Monday, 10 June 2013

Hannibal - A Review

The main cast of NBC's new show, Hannibal. 

Ever since I was about fifteen years old and I first watched Silence of the Lambs, starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, I've been captivated by the character of Hannibal Lecter. I think at that age I was only just really beginning to understand intellectual and psychological evil and so the first character I found that embraced these ideas, Hannibal Lectoe, has never left me. Since watching that film I've read all the books based on Hannibal by Thomas Harris (bar Red Dragon cos I'm searching secondhand shops cos I want it in hardback) and my understanding has deepened into the mindset of this character and how he is an inspiration for other writers, psychologists and general people like me. In my third year of uni I had to do an textual analysis essay on 'evil' and the first thought in my head was Hannibal Lecter. I re-read Silence of the Lambs and then wrote an essay describing how Hannibal embodies the word 'evil' in his character. It was fun to work on, and I still have a list of books on my amazon wishlist which go further into the subject. 
Anthony Hopkins in his award winning performance as Hannibal Lecter

So when I heard about NBC's new show Hannibal my interest was immediately pipped. I have several tv shows I want to watch but as I travel to Northern Ireland for three weeks Wednesday I didn't want to start a show with several seasons as I won't have internet access there. Hannibal is only in its first season and so far only has 11 episodes, (2 more to air), I thought perfect! So yesterday evening with a cup of tea in hand I watched the first episode and I can tell you it's the best show I've watched this year so far! 

Hugh Dancy as FBI's Will Graham brings a new take on the character,.

The story is almost a prequel to Red Dragon, and explores the relationship between Hannibal Lecter and FBI Investigator Will Graham before the events depicted in Red Dragon. It's allowed a Hannibal fan to delve deeper into the psychiatry and understanding of this sociopath. It also gives the chance for the audience to understand Will Graham more, in the book he's alot more complex than shown in the films, I also like how he's put closer onto the autism spectrum, adding more definition and realism to the character. Hugh Dancy does an excellent job of making the character socially awkward but also likeable, it reminds me of Emily Deschanel as Dr Temperance Brennan in Bones but with a much darker twist. Mads Mikkelsen is equally well cast in the role of Hannibal, that almost knocks Anthony Hopkins award winning performance out the water. He's managed to, if at all possible, make Hannibal an even more intriguing character and fans of the series know he's a dangerous person to be involved with, a high-functioning sociopath with unusual eating habits. Overall the acting so far has been top notch and I couldn't have asked for a better cast in general which features some new names for me and some well known ones too. 

Mads Mikkelsen brings the sociapathic lover of mind games Hannibal Lecter back to life.

I think my favourite part about this series is how Bryan Fuller (previous work includes the tv show Heroes) has developed it into something really captivating. The style of the tv show, billed as psychological thriller, reminds me mostly of Hitchcock and Lynch (which after reading up I'm not the only person to draw these comparisons). Fuller has admitted as well he's highly influenced by Lynch's work which I think can mostly be seen in the cinematography and imagery, Graham's 'flashes' into a murderers mind being the biggest example reminiscent of Lynch's use of dreams and dreamlike imagery in his work. Yes, it has it's moments of gore and blood but it's done in such an artistic manner that it does almost seem dream like and highly stylised. 

Overall this is a fantastic series so far and you can tell I'm in love after only five episodes! I can't wait to see where Fuller takes us next in his journey of unveiling the Lecter-Graham relationship. I really think that Fuller has been able to take a well known and well loved series of books and films and turn them into something unique, artistic and thrilling. It's new ground for fans of the series, and despite some changes I think fans of the original books and the film series will be impressed. 


For anyone interested here's the short essay I wrote on Lecter.
It's a short essay and was a nightmare to write as I had to cut so much out! It was for a philosophy/cultural studies class to explain the context.

Textual Analysis: A Study Into The Evil of Dr Hannibal Lecter in Silence of The Lambs.

By: Amy Maries. 

One of the most horrifying and influential villains from twentieth century fiction is Thomas Harris’s, Dr Hannibal Lecter. His fame comes from a trilogy of Harris’s books where the sociopath, cannibalistic psychologist is often enlisted to aid the FBI with cases of serial murderers, including that of the second novel Silence of the Lambs. Hannibal is often described as an evil person and a monster; the horror novelist Steven King described Lecter as ‘the great fictional monster of our time’1, but if one examines Harris’s work further one can find parts of Lecter’s character that reinforce ideas from great philosophers of the past whose ideas have shaped how we view evil in terms or morality or psychology. 
Hannibal Lecter acknowledges the evil within him as intrinsic to his nature and part of who he is. When asked what caused him to murder and commit cannibalism by Clarice Starling he replies, 

‘Nothing happened to me, Officer Starling. I happened. You can’t reduce me to a set of influences. You’ve given up good and evil for behaviourism, Officer Starling. You’ve got everybody in moral dignity pants – nothing is ever anybody’s fault.’ (Harris, pg 21)

Immanuel Kant argues differently when he examines evil in his work, Radical Evil in Human Nature. Kant argues first by stating that ‘man is (by nature) either morally good or morally evil’ (Kant, 1960).  Kant argues that there are two types of evil, radical and diabolical evil. In Lecter’s case the idea of radical evil comes into play. This is the evil, which is described as being one of free choice an evil act of ones free will.  Lecter chooses to commit the crimes he does, the reasons for this are not important compared to the consequences the undeniable fact that he murders people and eats them is an act of his own free will. Kant argues that man has the choice, by nature to be ‘morally good or morally evil’ (Kant, 1960). Lecter has chosen to be morally evil and therefore faces the consequences of these actions, which in the novel means he is placed in Baltimore’s Prison for the Criminally Insane under the charge of Dr Chilton. Chilton has interesting things to say about Lecter and he is able to observe that Lecter is ‘a pure sociopath, that obviously what he is. But he’s impenetrable, much too sophisticated for the standard tests.’ (Harris, 1988) Unable to diagnose any mental illness that would directly affect Lecter’s free will and therefore whether the acts of evil he commits are done under his free will there leaves little objection to the fact that Lecter gave in to the darker side of human nature. 
This point of view is also argued in the realm of psychology with the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. Freud, like Kant argues that humans are very much capable of evil acts and he relates this to his observations as a psychiatrist working during the events of the Second World War and the evil atrocities that occurred during that time period. Freud argued that our psyche is driven by two main desires, which he named the life drive and the death drive. The theory of the two drives was developed in Beyond The Pleasure Principle (Freud, 1920), and he argues that the two desires are constantly conflicting with each other. Freud looks at the relationship between pleasure and unpleasure to link to the two drives to explain them. This link can go deeper and look at the concepts of sadomasochism and masochism; this adds Lecter into the equation as in this sense although his crimes are not of a sexual nature he still shows some signs of being a sadist. He must derive pleasure from his evil acts or he would not commit them. When he attacks Officer pembry and boyle he enjoys the acts as he speaks to Pembry before he finally kills him and shows no disgust to the deaths or the manner of the deaths. Nor is it described later that he showed any disgust to the wearing of Pembry’s skin to escape in the ambulance. Therefore to be able to commit these crimes he must have derived some pleasure from the acts.  
Lecter is in control of his actions but he does derive pleasure from these actions, even though they seemingly have no physical effect, after the attacks on the officers although his pulse elevates to over one hundred they quickly slow back to normal.  Fuss argues that ‘Hannibal Lecter acts out the most instinctual and primitive of libidinal impulses coding him within the narrative as yet another dangerous pervert whose sexual desire is sublimated into compulsive acts of aggression identification’ (Fuss, 1995). He goes even further than this arguing that Lecter possesses ‘one of the most serious transgressions against the social prohibition separating the inedible from the edible; the human from the animal’ (Fuss 1995). Lecter is highly sophisticated in this, and generally only kills those he knows who deserve death or those who get in his way, the guards during his escape for example. This allows him to separate his possible victims as Fuss argues into animals and humans, he feels justified in his actions as that he could argue he is acting out the will of the life drive, his survival drive. However, he is giving into his own nature and his own inner aggression (which all of us possess) and acting out with the crimes of murder and cannibalism. 
Most argue that it is the cannibalism that is the defining act that makes Lecter an evil, monstrous person to the eyes of the readers and many critics. Cina and Perper argue that this is because by consuming his victims and occasionally serving them to others he is exercising the greatest control over them; he absorbs them completely in the act of eating them and therefore strips them of everything they have left, including their physical bodies (Cina and Perper 2010). He gives himself an ultimate feeling of power and satisfaction, he is able to take everything from a person, without any consciousness of guilt, and he enjoys his violent nature. It is unclear why Lecter begun committing acts of murder and cannibalism but it is understood in Red Dragon, Harris’s earlier novel, that his sister was murdered and consumed in Lithuania in 1944. Although this may have given the idea of cannibalism to Lecter it does not excuse his actions, as Kant and Freud argue he still had the conscious choice to make and he gave into moral evil and his aggressive subconscious. 
It is this motivation to kill those who stand in his way, his civility and self-control that defines Lecter as one of the most memorable villains in modern literature. Garrett argues that ‘we would like to imagine that people lose control and then do something horrible. But when Lecter escapes from prison by beating his guards to death, he does so deliberately, methodically, to the ever-so-civilised music of Bach’ (Garrett, 2007). Combined with his sociopath nature and his un-nerving ability to read people with direct precision, as he does to Clarice Starling on several occasions, it is no wonder that Lecter is seen as something from a nightmare. But his most unnerving trait is that he is human, he is not a supernatural being that is often related to the word evil, he is not the devil, he is a human being and that is the reality of the evil of the human psyche.  He is the image of what could happen to ourselves if we gave into what Freud would describe as our aggressive and violent desires, and it is this defeat that makes him able to commit evil acts.


  • Cina, SJ & Perper, JA. When Doctors Kill, Springer 2010, pg 195-6. 
  • Freud, S. Beyond the Pleasure Principle, from Penguin Freud Library 11: ON Metapsychology, The Theory of psychoanalysis, Penguin, 1964. Pg 269-339. 
  • Fuss, D. Identification Papers, Routledge, 1995, pg 96-7. 
  • Garrett, G. The Gospel According to Hollywood, Westminster John Knox Press, 2007, pg 71-2. 
  • Goodrich, J. “A Textual Analysis of Dr Hannibal Lecter’s Character and Motivations in Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs”, as printed in Szumsky, B. Dissecting Hannibal Lecter: essays on the novels of Thomas Harris, Mcfarland, 2008, pg 37-47. 
  • Hamilton, G & Jones, B. Encyclopaedia of American Popular Fiction, Infobase Publishing, 2009, pg 324-5. 
  • Harris, T. The Silence of the Lambs, Yazoo Inc, 1988. 
  • Hirschberg, J. Reflections of the Shadow: Creating Memorable Heros and Villians for Film and TV, Michael Wiese Productions, 2009, pg 91. 
  • Kant, E. Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone. Harper Torchbooks, New York, 1960. Pg 15-39.
  • King, S. ‘Hannibal the Cannibal’, New York Times Book Review, 13th June 1999. 
  • Morton, A, On Evil, Routledge, 2004. 
  • Svendsen, L & Pierce, KA, A Philosophy of Evil, Dalkey Archive Press, 2010, pg 22-3. 
  • Winder, R. ‘A Contemporary Dracula’, New Statesman, 21st June 1999. 


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