This week, I’m participating in The Great Villain Blogathon (never fear, it’s just this week) – and my contribution is to discuss one of the most frightening villains of all time: Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
A brilliant multi-lingual psychiatrist, a consummate gourmet cook, an aficionado of the arts, Dr. Lecter has a horrifying secret: he’s a serial killer who has his victims for dinner. As the main course.
Anthony Hopkins’ role as Dr. Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs was chosen as the #1 movie villain by the American Film Institute.
By this time, Dr. Lecter had been captured, outed, and imprisoned, yet was being interviewed by the FBI trainee Clarice Starling in order to help capture another serial killer.
I believe that most of what Hannibal Lecter did in his interactions with Clarice – behavior bordering on ridiculous, especially at first – was manipulation and outright trolling, a way to throw this very young, rather naive woman off balance, to get into her head, to make her think he’s helping her, to get her on his side, so she would make a mistake (a paperclip, such a small mistake) which gave him the opportunity he needed to get free. As it turns out, he does help her, but it’s to get that opportunity, nothing more.
And he takes the opportunity with a terrifying single-mindedness (trapped with no way out and a dead cop beside you? Just cut the guy’s face off, put it on yourself, switch clothes, and pretend to be him!) that goes right to the heart (or lack thereof) of Hannibal’s mad genius. That one scene, to me, defines the horror that is Hannibal Lecter in a way that all his silly scare tactics and history of cannibalism don’t even come close to touching.
It’s interesting, though, the way the author describes him: maroon eyes which reflect red light, small white teeth, a widow’s peak, six fingers on his left hand. It’s almost as if Dr. Lecter was such a horrible person that the author couldn’t just make him look like a regular human, but had to be some sort of aberrant creature. Of course, we now know that sociopaths don’t necessarily look any different from anyone else, and that’s what has made the film portrayal of Dr. Lecter so powerful.