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Dr. Hannibal Lecter

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Dr. Hannibal Lecter

Hannibal Lecter
Hannibal Tetralogy character
Gaspard Ulliel.
Created by

Thomas Harris
Portrayed by

Brian Cox
Anthony Hopkins
(The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, Red Dragon)
Gaspard Ulliel
Aaran Thomas (child)
(Hannibal Rising)
Mads Mikkelsen
Nickname(s) Hannibal the Cannibal
The Chesapeake Ripper
Aliases Lloyd Wyman
Dr. Fell
Mr. Closter
Gender Male
Occupation Psychiatrist
Title Dr. Hannibal Lecter
Count Hannibal Lecter VIII
Relatives Mischa Lecter (sister)
Count Robert Lecter (uncle)
Lady Murasaki (aunt-by-marriage)
Nationality Lithuanian

Hannibal Lecter is a fictional character in a series of horror novels by Thomas Harris.

Lecter was introduced in the 1981 thriller novel Red Dragon as a brilliant psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer. The novel and its sequel, The Silence of the Lambs, feature Lecter as one of the primary antagonists after the two serial killers in both novels. In the third novel, Hannibal, Lecter becomes a protagonist. His role as the antihero occurs in the fourth novel, Hannibal Rising, which explores his childhood and development into a serial killer.

The first film adapted from the Harris novels was Manhunter (based on Red Dragon) which features Brian Cox as Lecter, spelled "Lecktor". In 1991, Anthony Hopkins won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the character in The Silence of the Lambs. He would reprise the role in Hannibal in 2001 and in a second adaptation of Red Dragon made in 2002 under the original title.

In 2003, Hannibal Lecter (as portrayed by Hopkins) was chosen by the American Film Institute as the #1 movie villain.[1] In June 2010, Entertainment Weekly named him one of the 100 Greatest Characters of the Last 20 Years.[2]

Character overview

Red Dragon firmly states that Lecter does not fit any known psychological profile. In the film adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs, Lecter's keeper, Dr. Frederick Chilton, claims that Lecter is a "pure psychopath"; however, in the novel, Dr. Chilton calls Lecter a sociopath. Lecter's pathology is explored in greater detail in Hannibal and Hannibal Rising, which explain that he was traumatized as a child in Lithuania in 1944 when he witnessed the murder and cannibalism of his beloved younger sister, Mischa, by Lithuanian Hilfswillige. One of the Hilfswillige members claimed that Lecter unwittingly ate his sister as well.

All media in which Lecter appears portray him as cultured and sophisticated, with refined tastes in art, music and cuisine. He is frequently depicted preparing gourmet meals from his victims' flesh, the most famous example being his admission in the film adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs that he once ate a census taker's liver "with fava beans and a nice Chianti". He is deeply offended by rudeness, and frequently kills people who have bad manners — or, as he calls them in Hannibal, "free-range rude". Prior to his capture and imprisonment, he is a member of Baltimore, Maryland's social elite, and a sitting member of the Baltimore Philharmonic Orchestra's board of directors.

In The Silence of the Lambs, Lecter is described through protagonist Clarice Starling's eyes as "small, sleek, and in his hands and arms she saw wiry strength like her own". The novel also reveals that Lecter's left hand has a condition called mid ray duplication polydactyly, i.e. a duplicated middle finger.[3] In Hannibal, he performs plastic surgery on his own face on several occasions, and removes his extra digit. Lecter's eyes are a shade of maroon, and reflect the light in "pinpoints of red".[4] He is also said to have small white teeth[5] and dark, slicked-back hair with a widow's peak. He also has a keen sense of smell; in The Silence of the Lambs, he is able to identify through a plate glass window the brand of perfume that Starling wore the day before.



In the backstory of Red Dragon, FBI profiler Will Graham initially consulted Lecter about a series of murders without recognizing that Lecter was the culprit. Lecter realized that Graham was on to him, crept up behind him and stabbed him, nearly disemboweling him, but not killing him. Lecter was convicted and incarcerated in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, under the care of Dr. Frederick Chilton, a pompous, incompetent psychologist whom Lecter despises. Some years later, Graham comes out of retirement and consults Lecter in order to catch another serial killer, Francis Dolarhyde, known by the nickname "The Tooth-Fairy". Through the classifieds of a tabloid, The National Tattler, Lecter provides Dolarhyde with Graham's home address, enabling Dolarhyde to disfigure Graham and attempt to kill his family. At the end of the novel, Lecter sends Graham a note saying that he hopes Graham isn't "too ugly".

In the 1988 sequel The Silence of the Lambs, Lecter assists an FBI agent-in-training named Clarice Starling in catching a serial killer known as "Buffalo Bill". Lecter is fascinated by Starling, and they form an unusual relationship in which he provides her with a profile of the killer and his modus operandi in exchange for details about her unhappy childhood. Lecter had previously met Buffalo Bill, the former lover of his patient (and eventual victim) Benjamin Raspail. He does not reveal this information directly, instead giving Starling vague clues to help Starling figure it out for herself. Lecter eventually stages a dramatic, bloody escape from captivity and disappears. While in hiding, he writes one letter to Starling wishing her well, and another to Chilton swearing gruesome revenge. Chilton disappears soon afterward.

In the third novel, 1999's Hannibal, Lecter lives in a palazzo in Florence, Italy, and works as a museum curator under the alias "Dr. Fell". The novel reveals that one of Lecter's victims survived: Mason Verger, a wealthy, sadistic pedophile whom Lecter had drugged and mutilated during a therapy session. Verger offers a huge reward for anyone who apprehends Lecter, whom he intends to feed to feral pigs specially bred for the purpose. Verger enlists the help of Rinaldo Pazzi, a disgraced Italian police inspector, and Paul Krendler, a corrupt Justice Department official and Starling's boss. Lecter kills Pazzi and returns to the United States to escape Verger's Sardinian henchmen, only to be captured. Starling follows them, intent on apprehending Lecter personally, but is instead also taken captive. After escaping the trap, Lecter convinces Verger's sister Margot to kill her brother as revenge for raping her when they were children, and leaves a voice mail message taking responsibility for the crime. He then rescues the wounded Starling and takes her to his rented lake house to treat her. During her time there he keeps her sedated, attempting to transform her into his dead sister Mischa through a regimen of classical conditioning and mind-altering drugs. One day, he invites her to a formal dinner where the guest and first course is Krendler, whose brain they consume together. On this night, Starling tells Lecter that Mischa's memory can live within him instead of taking her place. She then offers him her breast, and they become lovers. The novel ends three years later with the couple living in Argentina.

Harris wrote a 2006 prequel, Hannibal Rising, after film producer Dino De Laurentiis (who owned the cinematic rights to the Lecter character) announced that he was going to make a film depicting Lecter's childhood and development into a serial killer with or without Harris' help. (Harris would also write the film's screenplay.) The novel chronicles Lecter's early life, from birth into an aristocratic family in Lithuania in 1933, to being orphaned, along with his beloved sister Mischa, in 1944 when a German Stuka bomber attacks a Soviet tank in front of their forest hideaway. Shortly thereafter, Lecter and Mischa are captured by a band of Nazi collaborators, who murder and cannibalize Mischa before her brother's eyes. Irreparably traumatized, Lecter escapes from the deserters and takes up residence in an orphanage, where he is bullied by the other children and abused by the dean.

When he turns 16, he is adopted by his uncle Robert and his Japanese wife, Lady Murasaki. After his uncle dies, Lecter forms a close, pseudo-romantic relationship with his step-aunt; during this time he also 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. He kills for the first time as a teenager, beheading a racist fishmonger who insulted Murasaki. He then methodically tracks down, tortures, and murders each of the men who had killed 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.

In film

Main article: Hannibal Lecter (franchise)
Brian Cox as Hannibal "Lecktor" in Manhunter. Cox was the first actor to play the character.
Gaspard Ulliel as young Lecter in Hannibal Rising.

Red Dragon was first adapted to film in 1986 as the Michael Mann film Manhunter. Due to copyright issues, the filmmakers changed the spelling of Lecter's name to "Lecktor". He was played by actor Brian Cox.[6] Cox based his performance on Scottish serial killer Peter Manuel.[7]

In 1991, Orion Pictures produced a Jonathan Demme-directed adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs, in which Lecter was played by actor Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins' Academy Award–winning performance made Lecter into a cultural icon. In 2001, Hannibal was adapted to film, with Hopkins reprising his role. In the film adaptation, the ending is revised: Starling attempts to apprehend Lecter, who escapes after cutting off his own hand to free himself from her handcuffs. In 2002, Red Dragon was adapted again, this time under its original title, with Hopkins again as Lecter and Edward Norton as Will Graham. Hopkins wrote a screenplay for a Hannibal sequel, ending with Starling killing Lecter, but it was never produced.[8]

In late 2006, the novel Hannibal Rising was adapted into the film of the same name, which explained Lecter's development into a serial killer. In the film, which was finished by 2007, eight-year-old Lecter is portrayed by Aaron Thomas, while Gaspard Ulliel portrays him as a young man. Both the novel and film received generally negative critical reviews.[9]

In television

Main article: Hannibal (TV series)

In February 2012, NBC gave a series order to Hannibal, a television adaptation of Red Dragon to be written and executive-produced by Bryan Fuller.[10] Mads Mikkelsen plays Lecter,[11] opposite Hugh Dancy as Will Graham.[12]

Fuller commented on Mikkelsen's version of Lecter: "What I love about Mads's approach to the character is that, in our first meeting, he was adamant that he didn't want to do Hopkins or Cox. He talked about the character not so much as 'Hannibal Lecter the cannibal psychiatrist', but as Satan – this fallen angel who's enamoured with mankind and had an affinity for who we are as people, but was definitely not among us – he was other. I thought that was a really cool, interesting approach, because I love science fiction and horror and – not that we'd ever do anything deliberately to suggest this – but having it subtextually play as him being Lucifer felt like a really interesting kink to the series. It was slightly different than anything that's been done before and it also gives it a slightly more epic quality if you watch the show through the prism of, 'This is Satan at work, tempting someone with the apple of their psyche'. It appealed to all of those genre things that get me excited about any sort of entertainment."[13]

The pilot episode aired on NBC on April 4, 2013 and amends the original continuity so that Lecter and Graham first meet during the FBI's hunt for the "Minnesota Shrike", Garrett Jacob Hobbs. Throughout the first season, Lecter acts as Graham's unofficial psychiatrist, and comes to think of him as a friend. Nevertheless, Lecter manipulates Graham into believing he is mentally ill and deliberately prevents him from learning that he suffers from encephalitis, all so he can study Graham's behavior. In the final episode of the first season, "Savoureux", Lecter reluctantly frames Graham for his crimes — but not before Graham realizes that Lecter is "the Chesapeake Ripper", the very serial killer he has been trying to capture. The series also introduces Abigail Hobbs, for whom Lecter feels a paternal affection until he is forced to kill her, and Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier, Lecter's therapist.

Real-life models

Thomas Harris has given few interviews, and did not explain where he got inspiration for Hannibal Lecter until mid 2013. He revealed that the character was inspired by a real-life Mexican doctor and murderer he met while visiting a prison in Monterrey in the 1960s, as a 23-year-old reporter.[14] The doctor was serving life after murdering a victim and putting them in a small box. Harris, who would only refer to the surgeon by the fake name "Dr Salazar", described him as a “small lithe man with dark red hair”. He added: “There was certain elegance about him.” [15]

Harris had gone to interview Dykes Askew Simmons, a US citizen on death row for murdering three young people, but he ended up also speaking to "Salazar", who saved Simmons’ life after a guard shot him during an escape bid. The doctor revealed his dark side as he began discussing Simmons’ disfigured face, tormented upbringing and how attractive his murdered victims had been.

In a making-of documentary for the film version of Hannibal Rising, Lecter's early murders were said to be based on murders that Harris had covered when he was a crime reporter in the 1960s. In 1992, Harris also attended 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. In an interview on Inside the Actors Studio, Hopkins said that he used the characteristics of Katharine Hepburn and HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey as inspiration for his performance.

According to David Sexton, author of The Strange World of Thomas Harris: Inside the Mind of the Creator of Hannibal Lecter, Harris once told a librarian in Cleveland, Mississippi, that Lecter was inspired by William Coyne, a local murderer who had escaped from prison in 1934 and gone on a rampage that included acts of murder and cannibalism.

In her book Evil Serial Killers, Charlotte Greig asserts that the serial killer Albert Fish was the inspiration, at least in part, for Lecter.[16] Greig also states that to explain Lecter's pathology, Harris borrowed the story of serial killer and cannibal Andrei Chikatilo's brother Stepan being kidnapped and eaten by starving neighbours (though she states that it is unclear whether the story was true or whether Stepan Chikatilo even existed).[17]

See also

  • Hannibal Lecter (franchise)
  • Hannibal (TV series)
Novels portal
  • Dorangel Vargas, a serial killer known as the "Hannibal Lecter of the Andes"


External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • Information about Hannibal Lecter, with a focus on Manhunter (1986)
  • Crime Library profile of Lecter
  • NPR broadcast on Lecter
  • Brian Cox interview on Hannibal


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