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Hannibal Lecter

Hannibal Tetralogy character
Sir Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter
Birth name Hannibal Lecter VIII
D.O.B. January 21, 1938
Titles Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Hannibal Lecter, M.D.
Aliases Lloyd Wyman
Dr. Fell
Mr. Closter
Nickname Hannibal the Cannibal
Gender Male
Race Caucasian
Ancestry Lithuanian nobility (Paternal)
Italian nobility (Maternal)
Relatives Mischa Lecter (Sister)
Count Robert Lecter (Uncle)
Lady Murasaki (Aunt-by-marriage)
M.O. Cannibalism and Torture
Occupation(s) Surgeon, emergency room doctor, clinical psychiatrist, necrologist, forensic psychologist, culinary artist, artist, musician, library curator
Created by Thomas Harris
Portrayed by: Brian Cox - Manhunter
Sir Anthony Hopkins - The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, Red Dragon
Gaspard Ulliel - Hannibal Rising
Aaran Thomas - Hannibal Rising (child)

Hannibal Lecter, M.D. is a fictional character in a series of novels by author Thomas Harris. Lecter is introduced in the thriller novel Red Dragon as a brilliant psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer. This novel and its sequel, The Silence of the Lambs, feature Lecter as one of two primary antagonists. In the third novel, Hannibal, Lecter becomes the main character. His role as protagonist continues into the fourth novel, Hannibal Rising, which explores his childhood and development into a serial killer. Lecter's character also appears in all five film adaptations. The first movie, Manhunter, was loosely based on Red Dragon, and features Brian Cox as Lecter, spelled as "Lecktor". In 2002, a second adaptation of Red Dragon was made under the original title, featuring Anthony Hopkins, who had previously played Lecter in the motion pictures The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal. Hopkins won an Academy Award for his performance of the character in The Silence of the Lambs in 1991.

In 2001, Hannibal Lecter (as portrayed by Hopkins) was voted by The American Film Institute to be the most memorable villain in film history.

Origin and development

Thomas Harris has given few interviews, and has never explained where he got inspiration for Hannibal Lecter, but in a documentary for Hannibal Rising, Lecter's early murders were said by the filmmakers to be based on murders that Harris had covered when he was a crime scene reporter in the 1960s.

In 1992, Harris also paid a visit to the ongoing trials of Pietro Pacciani, who was suspected of being the serial killer nicknamed the "Monster of Florence". Parts of the killer's modus operandi were used as reference for the novel Hannibal, which was released in 1999.

Red Dragon firmly states that Lecter does not fit any known psychological profile. However, Lecter's keeper Frederick Chilton claims that Lecter is a "pure sociopath." Lecter's pathosis is explored in greater detail in Hannibal and Hannibal Rising, which explain that he was irreparably traumatized as a child in Lithuania in 1944 when he witnessed the murder and consumption of his beloved younger sister, Mischa, by members of the Einsatzgruppen. One of the Einsatzgruppen members also claims that Lecter ate his sister as well.


Hannibal Lecter is described in the novels as being small and sleek, and with wiry strength in his arms. In The Silence of the Lambs it is revealed that Lecter's left hand has the condition called mid ray duplication polydactyly, i.e. a duplicated middle finger. In Hannibal, he has plastic surgery performed on his face and has his extra digit removed.

Lecter's eyes are a shade of maroon, and reflect the light in "pinpoints of red". He is also said to have small white teeth and dark, slicked-back hair.

Moral Code

Although Lecter is presented as a clear sociopath, he shows an unusual code of behaviour throughout the first film (Silence of the Lambs). For example, as Agent Starling is walking past the cell of Migs (another serial killer in Lector's prison), Migs appears to be masturbating. As Starling looks at him, Miggs throws a handful of semen at Starling, hitting her. Lector then calls Starling back to his cell, where he not only gives her information, but calls what Migs did "unspeakably ugly". The next day, Lecter talks Miggs into killing himself for retribution because he threw semen at Starling. Again, at the end of "Silence of the Lambs", Lectwr calls Starling to tell her that he will not attempt to harm her in any way, because he claims, "the world is more interesting with you in it". These small acts in no way indicate Lector to be compassionate, but they do imply that Lector still has a shred of humanity left deep inside him. This can be assumed because Harris states in the prequel "Hannibal Rising", that Lecter was once a normal person, but became highly violent and sociopathic due to severe childhood trauma.

Character history

In literature

Hannibal Lecter is introduced in the 1981 novel Red Dragon. He is a brilliant psychiatrist who is incarcerated after he is revealed to be a cannibalistic serial killer. Lecter spends his time during his incarceration writing articles for medical journals. Red Dragon depicts FBI Special Agent Will Graham consulting Lecter to catch serial killer Francis Dolarhyde, known only to law enforcement and media by the pseudonyms "The Tooth Fairy" and later, "The Dragon." It is revealed that Graham was the investigator who captured Lecter, and that Lecter had nearly killed him before being arrested. After receiving a letter from Dolarhyde, Lecter manages to send Graham's home address to the murderer via a coded letter. Dolarhyde later attacks Graham and his family at home, badly disfiguring Graham before being shot dead by Graham's wife.

Lecter appears in the 1988 sequel to Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, where he assists a rookie FBI agent named Clarice Starling in catching a serial killer known only as "Buffalo Bill". Lecter and Starling form an unusual relationship in which he provides her with a profile of the killer and his M.O. in exchange for details about her unhappy childhood. Lecter later stages a dramatic, bloody escape from captivity and disappears.

Following the success of The Silence of the Lambs and the immense popularity of the character, Harris spent seven years writing a third Lecter novel titled Hannibal, which was released in 1999 and took place seven years after the end of Silence of the Lambs. At the start of the novel, Lecter is residing in Florence, Italy, while Mason Verger, Lecter's only surviving victim, is attempting to capture him, intending to feed him to his pigs. Fleeing Verger's Sicilian henchmen, Lecter returns to the United States but is subsequently captured by them, only to be rescued by Starling. Lecter overpowers Starling and, using drugs and hypnosis, attempts to transform her into the emotional image of his long-dead sister; Starling resists, however, and instead becomes his lover. They then elope to Argentina.

In 2006, Harris wrote a prequel to the Lecter books entitled Hannibal Rising. Harris undertook the project after Dino De Laurentiis (owner of the cinematic rights to the Lecter character since Manhunter) announced that he was going to make a film (with or without Harris' help) depicting Lecter's childhood and development into a serial killer. Harris also wrote the film's screenplay. The story explains that Lecter is born into an aristocratic family in Lithuania in 1933, and that he and his little sister Mischa are orphaned in 1944 when invading German and Soviet forces storm the family estate. Shortly thereafter, Lecter and Mischa are captured by a band of Nazi deserters, who murder and cannibalize Mischa before her brother's eyes. The death of his beloved sister is extremely traumatic for Lecter, rendering him temporarily mute and sparking his fixation with cannibalism. Lecter escapes from the deserters and takes up residence in an orphanage until he is adopted by his uncle Robert and his Japanese wife, Lady Murasaki. As Lecter grows into a young man he forms a close, pseudo-romantic relationship with the widowed Murasaki and shows great intellectual aptitude, entering medical school at a young age. Despite his seemingly comfortable life, Lecter is consumed by a savage obsession with avenging Mischa's death. After gaining his first taste of murder (slaughtering a butcher who had publicly insulted Murasaki), Lecter methodically tracks down, tortures and murders each of the men who were in the group that killed and ate his sister, in the process forsaking his relationship with Murasaki and seemingly losing all traces of his humanity. The novel ends with Lecter being accepted into the Johns Hopkins Medical Center. He enters Canada and kills the last of the deserters, a taxidermist, and drives on to Johns Hopkins in the United States.

In film

Red Dragon was first adapted to film in 1986 as the Michael Mann film Manhunter. For reasons unknown, the filmmakers changed the spelling of Lecter's name to "Lecktor," who was portrayed by Scottish actor Brian Cox. In 1991, Orion Pictures produced a Jonathan Demme-directed film adaptation of Silence of the Lambs, in which Lecter was played by Welsh actor Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins' Academy Award-winning performance made Lecter into a cultural icon. Hopkins' Lecter remains the shortest lead role to ever win an Oscar, appearing in the movie for a total of only about sixteen and a half minutes. In 2001, Hannibal was adapted to film, with Hopkins reprising his role as Hannibal Lecter. The ending for the film was changed from the novel due to the controversy that the novel's ending generated upon its release in 1999. In the film adaptation, Mischa is never mentioned, and the ending was changed with Starling attempting to apprehend Lecter, instead of them eloping to Argentina.

It has been incorrectly reported that Jodie Foster, who had portrayed Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs, made the producers change the ending due to her disappointment with her character in the novel; however, the producers were planning to change the ending even before Foster considered reprising the role. Foster did not play Agent Starling in Hannibal. The role was played by Julianne Moore. In the film Hannibal, Lecter escapes from Starling's custody after cutting off his own hand to free himself from her handcuffs. The choice to cut off his own hand instead of Starling's shows a sympathetic side of Lecter's character with regard to the beautiful agent; mercy that few others in his path enjoyed.

In 2002, Red Dragon was adapted to film again under its original title Red Dragon, with Anthony Hopkins once again as Lecter and Edward Norton as the FBI Agent Will Graham.

In late 2006, the script for the film Hannibal Rising was adapted to novel format. The novel was written to explain Lecter's development into a serial killer. The novel and film were generally panned by most critics.

In other media

Hannibal Lecter has often been the subject of parodies and references in general media. In addition to making an appearance in MAD magazine, Hannibal Lecter has been the subject of parody for several animated television series such as South Park, The Simpsons, the Nickelodeon program Fairly Odd Parents, Addams Family Values, and Kevin Smith's "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back", most of these parodies feature the character wearing Hannibal's infamous mask. The character has even been parodied in a musical, entitled SILENCE! The Musical. On America's Best Dance Crew Season 2 dance crew SoReal wore Hannibal's infamous mask and the devouring of Super Crew's hand signs.

Notes and references

External links

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