“Believe me, you don’t want Hannibal Lecter inside your head.”
It’s 90’s Month here at SAW! (At least, I think it is.) I figured I’d start of the festivities by sketching one of my favorite 90’s monsters. Silence of the Lambs was the first movie I saw with my wife (in the theater that is). I loved it, and couldn’t stop talking about it afterwards. She married me anyway, which shows how much of a keeper she is. While I enjoyed just about every aspect, from the cinematography to Jodi Foster’s performance, I was particularly struck by Anthony Hopkins’ performance as Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
As Kane has pointed out in his excellent Canon post about Silence of the Lambs, Lecter occupies only a fraction of the running time of the film, and yet his presence dominates much of the narrative. When he’s not on screen you’re wondering about what he’s said or intimated – and usually worried about what he’s going to do when you DO see him again.
It’s an odd thing that Anthony Hopkins’ performance is so good that when Dr. Lecter escapes captivity we, as the audience, are actually okay with it. Happy even! This is a man who plays mind games with our nominal protagonist, Clarice Starling (played with perfection by Jodi Foster) on one end of his transgressions and eats the nose off a man’s face at the other end. He’s a monster, but he’s an erudite and urbane monster.
And that’s apparently all it takes for us to excuse cannibalism.
The character of Hannibal Lecter first appeared in a series of books by Thomas Harris and Silence of the Lambs was not the first film adaptation of his work. I’m sure most people know that Michael Mann adapted Red Dragon in 1986 as Manhunter, starring William Peterson as Will Graham – the man who captured Hannibal Lecter.
The thing is, when I heard about Manhunter I immediately went out to rent it. A previous movie featuring this incredible serial killer character? I had to see it! And I was five minutes in before I realized I’d seen it before, and didn’t even remember Lecter being in it. And it wasn’t like he was played by a slouch – it’s Brian f’ing Cox, for crying out loud! He’s decent enough as the character, but it wasn’t until Mads Mikkelsen took on the role in the Hannibal TV series that anyone else even came close to the power of Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal.
Maybe it was just lightning in a bottle. Even Hopkins’ subsequent performance as the good Doctor (in 2001’s Hannibal) doesn’t quite hit the heights of his first appearance. For whatever reason it’s always this movie and this performance that I think of when someone mentions the character. Despite Jack’s warning, Hannibal Lecter IS inside my head. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.