Hannibal Rising

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The reason why Hannibal Lecter was so fascinating in The Silence of the Lambs was because we knew so little about him. Details were sketchy. In light of this it was up to the audience to draw their own conclusions. In Hannibal Rising everything is given to us; the reasons why Hannibal became a murderer, a psycho and a cannibal. As a consequence, Hannibal immediately becomes a less interesting person. In fact, he even becomes banal.

The last thing I wanted from this film was a simple explanation for Hannibal's psychosis. But unfortunately we get it. You see, Hannibal's sister was murdered and eaten by a group of mercenaries. Simple as that. Bloody hell, the film has taken an iconic screen character and lumbered him with the most hackneyed back-story you can possibly imagine. Instead of just being a fucked up evil nutjob, Hannibal becomes an innocent gone bad. A victim of circumstance. It flies against everything that made the character work in the first place – the fact that he was unfathomable, that you never knew whether it was nature or nurture that made him. Once you explain a character like Hannibal, everything is gone. He's not mysterious and he's no longer frightening. He becomes ordinary.

But then again, I think that the character only works when he's in a cell. I can remember when I first watched The Silence of the Lambs and thinking how terrifying it would be if Hannibal got loose. You wouldn't be able to sleep at night, and if you did, you'd wake up and find that your kids had been eaten! It would be chaos. But as Ridley Scott's Hannibal proved, fantasy and reality are different things. The imagined reality of Hannibal out in the open would have you shitting your pants, but the celluloid reality of it was rather limp. Basically what you had was a rather chubby, effete, balding gastronome dishing out catty one-liners and occasionally making snarling faces. He was one part Gordon Ramsey, one part John Inman.

But in Hannibal Rising he turns into something even worse than this. He turns into an emo. Just take the scene where he strangles some poor bastard to death by tying him to a tree and having the rope tighten around his neck. With his hair swept over one side of his face and with his actions fuelled by blissful revenge fantasies, he might as well be wearing a My Chemical Romance t-shirt. And then there's the way he looks up to the heavens and screams, Vader-like, in impotent rage when his mother is killed in the Second World War. Boy, it kind of sticks in your craw to realise that two of cinemas baddest villains were emos.

But the emo scream of anguish actually gets a second airing. When Hannibal is attacking one of his sister's murderers, and after the awful line that is 'He ate my sister', he finds out that he unwittingly ate his sister, too (!). 'Nooooo!' he cries. Oh dear, the whole character's twisted personality can be explained in two sentences. Hannibal's sister was eaten by Lithuanians. Hannibal ate her, too. Suddenly he doesn't seem like such an interesting character.

What makes this more annoying, though, is that the film is actually quite well made. It's not offensively awful. The photography is good, the editing is up to scratch and certain sequences are well executed. But where it falls down is in the banality of the characters and the acting. In particular, I'm talking about the kid who plays Hannibal. It's impossible to reconcile him with the Hannibal played by Anthony Hopkins. The two just don't seem to be in any way connected.

I also don't like the way Hannibal has become a hero (he's not even really an anti-hero any more). All the way through the film we're asked to root for him. We're asked to cheer as he drowns, strangles and stabs evil-doers. And sure we're going to cut him some slack as these people ate his sister. But again, by making him the hero you're making the character one-dimensional. There's very little moral ambiguity. It's a revenge flick as clear-cut as Kill Bill.

But again, even though the film fails dreadfully as a character piece, it does have an enjoyable sequence or two – the drowning of the mercenary and the showdown with Grutas (Rhys Ifans) standing out in particular. But even these highlights reveal another fatal shortcoming in the film – Hannibal's intelligence. He's like the James Bond of serial killers. No matter what you do, you can never outthink him. He'll get out of every jam, either by simply outsmarting the other person or by having a handy gadget or weapon in tow. For example, he gets caught by Grutas but has a bomb set up that provides enough of a distraction for him to get loose. And then later on, when he seemingly gets shot in the spine by Grutas, he plays possum and then stands up, revealing that he had a samurai sword tucked conveniently under his jacket. Yawn.

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  1. Surely Hannibal had reason to be emotional about his sisters death, but that doesn't make him emo. Not once did the audience see him cut himself, cry that his dad didn't take him to football or listen to a My Chemical Romance CD.

    Just because he was angry and wore black, it doesn't instantly make him an emo.

  2. I distinctly remember a deleted scene where Hannibal carved the word Mischa into his tiny penis as he composed a tear-stained ballad dedicated to his sister on a mandolin of broken dreams.