Hannibal Lecter

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This article is about the character. For the franchise, see Hannibal Lecter (franchise).
Hannibal Lecter
Hannibal Tetralogy character
Hannibal Lecter.png
Four on-screen versions of Hannibal Lecter (clockwise from top left): Brian Cox, Anthony Hopkins, Mads Mikkelsen and Gaspard Ulliel.
Created by Thomas Harris
Portrayed by Brian Cox
Anthony Hopkins
(The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, Red Dragon)
Gaspard Ulliel
Aaran Thomas (young)
(Hannibal Rising)
Mads Mikkelsen
Nickname(s) Hannibal the Cannibal
The Chesapeake Ripper
Aliases Lloyd Wyman
Dr. Fell
Mr. Closter
Gender Male
Occupation Psychiatrist
Title Dr. Hannibal Lecter
Count Hannibal Lecter VIII
Relatives Mischa Lecter (sister)
Count Robert Lecter (uncle)
Lady Murasaki (aunt-by-marriage)
Nationality Lithuanian born, naturalized French

Dr. Hannibal Lecter is a fictional character in a series of suspense novels by Thomas Harris.

Lecter was introduced in the 1981 thriller novel Red Dragon as a forensic psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer. The novel and its sequel, The Silence of the Lambs, feature Lecter as one of the primary antagonists after the two serial killers in both novels. In the third novel, Hannibal, Lecter becomes a protagonist. His role as the antihero occurs in the fourth novel, Hannibal Rising, which explores his childhood and development into a serial killer.

The first film adapted from the Harris novels was Manhunter (based on Red Dragon) which features Brian Cox as Lecter, spelled "Lecktor". In 1991, Anthony Hopkins won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the character in The Silence of the Lambs. He would reprise the role in Hannibal in 2001 and in a second adaptation of Red Dragon made in 2002 under the original title.

Since 2013, NBC has been airing Hannibal, a television series based on the development of the relationship between Lecter and Will Graham, an FBI agent who becomes Lecter's greatest foe. In the series, Lecter is portrayed by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, who won a Saturn Award for his performance.

In 2003, Hannibal Lecter (as portrayed by Hopkins) was chosen by the American Film Institute as the #1 movie villain.[1] In June 2010, Entertainment Weekly named him one of the 100 Greatest Characters of the Last 20 Years.[2]

Character overview[edit]

Red Dragon firmly states that Lecter does not fit any known psychological profile. In The Silence of the Lambs, Lecter's keeper, Dr. Frederick Chilton, claims that Lecter is a "pure sociopath" ("pure psychopath" in the film adaptation). In the novel Red Dragon, protagonist Will Graham says that Lecter tortured animals as a child, but in later novels Lecter has an affinity towards animals: this is either a retcon or an example of Lecter misleading profilers with false information, with the latter explanation being more in tune with his character. Lecter's pathology is explored in greater detail in Hannibal and Hannibal Rising, which explain that he was traumatized as a child in Lithuania in 1944 when he witnessed the murder and cannibalism of his beloved younger sister, Mischa, by Lithuanian Hilfswillige. One of the Hilfswillige members claimed that Lecter unwittingly ate his sister as well.

All media in which Lecter appears portray him as intellectually brilliant, cultured and sophisticated, with refined tastes in art, music and cuisine. He is frequently depicted preparing gourmet meals from his victims' flesh, the most famous example being his admission in the film adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs that he once ate a census taker's liver "with some fava beans and a nice Chianti" (a "big Amarone" in the novel). He is well-educated and speaks several languages. He is deeply offended by rudeness, and frequently kills people who have bad manners. Prior to his capture and imprisonment, he was a member of Baltimore, Maryland's social elite, and a sitting member of the Baltimore Philharmonic Orchestra's board of directors.

In The Silence of the Lambs, Lecter is described through protagonist Clarice Starling's eyes: "small, sleek, and in his hands and arms she saw wiry strength like her own". The novel also reveals that Lecter's left hand has a condition called mid ray duplication polydactyly, i.e. a duplicated middle finger.[3] In Hannibal, he performs plastic surgery on his own face on several occasions, and removes his extra digit. Lecter's eyes are a shade of maroon, and reflect the light in "pinpoints of red".[4] He has small white teeth[5] and dark, slicked-back hair with a widow's peak. He also has a keen sense of smell; in The Silence of the Lambs, he is able to identify through a plate glass window the brand of perfume that Starling wore the day before. He has constructed in his mind an elaborate "memory palace" with which he relives memories and sensations in rich detail.


Red Dragon[edit]

In the backstory of Red Dragon, FBI profiler Will Graham interviews Lecter about one of his patients who was murdered by a serial killer, before realizing that Lecter is the culprit. Lecter realizes that Graham is on to him, creeps up behind him and stabs him, nearly disemboweling him. Graham survives, however, and is hospitalized. Lecter is convicted of a series of nine murders, but is found not guilty by reason of insanity. He is institutionalized in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, under the care of Dr. Frederick Chilton, a pompous, incompetent psychologist whom Lecter despises. Some years later, Graham comes out of retirement and consults Lecter in order to catch another serial killer, Francis Dolarhyde, known by the nickname "The Tooth-Fairy". Through the classifieds of a tabloid, The National Tattler, Lecter provides Dolarhyde with Graham's home address, enabling Dolarhyde to disfigure Graham and attempt to kill his family. At the end of the novel, Lecter sends Graham a taunting note saying that he hopes Graham isn't "too ugly".

The Silence of the Lambs[edit]

In the 1988 sequel The Silence of the Lambs, Lecter assists FBI agent-in-training Clarice Starling in catching a serial killer known as "Buffalo Bill". Lecter is fascinated by Starling, and they form an unusual relationship in which he provides her with a profile of the killer and his modus operandi in exchange for details about her unhappy childhood. Lecter had previously met Buffalo Bill, the former lover of his patient (and eventual victim) Benjamin Raspail. He does not reveal this information directly, instead giving Starling vague clues to help her figure it out for herself. In return for his assistance, Lecter is transferred to a lower security prison, from which he soon escapes, killing and mutilating his guards and using the face of one of them as a mask to fool paramedics. While in hiding, he writes a letter to Starling wishing her well, and another to Chilton swearing gruesome revenge. Chilton disappears soon afterward.


In the third novel, 1999's Hannibal, Lecter lives in a palazzo in Florence, Italy, and works as a museum curator under the alias "Dr. Fell". The novel reveals that one of Lecter's victims survived: Mason Verger, a wealthy, sadistic pedophile whom Lecter had drugged and mutilated during a therapy session. Verger offers a huge reward for anyone who apprehends Lecter, whom he intends to feed to feral pigs specially bred for the purpose. Verger enlists the help of Rinaldo Pazzi, a disgraced Italian police inspector, and Paul Krendler, a corrupt Justice Department official and Starling's boss. Lecter kills Pazzi and returns to the United States to escape Verger's Sardinian henchmen, only to be captured. Starling follows them, intent on apprehending Lecter personally, but is instead also taken captive. After escaping the trap, Lecter convinces Verger's sister Margot to kill her brother as revenge for the years of sexual abuse she suffered at his hands, and leaves a voice mail message taking responsibility for the crime. He then rescues the wounded Starling and takes her to his rented lake house to treat her. During her time there he keeps her sedated, attempting to transform her into his dead sister Mischa through a regimen of classical conditioning and mind-altering drugs. One day, he invites her to a formal dinner where the guest and first course is Krendler. She joins him in eating the still-living Krendler's brain, but refuses to allow Lecter to turn her into Mischa; she says that Mischa can instead live within him. She then offers Lecter her breast, and they become lovers. Three years later, Lecter's former guard, Barney Matthews, sees the pair together in Argentina, and flees the country, fearing for his life.

Hannibal Rising[edit]

Harris wrote a 2006 prequel, Hannibal Rising, after film producer Dino De Laurentiis (who owned the cinematic rights to the Lecter character) announced that he was going to make a film depicting Lecter's childhood and development into a serial killer with or without Harris' help. Harris would also write the film's screenplay. The novel chronicles Lecter's early life, from birth into an aristocratic family in Lithuania in 1933, to being orphaned, along with his beloved sister Mischa, in 1944 when a German Stuka bomber attacks a Soviet tank in front of their forest hideaway. Shortly thereafter, Hannibal and Mischa are captured by a band of Nazi collaborators, who murder and cannibalize Mischa before her brother's eyes; Lecter later learns that the collaborators also fed him Mischa's remains. Irreparably traumatized, Lecter escapes from the deserters and wanders through the forest, robbed of the ability to speak. He is found and taken in by an orphanage, where he is bullied by the other children and abused by the dean. He is adopted by his uncle Robert and his Japanese wife, Lady Murasaki, who nursed him back to health and taught him to speak again. After his uncle's death, Lecter forms a close, pseudo-romantic relationship with his step-aunt. During this time he also shows great intellectual aptitude, entering medical school at a young age. Despite his seemingly comfortable life, Lecter is consumed by a savage obsession with avenging Mischa's death. He kills for the first time as a teenager, beheading a racist fishmonger who insulted Murasaki. He then methodically tracks down, tortures, and murders each of the men who had killed his sister. In the process of taking his revenge, he forsakes his relationship with Murasaki and seemingly loses all traces of his humanity. The novel ends with Lecter being accepted into the Johns Hopkins Medical Center.

In film[edit]

Sir Anthony Hopkins, the only actor to play Lecter in multiple films.

Red Dragon was first adapted to film in 1986 as the Michael Mann film Manhunter, although the spelling of Lecter's name was changed to "Lecktor". He was played by actor Brian Cox.[6] Cox based his performance on Scottish serial killer Peter Manuel.[7]

In 1991, Orion Pictures produced a Jonathan Demme-directed adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs, in which Lecter was played by actor Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins' Academy Award–winning performance made Lecter into a cultural icon. In 2001, Hannibal was adapted to film, with Hopkins reprising his role. In the film adaptation, the ending is revised: Starling attempts to apprehend Lecter, who escapes after cutting off his own hand to free himself from her handcuffs. In 2002, Red Dragon was adapted again, this time under its original title, with Hopkins again as Lecter and Edward Norton as Will Graham. Hopkins wrote a screenplay for a Hannibal sequel, ending with Starling killing Lecter, but it was never produced.[8]

In late 2006, the novel Hannibal Rising was adapted into the film of the same name, which explained Lecter's development into a serial killer. In the film, which was finished by 2007, eight-year-old Lecter is portrayed by Aaran Thomas, while Gaspard Ulliel portrays him as a young man. Both the novel and film received generally negative critical reviews.[9]

In television[edit]

Main article: Hannibal (TV series)

In February 2012, NBC gave a series order to Hannibal, a television adaptation of Red Dragon to be written and executive-produced by Bryan Fuller.[10] Mads Mikkelsen plays Lecter,[11] opposite Hugh Dancy as Will Graham.[12]

Fuller commented on Mikkelsen's version of Lecter: "What I love about Mads' approach to the character is that, in our first meeting, he was adamant that he didn't want to do Hopkins or Cox. He talked about the character not so much as 'Hannibal Lecter the cannibal psychiatrist', but as Satan – this fallen angel who's enamoured with mankind and had an affinity for who we are as people, but was definitely not among us – he was other. I thought that was a really cool, interesting approach, because I love science fiction and horror and – not that we'd ever do anything deliberately to suggest this – but having it subtextually play as him being Lucifer felt like a really interesting kink to the series. It was slightly different than anything that's been done before and it also gives it a slightly more epic quality if you watch the show through the prism of, 'This is Satan at work, tempting someone with the apple of their psyche'. It appealed to all of those genre things that get me excited about any sort of entertainment."[13]

Season 1[edit]

The TV series amends the continuity so that Graham and Lecter first work together during the hunt for Garrett Jacob Hobbs, aka the "Minnesota Shrike", a serial killer who preys on college girls. During the investigation, Lecter secretly calls Hobbs to tip him off that Graham is on to him, resulting in Hobbs killing his wife and slitting his daughter Abigail's throat as Graham charges in to arrest him. Graham shoots Hobbs dead, and the experience preys upon him and gives him nightmares, for which he seeks Lecter's counseling. Throughout the first season, Lecter acts as Graham's informal psychiatrist, and the two form a tenuous friendship. Lecter is fascinated by Graham's ability to think like the serial killers he investigates, and he spends much of the series trying to undermine Graham's fragile sanity and push him into becoming a killer himself. To this end, Lecter prevents Graham from learning that he has advanced encephalitis, just to see how Graham would function under the circumstances. In the first season finale, "Savoreux", Lecter reluctantly frames Graham for a series of murders that he himself committed throughout the season – but not before Graham realises that Lecter is the "Chesapeake Ripper", the very killer he has been trying to catch.

Season 2[edit]

Throughout the beginning of the season, Graham, who is now institutionalized, attempts to convince his skeptical former colleagues that Lecter is the real killer and begins pulling strings from his cell in order to expose him. Outside the hospital, Lecter begins to manipulate evidence from the outside, exonerating himself after the FBI's initial investigations into Graham's claims. Eventually Graham persuades a deranged hospital orderly to kill Lecter: the attempt fails, but the orderly is able to get Lecter to involuntarily confirm Graham's suspicions. Lecter exonerates Graham by planting forensic evidence of Graham's alleged victims at the scene of one of his own murders, resulting in Graham's release.

Graham resumes therapy with Lecter as an attempt to entrap him. Lecter is aware of this, but finds the experience fascinating and allows it to continue because of the connection he feels with Graham. In an attempt to push Graham into becoming a serial killer, Lecter sends his psychotic former patient Randall Tier to kill Graham, but Graham kills and mutilates Tier instead - just as Lecter hoped he would. Graham later attacks tabloid reporter Freddie Lounds and shares a meal with Lecter of what is implied to be her flesh, but it is soon revealed that Lounds is still alive and conspiring with Graham and Crawford to draw Lecter into their trap. Lecter and Graham have a common enemy in Mason Verger, and Graham stands by as Lecter mutilates Verger and breaks his neck. In "Mizumono", the second season finale, Graham and Crawford move to arrest Lecter against the orders of the FBI. In the ensuing struggle, Lecter seriously wounds Graham and Crawford, while Alana is pushed out of a window at the hands of Abigail Hobbs, whom Lecter had led the police to believe had been murdered. Lecter then cuts Abigail's throat in front of Graham and leaves him to die as he flees before police arrive; He is shown in a post-credits scene aboard a flight to France with Bedelia Du Maurier.

Real-life models[edit]

Thomas Harris has given few interviews, and did not explain where he got inspiration for Hannibal Lecter until mid 2013. Harris revealed that the character was inspired by a real-life Mexican doctor and murderer he met while visiting a prison in Monterrey city, in the state of Nuevo León, during a trip to Mexico in the 1960s, when he was a 23-year-old reporter.[14] The doctor was serving life after murdering a young man, supposedly a "close friend", mutilating his body into several body parts and putting them in a very small box. Harris, who would only refer to the surgeon by the fake name "Dr. Salazar", described him as a "small lithe pale man with dark red hair". He added: "There was certain intelligence and elegance about him."[15] Harris had gone to México to interview Dykes Askew Simmons, a US citizen on death row for murdering three young people in the country, but he ended up also speaking to "Salazar", who saved Simmons' life after a guard shot him during an escape bid. "Salazar" revealed his dark side as he began discussing Simmons’ disfigured face, tormented upbringing and how attractive his victims had been.

Dr. Alfredo Ballí Treviño, the real-life inspiration for Lecter, according to Thomas Harris.

Several reporters and investigators have traced the records and whereabouts of the Mexican prison doctor in later years and discovered that "Salazar" was in reality Alfredo Ballí Treviño, a physician from an upper-class Monterrey family who was found guilty of murdering a close friend (and lover) and mutilating his body; he was also suspected of killing and dismembering several hitchhikers in the city outskirts during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Treviño was initially condemned to death, but his sentence was later commuted to 20 years and he was released in 1981. After his release, Treviño continued working as a physician in an austere office until his death by natural causes in 2009.[16][17][18]

In a making-of documentary for the film version of Hannibal Rising, Lecter's early murders were said to be based on murders that Harris had covered when he was a crime reporter in the 1960s. In 1992, Harris also attended the ongoing trials of Pietro Pacciani, who was suspected of being the serial killer nicknamed the "Monster of Florence". Parts of the killer's modus operandi were used as reference for the novel Hannibal, which was released in 1999.

According to David Sexton, author of The Strange World of Thomas Harris: Inside the Mind of the Creator of Hannibal Lecter, Harris once told a librarian in Cleveland, Mississippi, that Lecter was inspired by William Coyne, a local murderer who had escaped from prison in 1934 and gone on a rampage that included acts of murder and cannibalism.

In her book Evil Serial Killers, Charlotte Greig asserts that the serial killer Albert Fish was the inspiration, at least in part, for Lecter.[19] Greig also states that to explain Lecter's pathology, Harris borrowed the story of serial killer and cannibal Andrei Chikatilo's brother Stepan being kidnapped and eaten by starving neighbours (though she states that it is unclear whether the story was true or whether Stepan Chikatilo even existed).[20]

See also[edit]

  • Dorangel Vargas, a serial killer known as the "Hannibal Lecter of the Andes"


  1. ^ "AFI's 100 Heroes & Villains". American Film Institute. June 2003. Retrieved 2007-02-12. 
  2. ^ Adam B. Vary (June 1, 2010). "The 100 Greatest Characters of the Last 20 Years: Here's our full list!". Entertainment Weekly. Time Inc. Retrieved July 7, 2012. 
  3. ^ Silence of the Lambs p. 15, para. 2: "Dr. Lecter has six fingers on his left hand".
  4. ^ Silence of the Lambs p. 16, para 4: "Dr. Lecter's eyes are maroon, and they reflect the light in pinpoints of red".
  5. ^ The Silence of the Lambs p. 17, para. 4: "He tapped his small white teeth against the card and breathed in its smell".
  6. ^ BBC interview with Brian Cox on youtube.com
  7. ^ Mottram, James (March 2011). "Manhunter". In Aubrey, Day. Total Film (Future Publishing) (177): 112–116.
  8. ^ Oldenburg, Ann (October 3, 2002). "Marquee names serve up another helping of Hannibal". USA Today. Retrieved April 19, 2013. 
  9. ^ Hannibal Rising at Rotten Tomatoes
  10. ^ Pilot Season: NBC Orders Hannibal Straight to Series; Also Picks Up Notorious - TVGuide.com
  11. ^ NBC casts Bond villain as Hannibal Lecter
  12. ^ Morgan, Jeffrey. "Hannibal Lecter TV series casts Hugh Dancy as Will Graham" www.digitalspy.com. March 23, 2012
  13. ^ Jeffery, Morgan (May 3, 2013). "Bryan Fuller 'Hannibal' Q&A: 'Lecter is like Satan at work'". digitalspy.ie. Retrieved May 11, 2013. 
  14. ^ "The REAL Hannibal Lecter: Author Thomas Harris reveals for first time how killer doctor in Mexican prison inspired him to create most famous cannibal in history". Daily Mail (London). 
  15. ^ Shapland, Mark. "Hannibal Lecter Was Based On A Sinister Surgeon Locked Up For Murder In The 1960s". The Sun (London). 
  16. ^ Osorno, Diego Enrique. "Hannibal Lecter is From Monterrey". VICE (in Spanish) (México). 
  17. ^ Real Hannibal Lecter was Murderous Gay Mexican Doctor Alfredo Ballí Treviño Umberto Bacchi, IB Times, July 2013
  18. ^ Who Was The Real Hannibal Lecter? Valdez, Latin Times, 2013
  19. ^ Grieg, Charlotte, Evil Serial Killers: In the Minds of Monsters (2009), p. 27
  20. ^ Grieg, Charlotte, Evil Serial Killers: In the Minds of Monsters (2009), p. 102

External links[edit]