Iconic Characters: Hannibal Lecter


Iconic Characters by Catey Hurren.

Tonight’s Menu: Hannibal Lecter.


This culinarian sociopath has graced his presence among numerous countdowns as one of the most memorable villains in cinema and literature. Thomas Harris’ creation of the flesh thirsty doctor has been embodied by several actors channelling adaptations of Harris’ novels: Manhunter (1986), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Hannibal (2001), Red Dragon (2002), Hannibal Rising (2007) and most recently in NBC’s controversial television series Hannibal (2013), which concluded its first season in late June.

Unlike your traditional villain, Dr Lecter is impeccably cultured and sophisticated despite his vicious tendencies. He’s a serial killer with a refined method and standard, he kills those who exhibit poor taste or bad manners, for fine taste and good manners are considered both an obsession and a compulsion to him. A victim of his is usually morally repulsive such as a paedophile, a rapist or a fellow murderer, but others are unfortunate enough to find themselves as the subject of upsetting or insulting the doctor’s high expectation of one’s personal candour. Despite this cordial and refined personality, Hannibal is a sadistic killer who derives great pleasure and amusement from killing his victims. He will often turn parts of their flesh into culinary art, proudly shares his creation at his popular dinner parties with esteemed colleagues and acquaintances.

Visions of this character have been played out like an exquisite menu of cuisine; each actor offers a selection, measurement and combination of ingredients in a personally designed procedure that has leapt off the pages and served as a diverse four course meal, each dish accompanied by a taste that is to be sampled and savoured.

  • The Appetizer ““ Gaspard Ulliel


French actor Gaspard Ulliel as a young Hannibal Lecter in Hannibal Rising doesn’t make a lasting impression. His performance and interpretation of the character is the hors d’oeuvre passed around during cocktail hour that most wave away as to not disturb the main course. It’s the small bread roll paired with a small slab of margarine or the luxurious caviar spoiled by a stale wafer crisp. This film was long awaited and an underwhelming final instalment. This origin story was proposed as the answer to the question on everybody’s lips: who really is Hannibal the Cannibal? Ulliel approached the role nervously which translates onto the screen; intimidated by Hopkins’ shadow looming over every scene and feeling pressured to live up to a certain expectation from a dedicated audience proved to be his undoing. Ulliel gave no indication that there was a mastermind in the works during this film. Hannibal is haunted by the murder of his sister and his emotions take control and turn him into a vigilante-esque killer who acts solely on impulse, a far and distant picture of the patient perfectionist we know today. An important part of the story and meal no less, it readies the stomach for what is to come but too much of it can spoil the rest of your evening.

  • The Entree ““ Brian Cox


Brian Cox in Manhunter is often a forgotten performance but a delicious teaser none the less; the dish that is overlooked in anticipation for the main attraction, the entree. Cox’s performance is the crisp green salad or the rich full bodied soup of interpretations and luckily for him, he was the first to take the pages and bring Harris’ secondary antagonist onto a small window of screen time. Being a classically trained British actor, Cox had no difficulty giving Hannibal Lecktor (note the change in spelling for legal reasons) the refined and cultured disposition that Harris bore the character with in the initial novels. From the defined vocal delivery and tone to the delightfully child-like mischief maker behaviour, Brian mastered the scene stealing approach. Introduced laying on his bed in his stark cell, feet relaxed on the wall like a kid leaning back on his chair, to hijacking a routine telephone call by effortlessly dismantling the wires and obtaining his nemesis’ contact details without so much as a blink. From the first bite, to what seems like seconds later, you are left with an empty plate and begging for more.

  • The Main Course ““ Anthony Hopkins

This film has been named to the 2011 National Film Registry by the Librarian of Congress.

Backs are straightened, the table is hushed and the pièce de résistance has arrived, Sir Anthony Hopkins takes the reins in a paramount performance. This is the roasted medieval pig laid out on display surrounded by juicy marinated vegetables and salad on the finest silver, a shiny red apple resting in the snout. The room erupts in applause over the achievement. An interpretation so inspiring, that for only 16 minutes of screen time in a 118 minute picture, Hopkins received the Best Actor Academy Award in 1991 for his work in Silence of the Lambs opposite fellow winner Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling. Hopkins’ Hannibal took the cold blooded and calculated candour to another level. Standing perfectly still in the navy jumpsuit, piercing blue irises poised and slight snigger has stood the test of time as being one of the most memorable moments in cinematic history. The trade-mark hiss was actually ad-libbed by Hopkins as a joke between cast members to creep them out, but the expression became so synonymous with the character that it made it into the final edit. The final bites ensue and the plates are cleared, there is nothing to do but to push your chair back, exhale and unclasp several buttons and zips.

  • The Dessert ““ Mads Mikkelson


The coffee is brewed, the fruit is plucked, the cheese is sliced and the ice cream is served. It is time for the cleansing of the palette and for the sickly sweet taste of Hannibal in his prime as a practicing psychiatrist and an undiscovered killer. Played by Mads Mikkelson in the acclaimed series Hannibal, we see our beloved character become something entirely different from Hannibal the Cannibal. He becomes Lucifer, a fallen angel with an affinity for mankind and an intrigue into the human condition. We still get a sense of Hannibal peacefully revoking people’s places in society when they are disrespectful or disgraceful, which really lies at the core of the character, but there are opportunities to dissect him and really tap into what kind of crazy Hannibal is. In this series he experiences regret and empathy towards other characters particularly towards Will Graham (played by Hugh Dancy). This relationship defines his unique psychosis a little clearer. Bryan Fuller, the creator of the show, is determined to cleanse the audiences’ palette of Lecter’s fleshy repertoire and to indulge in the devil’s dessert.


A comfortable stillness surrounds you, rich aromas waft around the room and the final clink of brandy glasses celebrate. There is neither a favourite nor a complaint, just praise, for what was brought together to create a monster of a meal. Bon Appétit.


– C.H.