Hannibal Lecter

Missing image
Hannibal Lecter as portrayed by Anthony Hopkins.

Doctor Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter is a fictional character appearing in four novels by author Thomas Harris and their film adaptations. He is arguably the most fearsome serial killer ever depicted.

The novels in which the character of Lecter appears are Red Dragon (published in 1981, filmed in 1986 as Manhunter and in 2002 under its original title), The Silence of the Lambs (published in 1988, filmed in 1991), Hannibal (published in 1999, filmed in 2001) and Behind the Mask (to be published in 2005).

In Harris's novels and their film adaptations, Lecter is an extremely brilliant, cultured psychiatrist and serial killer, who practices cannibalism upon his victims. He has often been put in the company of the greatest villains in literature and film, along with Satan in John Milton's Paradise Lost, Professor Moriarty from Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, and Darth Vader from the Star Wars trilogy.

Brian Cox was the first actor to play Lecter, taking the role in Manhunter, but it is Hopkins whom most moviegoers recognize as Lecter. Anthony Hopkins first appeared in the role in The Silence of the Lambs, winning the Academy Award for his performance. He also appeared as Lecter in Hannibal and Red Dragon.

Harris, who rarely gives interviews, has never definitively explained his influences for creating Lecter, but real-life cannibalistic murderers such as Albert Fish and Issei Sagawa have all been mentioned by fans as possible influences. Hopkins claimed the villainous computer HAL from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey as the inspiration for his interpretation of the character.

In 2003, the American Film Institute named Lecter, as played by Hopkins, the number-one film villain of all time.

N.B. The following information deals with material in the books, not the movies.

Hannibal Lecter was born in Lithuania in 1938 to wealthy parents. His father was a count; his mother a descendent of the famous Visconti family of Milan. He had a younger sister named Mischa.

When Lecter was six, a group of Nazis retreating from Russia shelled his family's estate, killing his parents and most of the servants. Lecter, his sister, and other local children were rounded up by the group of deserters to be used as sustenance during the cold Baltic winter. Mischa was killed and cannibalized, but young Lecter managed to escape. It is believed that this event would shape the rest of Lecter's life. Years later, he would come to see his nemesis (and obsession) Clarice Starling as a surrogate for his sister.

In Red Dragon, it was stated that as a child he showed the first signs of sociopathic behaviour - sadism towards animals. That being said, this contradicts his character in the later novels and fans debate whether or not it's true.

Lecter established a psychiatric practice in Baltimore, Maryland in the 1970s. He became a leading figure in Baltimore society and indulged his extravagant tastes. To help finance these, he began influencing some of his patients to bequeath him large sums of money in their wills.

Lecter was caught in March or April of 1975 by FBI Special Agent Will Graham. Graham had been investigating a series of murders in the Baltimore area that were thought to be related. The films note that the press dubbed the killer "The Chesapeake Ripper." When Graham questioned Lecter at his psychiatric practice, he noticed some antique medical books in his office. Upon seeing these, Graham knew Lecter was the killer he sought. The sixth victim had been killed in his workshop and laced to a pegboard in a manner reminiscent of a Wound Man – an illustration used in many early medical books. Graham left to call the police, but while he was on the phone Lecter attacked him with a linoleum knife. After Lecter was arrested, Graham retired upon recovering from his wounds.

Lecter killed at least nine people before his capture. He had three other known victims who survived, including Graham. One of these, Mason Verger, figures largely in the plot of Hannibal.

Only two of the twelve victims are known by name in the books: Benjamin Raspail and Verger. Verger was the scion of a wealthy and influential family who controlled a meat-packing empire. Verger went through psychiatric counseling with Lecter after being convicted of child molestation. Lecter drugged Verger and suggested he try cutting off his face. Verger complied and, again at Lecter's suggestion, ate his own nose, feeding the rest of his face to two dogs. Lecter then broke Verger's neck and left him to die. Verger survived, but was forever confined to a life support machine.

Raspail was Lecter's ninth and final known victim before his incarceration. Raspail was a not-so-talented flautist with the Baltimore Philharmonic Orchestra. It is thought Lecter killed Raspail because his musicianship, or lack thereof, spoiled Lecter's enjoyment of the orchestra's concerts. Raspail's body would be discovered sitting in a church pew with his thymus and pancreas missing, and his heart pierced. It is believed Lecter served these organs at a dinner party he held for the orchestra's board of directors. Raspail claimed to have killed a man whose head was found years later in Lecter's storage garage in Baltimore, but Lecter suspected him of covering up for his former lover, Jame Gumb, who would later be involved in Lecter's life as the serial killer dubbed "Buffalo Bill."

The novels also mention a few details about Lecter's other victims. One, who initially survived, was taken to a private mental hospital in Denver, Colorado. Others include a bow hunter, a census taker (whose liver Lecter famously ate with "some fava beans and a nice Chianti") and a Princeton student whom he buried. Lecter was given sodium amytal by the FBI in the hopes of learning where he buried the student; he gave them a recipe for potato chip dip. His last three killings happened within nine days. His third victim (according to the movie) was a woman named Darcy Taylor. She had flesh removed from her back. This victim is considered non canon.

Lecter's cannibalism is thought to be a kind of revenge fantasy borne from watching his sister be cannibalized. He eats his victims because they represent to him the kind of low, bestial individuals who would kill and eat a small child; he's not only getting back at them, but showing them he's better than they are by consuming them with (no pun intended) exquisite taste, with gourmet recipes and fine wine. He feels his victims—a child molester, an incompetent musician, a census taker rude enough to try to "quantify" him—are as inferior as the deserters who took his sister away from him, and so deserve to die.

The courts found Lecter insane. Thus, he was spared prison and sent to the Baltimore State Forensic Hospital (later the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane). Many of the families of his victims pursued lawsuits against Lecter to have their files destroyed. The FBI investigated four more patients who had died under Lecter's care. His electrocardiogram (EKG) showed a bizarre pattern and, given his history, he was branded "a pure sociopath." He was nicknamed "Hannibal the Cannibal" in the National Tattler. At least one other officer retired from the FBI after being the first to discover Lecter's basement.

Lecter was a model patient until the afternoon of July 8, 1976. Upon complaining of chest pains, he was taken to the infirmary where his restraints were removed. He attacked a nurse who was performing an EKG on him, tearing out her eye, dislocating her jaw and ate her tongue. His pulse never went above 85 beats per minute. During the struggle with the orderlies, his shoulder was dislocated. Following this incident, Lecter was treated very carefully by the hospital staff. He was often confined to heavy restraints, a straitjacket and muzzle, and he was only transported when strapped to a hand-truck. A new administrator, Dr. Fredrick Chilton, was appointed. Chilton and Lecter's relationship was marked by mutual hatred. Chilton often punished Lecter if he displeased him. Lecter's care giver, Barney Jackson, came to respect him, and vice versa.

During his stay in the hospital, Lecter would help with two FBI cases. Will Graham came out of retirement in 1978 to help out with the Red Dragon case. While at a dead end, he went to Lecter for help. Lecter 'helped' by sending a coded message to the killer, Francis Dolarhyde, to kill Graham and his family, resulting in Graham being permanently disfigured. Five years later, Jack Crawford sent FBI trainee Clarice Starling to Lecter. Starling thought she was there for a class assignment, hoping to get Lecter to take a questionnaire, but she ended up getting him to help her in the Buffalo Bill case. In both of these instances, Lecter used word play and subtle clues so that Graham and Starling could figure it out themselves. It is his relationship with Clarice Starling, equal parts antagonism and seduction, that most of the books revolve around. Harris based the Lecter-Starling relationship on the "consultations" between FBI profiler Robert Keppel and serial killer Ted Bundy, in which Bundy offered to help the FBI track down the Green River serial killer.</p>

Gumb's latest kidnapee was Catherine Martin, daughter of Sen. Ruth Martin. Lecter told Chilton he would reveal the name of Buffalo Bill to Martin and was promptly flown to Memphis and held at the Shelby County Courthouse. During his stay in Memphis, Lecter lied to Martin, giving her the fake name "Billy Rubin". (Bilirubin is a pigment found in feces; this is the same colour as Chilton's hair, Lecter's hint that the name was fake; the movie changed the name to "Louis Friend", an anagram for "iron sulfide" - fool's gold.) Starling then visited Lecter at his makeshift cell, and he gave her some final clues before making a bloody escape, killing two police officers during the ordeal. He escaped by making a 'mask' from the face of one of the officers and hid his body on the top of the elevator. Lecter then killed two ambulance men and a man called Lloyd Wyman, assuming the man's identity. Chilton disappeared soon afterwards (presumed killed by Lecter).

After plastic surgery and the removal of a distinctive sixth finger, Lecter relocated in Florence, Italy. Lecter avoided reconstruction of his nose to protect his unctuous enjoyment of fragrances. In Florence, he took the pseudonym "Dr. Fell" - a frightening reference to the children's rhyme, "I do not like thee, Dr Fell / The reason why, I cannot tell". As Dr. Fell, Lecter's dazzling charm won him the recently vacated position of museum curator. Lecter murdered the previous curator.

His identity would be discovered by Florence detective Rinaldo Pazzi seven years after his escape from Memphis. Lecter only killed once in Florence before he met Pazzi. Pazzi struck a deal with Verger to get Lecter alive so that Verger could feed Lecter to wild boars. Clarice Starling, now an FBI agent, would also be tipped off by Pazzi. After killing Pazzi, Lecter went back to the United States. Both Verger and Starling would hunt him, hoping to get to him before the other. Lecter ended up being captured by Verger's men, but escaped once again, taking the wounded Starling with him and convincing Margot Verger (Mason's sister and a former patient, whom Mason had raped when they were children) to kill her brother. Lecter left a voice message claiming responsibility for Verger's death.

Lecter kept Starling in hiding during the next few months. Starling would end up being Lecter's lover after being brainwashed and conditioned by various drugs and techniques. He kidnapped Starling's nemesis, Paul Krendler, who was trying to discredit her. At Krendler's home, Lecter performed a lobotomy on Krendler and carefully prepared and shared his brains with Starling while Krendler was still alive. The couple's whereabouts are unknown, although his former caretaker Barney Jackson spotted him in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1993.

In the books, Lecter has been described as short, with maroon colored eyes, even rows of small white teeth, and six fingers on his left hand. He tends to be very still, yet very quick when required, and tilts his head to one side when listening. He has excellent hearing and smell. His body count totals 21, 14 confirmed by the FBI, and 4 attempted murders. It is unknown whether he killed Chilton, although he went missing soon after the escape. An Italian musician also vanished not long before Pazzi's murder.


Related References

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