Great Character # 2 — Hannibal Lecter

The Silence of the Lambs, and any of the other books in the series, has always been a favorite of mine in either incarnation.  Whether it be in the novel by Thomas Harris or film form, all of the reiterations have been very entertaining to me.  Ignoring my usual proclivities toward crime thrillers, I was always a fan of this series for one main reason.

Dr. Hannibal Lecter

Dr. Hannibal Lecter

There are plenty of reasons to love this character.  Depending on your favored genres you could love him for his brutality, or the sheer brilliance he commanded, or the utter need for him to kill and consume the ones around him.

What I love about him, is the duality of his nature.

On the outside, you see a very refined and down right pleasant gentleman.  He says and does all the right things at the right time.  He’s never rude, always soft spoken and, despite having an eerie quality to him, behaves like a rather kind man.  You’d never guess that underneath it all was this terrible monster.

The entire movie and book, all you hear about is how terrible his crimes are, from both himself and other characters.  While you can tell there’s something wrong with the man as his odd behavior is framed by the context of the things you already know about him, it’s as if you never really believe them to be true.

Look at the way he behaved with Clarice.  He was generally good to her, as they had formed some kind of strange pseudo-friendship over their time together.  Hell, he even takes it upon himself to defend her honor against the other inmate Miggs, by forcing him to commit suicide by breaking his mind.

Later, he draws her holding a lamb, making her appear very beautiful and glamorous.

This is what love looks like!

This is what love looks like!

It’s like everything they had done in developing this character definitely increased the suspension of disbelief that he could possibly be that monster that everyone’s talking about.

And then in the movie, you see this:

Once you do see how truly monstrous he can be there’s a piece of you that’s totally shocked, while there’s another piece of you that finally understands all those strange little dark nuances that’s been worked into the character.

This is something that everyone should be trying to instill into their characters, villains or not.

There’s definitely something to be learned from the study of this character.  And going farther into his origin story Hannibal Rising, you can see how a relatively normal, yet brilliant, young man can go so wrong so fast.  While it may not have been received well by critics, there’s definitely a clear through line of how he became Hannibal the Cannibal.

Much like in my post Tainted Love (The Marilyn Manson Cover) that same strange pseudo-romantic relationship he has with his step-aunt Lady Murasaki shows that he does have some depth of emotion.  Almost like he does love, just in his own way.

It brings a little more context and understanding to his interactions with Clarice Starling and Will Graham.  Almost as if he did feel something real for them, but it didn’t escape corruption by the pure insanity and evil that filled him.

Very complex, and yet very entertaining, and that’s why we should all understand it the best we can and try to infuse it into our own writing!

He is a wonderfully constructed character, because in some strange way it’s like you want the insane cannibal to escape.

I always watched this, and the other movies, while feeling strange fascination for Hannibal Lecter, like he was the last of an endangered species.  Yes, he’s terrible, yes, he’s a monster but look how well he does it!

Look at the guile and panache he employs!

Look at the guile and panache he employs!

So as usual, what do you think?  Agree/disagree/think I’m nuts?  Please, leave your reactions in the comments below and let me know what you think.

Also, do you think there’s another villain who is in line with this complex form of monstrosity?

I can’t wait to hear from you below.

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2 responses to “Great Character # 2 — Hannibal Lecter

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