Starring Anthony Hopkins as Pure Evil!
An Analysis of the Psychological Makeup of Dr. Hannibal Lector with Regards to Deviant Behavior
Evil is the most abstract of all values. It is not connected to an action, as is justice, nor is it connected to a state of mind, as is love, nor is it connected to an idea, as is truth. Rather, it is connected to all actions and objects; something that can manifest itself in many forms but is a separate entity unto itself. Because of its abstractness, can evil be classified and quantified? Although it is an abstract value, it is not purely abstract, for as before mentioned it is believed that evil can be noticed in the natural world. Furthermore, certain concepts of the makeup of evil, specifically as it relates to actions, exist across cultures as an almost essential aspect of the human psyche. For example, evil is generally accepted to be related to the way one treats others. Often the evil way to treat others is in a manner such that the other person is harmed, however, this is not necessarily true. For example, the social class of the person as well as the outcome of the action is essential to However, as evil is abstract, it is a mistake to analyze solely actions when analyzing the nature of evil. If a person frequently exhibits actions deemed evil by a large segment of the human populace, it is generally believed that the person’s “heart” is evil, that the abstract concept guides his actions. Because of the importance of the motivations of one’s actions, many poets and authors have tried to create an evil character, a character that manifests so much of the human understanding of evil that he becomes the incarnation of evil. One movie character is perhaps the best of all attempts to create an evil character, that of Dr. Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs. So effective and vividly evil was Dr. Lecter that the American Film Institute named him as the top cinematic villain of the last hundred years (AFI‘s 100 Years…). But why, out of all the possible villains, is Lecter is most evil? In The Silence of the Lambs, Dr. To first understand Dr. Hannibal Lecter it makes sense to analyze his cannibalism, as this is the most commonly sited of reasons for Lecter’s evil nature. Within all modern societies cannibalism is regarded as one of the major deviant and evil behaviors. However, many primitive societies, some still existing to this day, practice cannibalism as a sacred rite, usually to inherit some spiritual quality from the body/meal (Cannibalism). The person consumed can be anyone from a particularly strong enemy soldier to a tribal chief or father. Hannibal Lecter does not exhibit any form of spirituality in his cannibalism. Lecter makes flippant jokes about his cannibalism, as shown at the end of the movie when he says in telephone conversation to Clarice Starling, “I’m having an old friend for dinner,” in reference to Dr. Chilton. Furthermore, Lecter has a superiority complex over his victims. Thus, why would he choose to eat and gain the attributes of those less sophisMuch of the contrast of Lecter is between his animalistic cannibalism and his role in society. He was a respected member of the Boston elite and had a hugely successful psychiatric practice. His tastes are impeccable, and he exhibits a clear and proper sense of tact and decorum. When he wants to, that is. At other times, he is brash and rude, and of course yet still at other times he is an uncaged animal. He exhibits an animal-like sense of smell and perception: he can smell that Starling uses Evyan skin cream and L’Air du Temps, and in other scenes Lecter exhibits an uncanny ability to detect who is standing near him in a specific direction even when his back is turned and the person has not made any noticeable indication of his presence. That Lecter can smell the artificial scents Starling gives off is even more surprising, given that Lecter hasn’t seen a woman in eight years. Yet both of these animal-like qualities contribute to his sophisticated nature in that he has heightened tas Throughout the movie Lecter controls Starling. This analysis is essential for the plot of the story, yet it gives insight into Lecter as well as into Starling. Within Starling he finds a potential victim, someone he can watch, observe, and manipulate. Several critics have attempted to make Starling’s interactions with Lecter meaningful; in fact, some have gone so far as to say it is "the weirdest love story this side of 'Harold and Maude" (Braund). It is tempting to say this, given Starling’s attachment to Lecter and Lecter’s paternal-like role. However, Starling approaches Hannibal timidly, and Hannibal through perception and insult realizes Clairice’s imperfections and manipulates them to make her his own. This is why the relationship between the two is almost one of father and daughter, for he is the ordinate and she is the subordinate. Upon meeting Starling, the first thing he requests is her identification, then asks her to come closer. Rather tAnother potential source of Lecter’s evil nature is in the violence that he performs. The important thing about this violence is not how it occurs, but to who it occurs. Within the movie, Lecter only acts brutally violent once, when he breaks free from his cage. His violence is different from his overt cannibalism in that he does not savor the victims; rather he attacks, kills, and moves on. It is like an animal seeking freedom, yet there is more to it. He does not attack everyone he sees, for should he do so he would be quickly found out. His victims before were almost all patients of his. He did not prey in alleys for the homeless, as so many serial killers do. Instead, he killed and ate those he knew. He followed a very specific pattern for those he cannibalized. It is debatable whether he is as violent in cannibalization cases as he was in movie; although one may assume so, no cases are mentioned in which he in any way butchers his victim/meal before death. The If he does not kill for pure physical pleasure nor attach spiritual significance to cannibalism, why does he perform these actions? Some might say that it is because he enjoys the taste of human flesh. As Lector once said, “No. That is incidental.” How would he know he enjoyed the taste of human flesh if he did not taste it before? Something propelled him to begin cannibalization, something not related to taste. Furthermore, it does not explain why he kills to cannibalize, as it would be possible for him to cannibalize without killing fresh victims. Some might argue he feels a biological obligation to do. If this is true, why does he only attack those in authority and cannibalize only his patients? If he felt a biological imperative to consume human flesh, surely he would not be so picky over whom he cannibalizes. No, the reason he kills and cannibalizes is because he must psychologically control those around him. Cannibalism is one of most basic fears civilized humans have.It is this desire for mental superiority that makes Lecter manifest evil. He does not concern himself with physical domination, for this physical domination is not the route to control. At times violence may be confused with physical domination, but the point of Lecter’s violence is to put his target back into their proper “place,” to make those around them fear Lecter as they should. For those who already fear Lecter, however, he will treat them with a semblance of kindness. This kindness is a continuation of the façade, for Lecter does not truly care for them. Instead, he knows he can control them through fear and thus by treating them with kindness mixed with the implicit fear of violence, he hopes he can arouse love, a condition in which people act even more irrationally than fear. This love he will manipulate to his own ends, to study the person and their psyche, and to have someone loyal to him through which he can obtain what he needs, as can be seen in that Lecter
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