On March 30th, 1992, Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar for Best Actor and a leading role for his portrayal of dr. Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs,” and this shouldn’t be a surprise. Hopkins is one of the greatest screen actors of all time, and his role in “The Silence of the Lambs” is one of the finest and most iconic performances in the history of motion pictures. What makes Lecter such a great character comes from the writing of Ted Tally, Jonathan Demi’s direction, and of course, Hopkins’s fantastic performance.

Hannibal Lecter is portrayed as the perfect villain. He is shown as a genius cannibal, but he is so much more. He is both genius and a madman. Someone with an excellent understanding of human behavior, yet someone who no other human can understand. He can be compassionate, a humanitarian, and a good man, locked in that insane mind of his.

His image in “The Silence of the Lambs” goes in two directions. At once, he is the controversial mentor. He guides Clarice Sterling on the way to catching the protagonist Buffalo Bill and becoming an agent. He shows compassion and genuine interest while at the same time manipulating and using her. It is difficult to determine where his back thoughts end and where his interest in Clarice begins. However, throughout the whole movie, he is there, and his lingering presence is with Clarice the entire time. She is going after what he’s given her. She listens to him, and he is her supporting figure.

Hannibal Lecter character

On the other hand, Hannibal Lecter becomes the protagonist in his own story as he tries to escape captivity. Whether or not you root for him is up to you but what is undeniable is that there is a much smaller story with a beginning, middle, and an end within the larger one. This unique fit into an otherwise conventional narrative puts the audience in an extraordinary state of nervousness. Hannibal Lecter makes us nervous. 

We’re familiar with how stories are told, and Hannibal’s story breaks the rules. Lecter doesn’t seem to fit anywhere, and that’s just one example of it. The way that his character is a part of the story structure is also unique. He has a presence that has felt much more than it is seen, and this comes from how he interacts with Clarice in the first half of the film. He has in total three interactions with her, and the direct result of these interactions is Clarice solving the case.

Hannibal manages to create a storyline for himself with his individual goals while at the same time being the backbone for Clarice’s Clarice’s investigation.

Clarice's Clarice's investigation

However, what is really intriguing about him is not so much his presence, as is his motivation to do the things he does. The escape from prison has an apparent reason, but we never get to know why he is helping Clarice and why he does it through manipulation and mockery. His clear interest in her makes him compassionate towards her problems. He sees her savior complex, he is capable of analyzing her whole personality, and he is still interested in entertaining her presence in his life.

The other big part of Hannibal’s Hannibal’s character is the cannibalistic side of him. We, as viewers, can never understand his urges completely to kill and eat his victims. A lot of his reasoning within the movie is speculated to originate in his childhood. His cannibalism is a way to rid himself of the horrors of his childhood traumas.

Nonetheless, Hannibal remains an enigmatic character. The fine line between his genius and madness makes him exciting and even loved by some. Despite his stereotypical image of the villain, he has shown qualities that give his personality a touch of humanity.

So what makes a villain? Is it cruelty and evil, or is it our perception of people? Is Cannibal really evil?

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