Sir Anthony Hopkins, who won an Oscar for his iconic performance of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, regrets making the sequels Hannibal and Red Dragon.
And since he is far to circumspect to say why, I’ll say it for him: Hannibal Lecter, arguably one of the most terrifying characters in horror, became a goddamn clown. It’s not really Hopkins’ fault, mind you–he did everything within his power to convince viewers that he relished the shit sandwich he was eating…but, as I’ve said before, there is only so much you can do with a bad script. Luckily, I read that abomination of a novel, Hannibal, so I knew in advance the movie would be fucking dreadful; it was only last year that I saw roughly 15 minutes of Hannibal. I watched Lecter mugging and mincing about and dropping one-liners until I couldn’t bear it anymore. I had to turn it off and put it out of its fucking misery. I’m not the only one who was stunned by how completely shit the novel was–Jodie Foster was so horrified that she refused to reprise her role as Clarice. I know there are a lot of Hannibal fans out there, but I stand by my statement–it is utterly, unforgivably, irretrievably awful. Not even so-bad-it’s-good; it’s the bad that leaves you feeling reamed and broken and betrayed.
And this is why I despise franchises. Ultimately, they destroy the best characters, because no matter how talented the actor, each iteration of the same character invariably leads to diminishing returns. Always. Sometimes the first sequel is adequate or even good–Godfather II, for example, and Hellraiser II. Beyond that, the shit of the sequels end up ruining all that was good about the original…and nowhere is that more apparent than with Silence of the Lambs’ Hannibal Lecter–a complex, terrifying character, whose occasional gallows humor made him uncomfortably relatable. Classic lines such as, “Not anymore”, lessens the tension just enough to make the viewer feel complicit. Like Clarice, the viewer experiences the same dreadful attraction-repulsion for a truly monstrous character…and the idea that we could relate to a monster is precisely what makes Hannibal Lecter–and Anthony Hopkin’s portrayal of Lecter–so goddamn scary.
But twisted comic relief is used sparingly and to great effect; in both the novel Hannibal and its faithfully bad cinematic rendition, the attraction-repulsion is erased–he spouts off as many one-liners as a lead character in a cheesy action movie. A bullshit backstory is introduced to “explain” his psychopathy, a thoroughly bullshit mea culpa, implying that it isn’t really his fault, he’s a monster–he’s simply re-enacting trauma-induced head fuckery. Though not explained explicitly in the film Silence of the Lambs, in both the novel and the literary prequel, Red Dragon, Lecter is described as a congentially misbegotten genius freak, complete with preternaturally keen senses (this is subtly portrayed in the movie Silence of the Lambs, in which he tells Clarice that not only does he recognize her usual perfume, he can tell that she isn’t wearing it that day). He even has fucking maroon eyes. There is nothing sympathetic about him; he is a natural born, next-level psychopath, whose only humanity lies in his dilettantism and brief flashes of pitch black humor. In the far better TV version of Hannibal, psychiatrist Bedelia Du Maurier (played by the fabulous Gillian Anderson), recognizes that Lecter isn’t human; he merely wears a human skin in public.
Ultimately–and Hopkins is only partially to blame for his over-the-top silly portrayal–Lecter becomes a clown. He doesn’t bother donning the human skin; he is almost cartoonishly evil, a sort of serial-killing Snidely Whiplash. And though he has a much smaller role in the movie Red Dragon, he doesn’t show any of the creepy menace of Brian Cox in the Flawed but Worthy Manhunter or the hiding-in-plain-sight soulessness of charming, exquisitely mannered Mads Mikkelson in the series Hannibal (arguably the most faithful portrayal of the literary Lecter)–he even commits the unpardonable sin of jump-scaring an anxious chef. Gone is Hopkins’ electrifying portrayal of Hannibal Lecter of Silence of the Lamb–an erudite, surface-charming, cruelly insightful, masterfully manipulative psychiatrist-cannibal, whose controlled stillness is betrayed only by those semi-mad, glittering eyes. Even while drawn into the same spider-fly fascination as Clarice, the viewer never forgets that at any moment, he could pounce.
Of all the progressively degrading characters in horror, I cannot think of a single instance in which I felt as betrayed as I did with the devolution of Hannibal Lecter–from brilliant, relentlessly psychopathic serial killer to gleefully evil, borderline campy killer clown. But as disappointing as it is for a viewer to see the great, consistently excellent Sir Anthony Hopkins participate in cash-grab trash as Hannibal, I do sympathize with his hindsight regret. I am also bitch enough to be relieved; by his own admission, Hannibal Lecter the cartoon has, at long last, been put out of our misery.
And good fucking riddance.
(This has given me a good idea for a future post–a comparison between the three cinematic Hannibal Lecters–Brian Cox, Anthony Hopkins and Mads Mikkelson. In the meantime, behold another entry from the Art Wank gallery).