone I could get behind, but the first time I read it I was pretty thrown off by the brains.

(Mildly erotic content for those who don’t want to read that sort of thing)

“Hannibal Lecter, did your mother feed you at her breast?”


“Did you ever feel that you had to relinquish the breast to Mischa? Did you ever feel you were required to give it up for her?”

A beat. “I don’t recall that, Clarice. If I gave it up, I did it gladly.”

Clarice Starling reached her cupped hand into the deep neckline of her gown and freed her breast, quickly peaky in the open air. “You don’t have to give up this one,” she said. Looking always into his eyes, with her trigger finger she took warm Chateau d’Yquem from her mouth and a thick sweet drop suspended from her nipple like a golden cabochan and trembled with her breathing.

He came swiftly from his chair to her, went on a knee before her chair, and bent to her coral and cream in the firelight his dark sleek head.

They’re seen three years later together at an opera. It tells us that there are no more drugs holding Clarice and Lecter has stopped having nightmares about Mischa.

Okay. Okay. I could probably have accepted this better if not for the brains. I feel like her eating Krendler wasn’t really Starling-like. She was this defender of good and justice. I get that the FBI sort of broke her but I wanted her to be more resilient than that.

The father thing…well it did help her cope. But it reminded me of Phantom of the Opera. Most girls think Christine should have picked the Phantom even though for most of the play/book/movie SHE THOUGHT HE WAS HER FATHER. Maybe I’m projecting my POTO frustrations on to Hannibal. But the way this was executed…I just don’t know.

In the movie Labyrinth, a good part of you wanted Sarah to end up with the Goblin King. But you knew she couldn’t accept his offer because she needed to save Toby. She needed to mature and grow up. In the Phantom of the Opera you felt sorry for the Phantom but you (well okay, I. Most Phangirls don’t share this sentiment) didn’t think she should have ended up with him.

In this case…it’s difficult. Clarice had nowhere to go really. Her place in the FBI was gone, her one supported Jack Crawford was dead. In real life, people do strange things when they have no other options. But was it right? I’m not sure, honestly. My gut feeling is that no, I didn’t like this ending. I do see the reasoning why and when I examine it, I see the logic of it. But I guess a part of me wanted Clarice to make her own path and not go for the bad guy.

My friend Jess, who requested Hannibal for a mancandy review, disagrees with me. She says:

I loved the ending because throughout the story Hannibal is a very interesting character.. He is part of a new way, an unorthodox way of living, and is extremely refined and intelligent. For him to escape the FBI and win himself a very loyal mate is a nice change from the ‘bad guy’ always being caught by the law enforcement. It seems as if he’s been in control this whole time, and the reader was just given a slight insight to his genius. I’d read more about his adventures with Clarice anytime.

I agree that its nice to see a change. Especially for a genre novel. Most genres (romance, suspense, action) are pigeonholed as repetitive and I like seeing authors break out of the box and proving the naysayers wrong.

And Hannibal is in control. He’s…dare I say…a different type of alpha male?

Well, maybe not. But in any case, despite the qualms Hannibal somehow seduces his way into my heart.


Appearance: Slender, sleek. Pale in the The Silence of the lambs, undergoes plastic surgery in Hannibal and has dark hair. Not my cup of tea but appeals to some.

Personality: sociopathic, cultured, well-mannered, ruthless, extremely intelligent

Best Quality: His brain

Worst Quality: the fact that he eats people

Grade: This is difficult. I could separate the man from his acts but those are part of who he was. For that reason, I have to give him a C+ for his actions in Hannibal. If it was just his personality I would pobably give him something in the B range. (Sorry Jess.)


8 Responses to “The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal: Dr. Hannibal Lecter”

  1. 1 Jessica March 3, 2010 at 2:25 am

    I give him an A-. Yeah he eats people, they probably taste worse than chicken.

  2. 3 Alex L March 3, 2010 at 5:05 am

    I’m going to agree with your grading on him. He was saucy for his mind but everything else wasn’t working for me. I should probably pick up the book sometime soon though. It sounds like a fun romp.

    (BY THE WAY: I read this. Ellison does too.)

  3. 4 Candyland April 7, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    Okay, I am not going to say you are seriously psychologically disturbed with the whole Hannibal thing…cuz obviously you have some rational part to your personality becuase the Legolas/Lord of the Rings part is totally spot on. Makes you need to wring your panties out doesn’t it. Shame on you.

  4. 5 Addie April 3, 2011 at 6:10 am

    I give him a B+ since, you know, he eats people.
    I find Dr. Hannibal Lecter attractive (to put it simply since I’m still confused by it) because he is very intelligent and has nice manners.
    I honestly can’t blame him for eating people since when he was young (SPOILER) he saw that in order to completely dominate his foe he must devour them. Psychological things installed when you are young are very hard to get out of your system. I’m not saying his eating people is okay, I’m just saying that it’s ingrained in his system.
    I hate the ending to Hannibal the movie and the book. In the book I didn’t like that he had to drug her to keep her there for a bit. But I do understand that she had to be freed of her “obligations” to her father. In the movie I just always think that if he just slung her over his shoulder, it would have pushed Starling over the edge of her “obligations” that she needed. She would let herself go and be pampered by the only man who loves and truly understands her.
    But you have really valid points and I appreciate your opinion on the matter. This review is really awesome. By the way, I loved that Bowie in the Labyrinth showed up. It made my day.

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  1. 1 Top Ten Villainous Mancandy « Literary Mancandy Trackback on October 28, 2010 at 4:26 am

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