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Hannibal Lecter: A Character Study

Over the years, there have been many different renditions of the fictional cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter, both in film, book, and television forms. Each of them prove delicious in their own way, and it really just depends on the preference of the pallet which one is your favorite.  Fair warning: Spoilers below!

Dr. Hannibal Lecter is a character created by the American novelist Thomas Harris. His books were later turned into film and television series where the character of Hannibal grew and took on a life of his own. While not the first person to play the iconic roll, Anthony Hopkins picked up the mantle of Hannibal in 1991 and truly brought the character to life in the film The Silence of the Lambs. His character portrayal was chilling and unsettling to say the least, and Anthony delivered a level of sophistication and danger to Hannibal that was a joy to sample.

When Hopkins got the script he told his agent;  “This is one of the best parts I’ve ever read.” and he still feels the same about the character today. 

The Director of Silence of the Lambs Jonathan Demme wanted Hopkins for the role, and even flew to London from New York to see the play he was starring in firsthand before he officially signed on as Hannibal. 

When asked about the character, Anthony Hopkins said; “ultra sane, very still … He has such terrifying physical power, and he doesn’t waste an ounce of energy. He’s so contained. He’s all brain.”

Anthony later won an Oscar for best actor for his portrayal of Lecter, and his version of the character was named the Greatest Villain in American Cinema by the American Film Institute among other awards, while the Lecter portrayed by Mikkelsen was named the 18th greatest villain in television history by Rolling Stone. 

Psychologists have evaluated the character of Hannibal Lecter much as they would a real life serial killer, and their resulting profile is very interesting; “He is locked in the paranoid-schizoid position, relies heavily on schizoid defenses, such as splitting and projective identification, but is unable to avoid psychotic breaks with reality to reenact his early traumas.” As a student of psychology myself, I am inclined to agree with them, and to further classify Lecter as an extremely manipulative narcissist and sadist, gaining sexual gratification and a power trip over his consumption of human flesh, and the inherent superiority he feels when murdering the “pigs” he later consumes and displays varying slightly over whichever version of Hannibal you are viewing.

Hannibal is interesting, controlling, inherently unfair in his emotional and romantic interactions with people, and incredibly toxic and abusive should you happen to be in a relationship with him (sorry Will it will never work out for you two, better to break it off and find a healthier relationship that involves less stabbing with knives and more aftercare). If he comes after you, you had better run, because the last thing you want to do is face Hannibal Lecter when he is hangry.

As a recent inductee of the TV series Hannibal, I have joined the ranks of the fanatics who love the character of Lecter as portrayed by Mads Mikkelsen. I thought the suave and seductive side of Hannibal that was explored in the series to be very enjoyable, and an interesting break from Anthony Hopkin’s character which was almost entirely cerebral. While Mikkelsen’s Hannibal was also extremely intelligent, he had a more vulnerable and emotional side to him that was evident in his obsession with the character of Will Graham, who was a love interest, and unfortunate victim to Hannibal’s machinations resulting ultimately in his own destruction and Hannibal’s as well (unless fan theories are to be believed and they survived that tumble off the cliff, which, hey, why not right? Murder Husbands for the win!) 

When asked about his version of Hannibal, Mads said; “I find Hannibal interesting. I don’t have to like what he does. I don’t have to agree with it. But I have to a certain degree understood his way of thinking. There has to be logic in there. I have to understand it. I would like to explore it more, and if we get the chance, it would be great. But like him? I don’t have to… But I kind of like him.”

I think that both Anthony and Mads have done an amazing job at portraying such an iconic character, and it is something I will go back to witness again and again whenever I feel hungry for a little bit of scary, elegant, and beautifully gruesome fun. Bon Appetit! 



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