Hannibal Lecter: Sensitive Old Man
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I recently watched, for the first time, Jonathan Demme's Silence of the Lambs and Ridley Scott's Hannibal. I had previously seen and greatly enjoyed Michael Mann's Manhunter, an earlier film which also stars the character 'Hannibal Lecter' and I suppose I was put off from these later works because of their popular (and rather crass) reputation.

I was eventually prompted to watch these two movies after learning that Peter Greenaway is a massive Ridley Scott fan, and that in particular, he loves Scott's Hannibal. With this I decided that I was overdue. These films obviously have strong cultural importance, and if they're Greenaway endorsed, they must also be brilliant.

One other note before I start, cultural significance. I actually saw a Mikka tweet about David Fincher's The Killer which also got me thinking about "psychopathy" in popular culture and the mass mind. Mikka, claimed to enjoy The Killer but disliked what he perceived as a repetition of the trope of the "mask of sanity". Psychopaths walking among us. This struck me as a misreading of the film. I wrote a reply, and then kept thinking. The Killer is not a film about a fundamentally different type of human being who hides among us. His fundamental difference creating a distance and giving him powers over us. If there is a point to The Killer it is that all Killers depicted are like us. If the titular Killer is different it is only so far as being a bit more intelligent and feeling than everyone else. Dare I say, more sensitive. He does not have deadened senses or sympathies. Instead he explicitly needs to drown out and overpower his senses while carrying out impersonal violence (by listening to The Smiths, sensitivecore...). He practices not notable social manipulation over the course of the film, does not really ever lie, he faces the world as what he is, a brusque, disaffected nerd.

I won't post more about The Killer here, I have elsewhere and could more somewhere else on the forum, but the point is that from here I thought further. 

Where exactly does our popular idea of psychopathy come from? Among other things, in my reply to Mikka I said that the popular idea of psychopathy comes more from Hannibal Lecter like figures, but even he is not a monster in the minds of his creators, and is instead a character more like The Killer. This connection was enough to make me think I really needed to watch these films.

Going in, with only a distant awareness of the character, I've already picked up on the notion that he's a better class of person than exists in the mass mind.

Silence of the Lambs, like Manhunter before it, is a kind of procedural police thriller. Manhunter is credited with lending heavy inspiration to the 'CSI' premise. Probably the show wouldn't have been possible without it. Manhunter is sterile, detached, emphasises technology and forensics. Silence of the Lambs feels like a far more intelligent episode of 'Criminal Minds'. It's about people, it's dirtier and closer-up. Everything reveals more mind and character. Nothing is detached or impersonal. The film is the opposite of sterile.

The premise of the film is ostensibly about catching a killer before he kills his next victim. But the killer is not particularly fleshed out. He is a practical problem to be solved, not even a personal one. His life history and distinct characteristics only matter as far as hints of them may lead to him and allow him to be stopped. What the film is really about is the relationship between Clarice Starling, a young, very gifted and sensitive FBI trainee, and Hannibal Lecter, an old, brilliant psychologist, imprisoned in an asylum basement for crimes of extraordinary violence.

Hannibal is an exceptionally cultured, sensitive, and intelligent man. He is also a murderer and cannibal. A crime which was eventually discovered by a talented fellow psychologist. Hannibal's failure to defend himself or escape from his discovery led to his lifelong imprisonment and punishment. Something which is more implied in this film and really demonstrated in Hannibal is that his crimes were an extension of his full and cultured existence. A kind of disdainful pruning of intolerably rude, low, and unworthy elements of society which happened into his life. With partial cannibalisation of bodies being a gesture of disdain. Always done with class. He would creatively work those he killed into fine meals which he would enjoy to the fullest.

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Here's how he first appears to the protagonist. 

His cell is as nice as he can make it. He keeps clean, and enjoys what little pleasures and expression he is allowed. He draws the subjects of his interests in charcoal on soft paper. Architecture, mythology, portraits. He is able to bring a measure of cultivation to rather brutal circumstances. He is surrounded by walls of stone, like a dungeon. The other men in his wing of the asylum seem dreary and unoccupied, by comparison. And in one case violently insane and aggressive.

Some might take the stiff, formal stance in a plain room to be unsettling. Some sign of psychopathy or evil (monsters like uncomfortable formality?). I think that especially with Scott's 'Hannibal' in mind this can be taken another way. His formality is a deliberate gesture towards Clarice which means exactly that. His intentions are civil and professional. The man is a doctor, Clarice is a student (still, technically), and wants to consult with him on a professional manner. He is preparing to greet a student for a lecture. And beyond that he's excited. Excited because he's been trapped in a dungeon surrounded by dullards and insane people for eight years.

His behaviour towards Clarice might be seen as needlessly creepy, and some might take this for hostility. Hostility is present but not pointlessly so. He is testing her. Testing her to see if, and then later because he thinks she is an exceptional person. He wishes her no harm for its own sake. Through prompting and challenging he hopes learn about Clarice. And eventually to teach her. To teach Clarice that she is already equipped to catch the murderer, like a good teacher. When Clarice experiences a disturbing encounter with one of Hannibal's fellow inmates he immediately drops any hostility or stand off and apologises and helps her. These are his real feelings towards Clarice. Immediate concern and support. 

Hannibal became a killer because of his extraordinary disdain for what is low in humanity, but he is not just a seething mass of contempt and hate. He has a stronger capacity to appreciate all of humanity. He is more struck by the disgusting and unworthy in people, but he is also far more sensitive to and appreciative of what is high and worthy. Clarice Starling came from a low place in life and has struggled to rise higher. She is recognised and appreciated to some extent. She is respected by her superior in the FBI, has friends, for now. Clarice is anxious about her background as an impoverished and orphaned redneck. Doesn't want to be seen that way. Strives upwards to escape and hide from that. Hannibal can deduce all of this within their first meeting. And he doesn't pass negative judgement upon her. He sees. This is him completing his picture of her. Appreciating. If anything he sees and makes the most truly positive judgement of her she ever receives in her life. He sees more than anybody else and approves.

When dealing with people he pokes hard, to the point of clear cruelty in certain cases, be he is probing. He is searching out the humanity of everyone around him. If nothing comes of this it remains mere cruelty, but Clarice proved up to this test.

I'll note here that I consider this particular characterisation of Hannibal Lecter to be its own "canon" which consists of two films. The character was played by Brian Cox in Manhunter, which came before this. But the character's name was spelled differently and I believe that this film was made with the intention of being a start from zero, with Hannibal conceived as a sequel and completion. Manhunter was then retroactively remade with Anthony Hopkins as 'Red Dragon', but I believe that this attempt at realigning with the Hannibal of the novels actually somewhat clashed with the characterisation of the prior two films. There is also the television series which I haven't seen in which Hannibal is played by Mads Mikkelsen. I do not believe that there is a right or true characterisation, I believe that they are all different visions. And I am currently concerned with one of those, which I believe was expressed to completion through two films.

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Hannibal's other important relationship in Silence of the Lambs is to Chilton, his keeper. Chilton is the director of the sanitorium in which Lecter is imprisoned. And he is a relatively dull, rude, and spiteful man. When he enters the film he makes awkward advances upon Clarice which are quickly shut down, and is constantly displaying low and embarrassing behaviour whenever he is on screen. He envies Clarice for being able to make any kind of meaningful contact or progress in a relationship with Lecter, and subjects Lecter to petty acts of sensory torture in addition to his constant deprivation whenever he can find an excuse. This is not a good man. We do not want him to succeed in anything he is doing. My point in raising this character, and I believe his purpose in the film, is that he is a clear example of what a low human being looks like. He is what these people put on screen as a picture of an unsympathetic man. And his position is direct opposition to Lecter. This man has power over Lecter, and society has charged him with containing (and unofficially, giving consent via neglect, punishing and torturing) him. But he is not better than him. Chilton has power over a greater man than himself and treats him with spiteful cruelty. This suggests to me an obvious sympathy with Lector on the part of the film's creators. A clear justifying incident for a greater man's misanthropy and elitism. A tendency which reaches a far greater expression in the next film.

In Silence of the Lambs we see Hannibal as a superior man in a cage. Stifled and deprived, taking what pleasures he can, often in very cruel forms. In Ridley Scott's Hannibal we see the man free and in his element.

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No more stone cells. No more deprivation. Hannibal is in Italy, surrounded by art, beauty, culture, and fine things. He is dressed brilliantly. He is respected by the people he meets. He fills his days richly and productively, working his way towards a job as a museum curator (nobody knows what happened to the last one...), as one friend put it, this depiction of advanced age may be one of the only ones which makes the state look potentially appealing.

Since escaping from imprisonment in the last film he has achieved his ideal life. A life which falls somewhere between that of Peter Greenaway and Kinzo Ushiromiya. He even dresses like Greenaway in this film (or did Greenaway start dressing like Hannibal Lecter after seeing it?). Again, remember how this all started, is this the "mask of sanity"? It looks to me like a brilliant life, sincerely enjoyed, by a brilliant man. A brilliant man who unpleasant, corrupt, rude, or maybe just somewhat unlucky people sometimes come into contact with briefly before disappearing.

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I believe that it is possible to find this man horrifying or disgusting. Some kind of monster or "thing" (as he is referred to in the first film by one victim of his taunting), but I sympathise and admire him. Not only do I sympathise, I believe that, again, the creators of this film do too. Let's talk about that. It's called media literacy, I believe.

I deliberately used a picture of SIR Ridley Scott on set with Anthony Hopkins above. This is his film. Yes, he is adapting a novel. But SIR Ridley Scott has an extremely strong record of only using source material as far as it interests him and always working towards his own visions (unless he truly doesn't care and is just doing a cash-movie, like The Martian). A brief reading over of the production history suggests that many of the key figures involved in the production of the last film were put off by the severity and horror of the sequel novel, while Scott appears to have loved the premise from the start.

Quote:Demme declined the invitation to direct,[sup][7][/sup] as he reportedly found the material lurid[sup][12][/sup] and too gory.[sup][13[/sup]

[...]'I can't do this.'"[sup][14][/sup] De Laurentiis said of Demme's decision to decline: "When the pope dies, we create a new pope. Good luck to Jonathan Demme. Good-bye."[sup][8][/sup] He later said that Demme felt he could not make a sequel as good as The Silence of the Lambs.[sup][15]

[/sup]De Laurentiis visited Ridley Scott on the set of Gladiator and suggested he direct Hannibal.[sup][15][/sup] Scott, who was conducting principal photography on Gladiator, thought De Laurentiis was speaking about the Carthaginian general and replied: "Dino, I'm doing a Roman epic right now. I don't wanna do elephants coming over the Alps next, old boy."[sup][7][/sup]

Now Scott actually took a few similar issues with the plot of the novel and did change a couple of things, but I believe he had a clear fascination with the character of Hannibal.

Quote:Scott read the manuscript in four sittings within a week, seeing it as a "symphony", and expressed his desire to direct.[sup][7][/sup] He said: "I haven't read anything so fast since The Godfather. It was so rich in all kinds of ways."[sup][10][/sup]

If you think about his career for a moment I think that it's clear that Scott has a fascination with these questions of superior and higher life.

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It may feel a stretch to some of you, but I see clear echoes of Hannibal Lecter in Ridley Scott's later original character of David the android (another character I greatly enjoyed and found extremely sympathetic). Similar dynamics playing out when he speaks to people. A similar perspective and outlook. And, I believe, Ridley Scott is on their sides in their respective films.

In Silence of the Lambs Lecter can be contrasted with the dull and deranged pervert serial killer the FBI are after, and the corrupt bureaucrat who tortures him. In Hannibal Scott opens with this.

Clarice Starling is hunting a drug lord. A woman in animal print clothing who uses her own infant child as a human shield in a violent confrontation with authorities. These are the forces that Clarice finds herself aligned against since the events of Silence of the Lambs. Her job mostly involves dealing with brutally low elements of society. She has given her whole life to service in the way only a somewhat pathologically motivated idealist can. And in turn society has treated her rather poorly. Within the FBI she is resented, sabotaged, and abused by peers and superiors, culminating with the events of the preceding clip being held against her and almost losing her job.

Clarice's life of service taken to a neurotic extreme has turned society against her. While Hannibal's consistent Godlike contempt for the world around him has finally won him a beautiful existence.

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This is a very violent film, with many ugly elements. Some of which is carried out by Hannibal. But I believe very strongly that Hannibal is not intended to be an ugly character. In the minds of his creators he is a high and fine natured man, whose fineness rather than refining him out into a glassy delicacy, instead distills his spirit into that of a human apex predator. The drug lord (or drug lady?) at the start of the film wears animal print. But specifically, Zebra Print. There is something animalistic to the low violence of the black American underclass, but they are not apex creatures. They are low. Their violence is chaotic and feral, and easily put down despite carrying out much destruction along the way. The dynamics are completely different to those between Hannibal and his victims. When Clarice talks to the drug lord it's like she's begging an animal not to pounce. She doesn't want to put her down. Whenever anybody is talking to Hannibal it's more like suddenly they're suddenly placed in a room with a tiger. Nobody is superior to Hannibal. Nobody can talk down to him. Nobody can claim to know what's best for him.

This is my interpretation of the films. One I'm not alone in. I've discussed this film a little with friends who share this view. We are not alone, but we are not the interpretation of Hannibal Lecter. Try a quick google image search. You'll be met with glowing eyes, Drug Dealer Kitsch Art in which he's depicted as a Joker-Like lunatic covered in blood, blog articles about the psychopath with the veneer of civility. While looking around I think I found one that will serve as a good case study for the opposing reading.


First point I'll make, this guy takes it as a matter of course that we should read all Hannibal films starring Anthony Hopkins as one character's journey, and a failure for them to fit together as one characterisation should be taken as an artistic failure. I disagree, as these are three different films made by three different artists. And Scott in particular is famous (or infamous) for his disregard for sources, accuracy, tradition, or canon in assembling his own films. As I've said before, I think Hannibal should be taken as a character who exists in popular culture aether, one of whose primal adventures Scott made a film from.

Now, as for what this blogger says. I want to show you. Not so much because I want to call any of this wrong, but just to show you how differently one can take all of this. (unfortunately a lot of this post uses a kind of implied canon as an authority. We'll just disregard any point where he says continuity with Red Dragon is important)

Quote:However, I think there’s something more to it than that. Watching The Silence of the Lambs again, I was  actually struck by how incredibly sinister Lecter was. It seems a bit redundant to describe a serial killing cannibal as “sinister”, but I am not just referring to his brutal attack on his two guards. As portrayed by Hopkins, with all the skill and grace of a charming social climber, Lecter is repeatedly shown to be petty and vindictive. The wit and the manners belie a more petulant interior, and I suspect that it’s something that got lost in the sequels, as the audience (and the film-makers) get swept up in his charm, losing sight of the fact it’s just a cover.

Much to cover here. "Sinister". Perhaps. Again, I think he's like a tiger. A tiger can be very sinister, especially if you can imagine him eating you. Personally, when i imagine an encounter with Lecter I imagine discussing film with him. I bet he has great taste.

Now, as for the next point. His charm. Again, this is the "mask of sanity" implication, which I disagree with. There is an implication that Lector practices some kind of advanced Dale Carnegie mindrape on people or something when we use terms like "social climber". But as I said about The Killer, if this character has a point, it is clearly that his charm is an organic manifestation of his character and intelligence, as are his extraordinary acts of violence. And in this particular case, also his petty and vindictive moments. He is a man of extraordinary intelligence and depth who lives his life to the fullest. He does not sit in or repress his feelings. He is not a typical refined character of an advanced society. He is an apex predator. Allow me to briefly lead us away from this blog to something very funny I found while reading the subtitles of images on google.

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I'm not the only one who sees this. The Mary Sue thought they had a retarded joke to undermine a cool male character (who they actually like a lot, because they're retarded women. They all want to destroy the nice things they like), but they're onto something far deeper. Hannibal is a sophisticated aesthete, but relatively free of day to day neurosis. I wonder if Frasier and Niles might have retained their hair if they resolved their misadventures by killing their antagonists. The show is constantly playing off of their fussy, extremely uptight, prim and proper neurosis. Something which we take for granted going hand in hand with their sophistication, but what if there was another path? If they just ate people maybe they'd be cooler?

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Now back to the blog, as I was saying, I take issue with the suggestion that Lecter's sophistication is just a cover. Lecter is sophisticated. But what someone more normal might struggle to get is that sophistication can lead one away from civility and into extremes.

Quote:When people think of Lecter as Hopkins, they hear the neutral and polite voice. They remember Clarice dismissing the idea that he’d come after her as “rude”, acknowledging that the character – for all his brutality and violence – has some measure of civility. “He only eats the rude,” we’re told at one point during Hannibal, as if that polite and charming exterior has become the sum total of Lecter’s character. Certainly, anything we see in Hannibal and Hannibal Rising supports that assumption. The problem is that The Silence of the Lambs (and Red Dragon) rather skilfully suggest that it’s a lie Lecter sells.
Again, Red Dragon was made after Hannibal by someone else, so strike it out. Doesn't exist in the mind of Ridley Scott while he's making Hannibal. Moving on, I still disagree. Again, the idea that there is some fundamental lie in Lecter's nature I believe is a misreading which stems from the assumption that sophistication could not lead a man to contempt or violence. I disagree.

Quote:Don’t get me wrong, Lecter is quite brilliant. Throughout The Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon, he has an uncanny understanding of how human psychology works. He is most certainly not your typical movie serial killer. However, Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs is very careful to make it clear that Lecter is more than just the outward appearance of civility. He is certainly smarter and more well-read than those around him, but that doesn’t mean the character is as emotionally mature as that might suggest. He is very clearly not an “anti-hero” here, as he would become in later films. He’s an outright villain.
Now we're getting somewhere. He is smarter than everyone else, more learned. Is a brilliant psychologist (meaning he has a richer understanding of the human mind than everyone else), but this blogger has him. He is not "emotionally mature". Not emotionally mature. "Petulant" I believe came up before. This is not a novel reading of the character. Brian Cox, the first man to portray Hannibal Lecktor on screen, was told to play him with the manners of a private schoolboy by director Michael Mann. Cox had a sort of revelation in response to this and based his performance on his 15 year old son. Of course you all know how I feel about youth.

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The Forum's Party Line remains that teenage sociopaths should rule the world.

Again, if these people look at Hannibal and see a kind of cruel, arrogant, adolescent conceitedness, they are not disagreeing with what I am seeing. The disagreement is in our judgement of what we are seeing. It comes down to values and how we see humanity.

Quote:(There’s a wonderful moment in the sequence, as Lecter brutally beats his guard with a stick. It’s the one moment where Anthony Hopkins allows the character’s veneer to slip completely, as he relishes the brutality, savouring every blow. In that moment, Demme and Hopkins dismiss the romantic fantasy that Lecter is anything resembling a gentleman, despite what he might try to convince people. It’s a shame that the follow-up films never manage to do anything quite like that – and instead embrace the romantic fantasy wholesale.)

If you ask me, the idea of a gentleman who is capable of brutal violence is a far more romantic fantasy than whatever this guy probably pictures when he hears the term. If you disagree and think this is an insane idiosyncratic weirdo opinion of mine please scroll back up to the image of the fujo girl asking Madds Mikkelsen to choke her for the camera and contemplate that for a few moments.

I would not deny the violence of Hannibal Lecter's brilliant escape sequence, but I disagree that it is any kind of revelation regarding his character or clashes with his expressed or revealed self up to that point in the film, or what we see in Scott's Hannibal. Again, I see Lecter as a tiger of a man. Tigers are brilliant and beautiful, and what do you think happens to you if you stand between one and freedom? Even if you've been perfectly nice to it up to this point? Lecter is an intellectual and an aesthete who has been living in a dungeon tortured by a dull mediocrity for eight years. He is getting out. And he is probably going to enjoy getting out. He is going to enjoy exercising power over people again. He is going to enjoy climbing his way back to his rightful place at the top of the human food chain.

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This man does not belong in a cage. This man does not belong in a mask. He belongs on top of the world. He belongs in a centre of culture. He belongs wherever he wants. Look at the above image. Do you see a restrained monster, or a crime against the human spirit? If you're not sure, please watch these films and then get back to me. I have come to feel quite passionate about this.

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Shouldn't an appreciation of the world entitle one to it?
I blinked when I saw this thread, as I wanted to discuss both Hannibal Lecter and Thomas Harris himself ever since I discovered Amarna. I could write a whole thesis paper on these topics, but I'll cut to the heart of my fascination with the author's novels.

To avoid completely sidestepping the OP, I agree with your points on Lecter, but would like to address the other killers in the stories.

You quote a post mentioning Hannibal Lecter's uncanny understanding of human psychology. Although the films aren't carbon copies, this is largely a result of the source material. And because an author can only write a character as intelligent as they're capable of imagining, this means Harris has that uncanny understanding.

Despite the Hannibal Lecter novels being published decades ago, they provide timeless insights into modern male psychology. I've never read a writer who so thoroughly understood men's minds, it's the sort of thing I'm only used to seeing here.

You once referred to people with a strong desire for self-improvement as afflicted by "tranny ideology," regardless of any actual transsexual leanings. When I saw this, I was immediately reminded of Red Dragon's Francis Dolarhyde, a character I've found speaks to many men with childhoods similar to his. It's a portrait of repression, something more common with every passing year.

But Jame Gumb, the literal transsexual, remains a far more common type in our present day. As you mention, he's hardly given life in his film, although shots of his home contain references to his deeper person featured in the novel.

Quote:Hannibal Lecter:
Billy is not a real trans-sexual, but he thinks he is. He tries to be. He's tried to be a lot of things, I expect.

Clarice Starling:
And you said that I was very close to the way we would catch him. What did you mean, doctor?

Hannibal Lecter:
There are three major centers for trans-sexual surgery: Johns Hopkins, the University of Minnesota, and Columbus Medical Center. I wouldn't be surprised if Billy had applied for sex reassignment at one or all of them, and been rejected.

Clarice Starling:
On what basis would they reject him?

Hannibal Lecter:
Look for severe childhood disturbances associated with violence. Our Billy wasn't born a criminal, Clarice. He was made one through years of systematic abuse. Billy hates his own identity, you see, and he thinks that makes him a trans-sexual. But his pathology is a thousand times more savage and more terrifying.

I'll respect Amarnites' intelligence and assume I don't have to draw the parallels between this character and the internet-corrupted hordes of our time. He undergoes phases from Christianity to Nazism to Atheists turned TradCaths, troons proper, etc. Gumb's motif of moth metamorphosis is also an interesting comparison to Dolarhyde's obsession with "becoming." That the novel was published in 1988 makes the archetype all the more impressively outlined.

In short, the books are recommended reading.
The "mask of sanity" thing is from Cleckley's book on psychopathy, which might be worth its own examination. He did speculate that psychopathy may be much more widespread than is understood, but his main point was that psychopathy seems to be defined by the absence of any internal personality structure, moral conscience, or coherent value system. Often "psychopaths" are of above-average intelligence and have a confusing history of behavior that includes social "skill" alongside petty anti-social crime, sadism, etc.

Cleckley's description of at least this type of psychopath is relatively accurate (just look at a profile of many serial killers, like e.g. Lawrence Bittaker), but he lacks the conceptual tools to understand the nature of the phenomena. He can only hypothesize that this must be due to some kind of neurodevelopmental issue that prevents the brain of psychopaths from forming stable meaning-structures. I think Ludwig Klages had the better understanding, namely that this kind of "insanity" is not merely some defective absence of personality, but the vital soul being completely hollowed out or replaced by spiritual/social deformity. These individuals don't really have an inner life to speak of. Not because their inner life can't be contained in an ego, but because the content of their ego is purely received or derivative (hence this would have been regarded as a kind of "possession," in a different time). They don't need to inhibit their inner thoughts/feelings, because they don't really have thoughts or feelings of their own. For this reason they may also seem to be more keenly attuned to the world (I think this accounts for the above-average "intelligence," as well). Naturally it is foolish to think that one could comprehend this in terms of an individual, or their life-history. 

I am reminded of the description of Gilles de Rais (15th century mass-murderer of children) in Fanged Noumena. Here Bataille is quoted:

Bataille Wrote:His crimes responded to the immense disorder which inflamed him, and in which he was lost. We even know, by means of the criminal's confession, which the scribes of the court copied down whilst listening to him, that it was not pleasure that was essential. Certainly he sat astride the chest of the victim and in that fashion, playing with himself [se maniant], he would spill his sperm upon the dying one; but what was important to him was less sexual enjoyment than the vision of death at work. He loved to look: opening a body, cutting a throat, detaching limbs, he loved the sight of blood.

Land says later:

Land Wrote:There is a virtual inanity to Gilles's aberration, therefore, which is attested by the fact that it is not the taste or smell of death that he seeks, but its sight, or representation ... Death has no representatives, which is to say that crime has no real subject. There is only the sad wreck whom Nietzsche calls 'the pale criminal', de Rais at his trial for instance, terrified of Satan, separated from his crimes by an unnavigable gulf of oblivion.

This kind of sadistic killer can't really say why they are obsessed with death; it is simply the shadow of the normal psyche, obsessed with the preservation of life for its own sake. If made to answer for their actions, they have nothing interesting to say, or might suddenly seem to be pitiful or apologetic.

I mention this because it presents an even starker contrast with someone like Hannibal Lector. As you say, even in captivity he maintains his own superiority and taste. It isn't a "mask of sanity," his violence and joie de vivre are all simply consummated together within a higher individual nature. I would think that most people can intuitively sense that Lector is of a higher nature than Buffalo Bill, but they can't/won't make the rational or moral distinction.
I plan on returning to this thread after (hopefully) watching Hannibal tonight. I began reading the novel out of curiosity and had some thoughts about these two excerpts above:

anthony Wrote:She has given her whole life to service in the way only a somewhat pathologically motivated idealist can. And in turn society has treated her rather poorly. Within the FBI she is resented, sabotaged, and abused by peers and superiors, culminating with the events of the preceding clip being held against her and almost losing her job
anthony Wrote:Hannibal's other important relationship in Silence of the Lambs is to Chilton, his keeper. Chilton is the director of the sanitorium in which Lecter is imprisoned. And he is a relatively dull, rude, and spiteful man. When he enters the film he makes awkward advances upon Clarice which are quickly shut down, and is constantly displaying low and embarrassing behaviour whenever he is on screen. He envies Clarice for being able to make any kind of meaningful contact or progress in a relationship with Lecter, and subjects Lecter to petty acts of sensory torture in addition to his constant deprivation whenever he can find an excuse. This is not a good man. We do not want him to succeed in anything he is doing. My point in raising this character, and I believe his purpose in the film, is that he is a clear example of what a low human being looks like.

There's an interesting excerpt around the beginning of the Hannibal novel that attributes the characteristic of predation to a character named Paul Krendler. Since Starling is an example of a misguided idealist, the natural opposite is a striver hellbent on ruining her career; this is the sole motivation, so far as we can see at this point. When Starling is brought in to discuss the beginning shootout, this is how the meeting ends one Starling leaves:

Quote:None of them looked at Starling as they left, except Krendler. Moving toward the door, sliding his feet so he would not have to look where he was going, he used the extreme articulation of his long neck to turn his face to her, as a hyena would shuffle at the fringe of a herd, peering in at a candidate. Mixed hungers crossed his face; it was Krendler's nature to both appreciate Starling's leg and look for the hamstring.

We may make a comfortable comparison here to an earlier character in Harris's book Red Dragon, where the sleazy reporter Freddy Lounds tends to follow Will Graham around for similar reasons. In the developing Tooth Fairy case, Lounds has an intrusive interest in Will Graham's weaknesses, often publishing whatever information he can find on him. Here's a description of Lounds in Red Dragon:

Quote:Lounds was a pariah to them because he had taken a different faith. Had he been incompetent, a fool with no other resource, the veterans of the straight press could have forgiven him for working on the Tattler, as one forgives a retarded geek. But Lounds was good. He had the qualities of a good reporter—intelligence, guts, and the good eye. He had great energy and patience. Against him were the fact that he was obnoxious and therefore disliked by news executives, and his inability to keep himself out of his stories.

In Lounds was the longing need to be noticed that is often miscalled ego. Lounds was lumpy and ugly and small. He had buck teeth and his rat eyes had the sheen of spit on asphalt.

These lowly characters are best described as deformed social creatures, not unlike the ones who impede the work of Howard Roarke in The Fountainhead. The disease does not come purely from their pursuit of opportunity or self-interest, it is that they are unable to understand what spans beyond them; it is an impoverishment of soul that leads them into their position, and naturally, resentment will follow. No matter the social heights that a Krendler or a Lounds reach, they are incapable of appreciating valuable things (as Lecter does). The existence of Hannibal Lecter to them is a sensational occurrence, something that exists only in tabloid magazines or in true crime reportage, but anything deeper than that evades them. This can very well tie into something else that happens in Red Dragon, which is that Lounds meets Francis Dolarhyde. Lounds is described as being high before Francis Dolarhyde kidnaps him, and though Dolarhyde is representative of another kind of distorted character, one gets the impression that even this might be better than being a lowly tabloid writer. As Dolarhyde says to Lounds:

Quote:You said that I, who see more than you, am insane.

I, who pushed the world so much further than you, am insane. I have dared more than you, I have pressed my unique seal so much deeper in the earth, where it will last longer than your dust. Your life to mine is a slug track on stone. A thin silver mucus track in and out of the letters on my monument.
Your readers follow you like a child follows a slug track with his finger, and in the same tired loops of reason. Back to your shallow skull and potato face as a slug follows his own slime back home..
It is in your nature to do one thing correctly: Before Me you rightly tremble. Fear is not what you owe Me, Lounds, you and the other pismires. You owe Me awe.”

Though Dolarhyde sees himself as a superior individual, his own thoughts regarding Lecter are a subtle recognition of his comparative inferiority. Dolarhyde sees himself as an "avid fan" of Lecter, and his letter is described as being "diffident and shy". We do not receive much information about what Lecter actually thinks about Dolarhyde beyond Lecter calling him his pilgrim. Dolarhyde cannot be deemed as sophisticated as Lecter but it is evident that he has a developed understanding of what makes Lecter superior.

Quote:In Dolarhyde’s mind, Lecter’s likeness should be the dark portrait of a Renaissance prince. For Lecter, alone among all men, might have the sensitivity and experience to understand the glory, the majesty of Dolarhyde’s Becoming.

The world of Thomas Harris's novels is one where intelligence exists but the process of cultivation is tampered. Lecter openly states that Will Graham is similar to him, and a description of both Dolarhyde's and Starling's backgrounds reveal that both came from lowly circumstances but were able to carve out paths of their own: Starling as the idealist, Dolarhyde as a criminal preoccupied with his own aesthetic fancies. The strivers possess intelligence only to achieve some measure of success but their cultivation is almost nonexistent, being artless individuals who feel hatred for anyone noticeably better. Yet one cannot escape the realization that, out of this dramatis personae of the novels, Lecter is the most cultivated character.

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