Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever tasted either, and while I have tasted liver I hated it.
All of which is irrelevant, as the clued in among you will have inferred from the subject header that I’m going to write about the three Hannibal Lecter movies I watched over the course of the weekend just gone.
Red Dragon (2002)
The last made, but first in the sequence. Edward Norton plays Will Graham, an FBI profiler who has a unique ability to get inside the minds of the monsters he hunts down. After nearly dying at the hands of Hannibal ‘the Cannibal’ Lecter, Graham retires, but is guilt tripped back by boss Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel), who desperately needs his help in catching new killer on the block ‘the Tooth Fairy’, a monster who slaughters families in their homes. Only to succeed, Graham must once again confront his nemesis Lecter, who is all too ready to play mind games that place Graham and his family in peril. Directed by Brett Ratner, this is a beautifully constructed thriller, with fine performances from all the cast, especially Anthony Hopkins as the arrogant but beguiling Lecter and Ralph Fiennes in fine form as Francis ‘Tooth Fairy’ Dolarhyde. Repellent as his actions are, Dolarhyde is more sympathetic than Lecter in that he, at least, has the excuse of an easily recognisable psychosis and struggles against his impulses when the love of a good woman is put in his path. Contrarily, the disdainful and ‘superior’ Lecter seems completely devoid of any human emotion, a cold and remorseless killer who is beyond love or pity. He is a highly cultured and intelligent man, but these qualities do not give him any empathy or compassion, they only feed his amorality. For the viewer, Lecter is of interest precisely because of this; he is the antithesis and apotheosis of the serial killer, our nightmares elevated and made flesh, in stark contrast to the very ordinary killers we read of in our newspapers, who are far from superhuman. And this fascination is touched on in the film through the character of tabloid journalist Lounds (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who feeds the public’s appetite for sensationalism, only to have the search for a story end badly, and perhaps in his fate there is a warning for us too.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Jonathan Demme’s film of the Thomas Harris novel is a master class in thriller making, with the Oscars to prove it. The scenario is similar to that of Red Dragon, with new killer ‘Buffalo Bill’ wreaking havoc and rookie FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) sent to solicit help from Hannibal. Everyone is being manipulated. Starling’s superiors use her to get to Hannibal, while Hannibal stage manages events to effect his own escape. We move from one moment of tension to the next effortlessly, the film a smooth running machine, one that operates with such verve that you never question aspects of the plot, even when it descends into the ludicrous, as with Hannibal’s escape. Hopkins’ performance is riveting, the traits of Lecter clearly delineated, all the qualities that I mentioned above, his presence almost mesmeric from our first meeting with the character, but Foster matches Hopkins every step of the way, beauty to his beast, martyr to his monster, but never the victim, never that even when she is victimised. And at the heart of the narrative is a love story of sorts, the protagonists moving from mutual contempt to a grudging respect for each other. Lecter has finally found a person he doesn’t want to kill, and part of that is her unswerving devotion to justice and determination to capture him, regardless of the personal danger. There’s also a feminist subtext, with Starling having to fight for her place in a world that is dominated by men, having to struggle to be treated on an equal footing.
Directed by Ridley Scott, this is the film which sees Hannibal at large, out in the world and no longer using proxies, and yet in a way his menace seems somewhat diluted as a result. Instead of the evil genius who manipulates everyone else, he becomes just another implacable monster, enacting atrocities with all the gusto of a Jason or Michael, only with a larger vocabulary. As the title implies, Lecter is the ‘anti-hero’ of the film, and to make this work he must face even worse enemies – an Italian police detective who wants a reward, a hideously deformed billionaire who has sworn vengeance (an unrecognisable but chilling Gary Oldman). Lecter’s fascination with Starling continues, and is seen by others as an Achilles heel, a way to bring him out into the open. To this end, Starling (played by a feisty Julianne Moore) must have her career with the FBI plunged into ruin, and be cast loose by the organisation she wishes to serve. Lecter and Starling become allies against a common enemy, but at the end of the movie she is the one who stays true to her nature and values, even though betrayed, while it is Lecter, in an uncharacteristic and no doubt quixotic act of self-sacrifice, who concedes defeat of a kind. All of which sets the stage for a chilling codicil.