Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter
I had heard about the character of Hannibal Lecter (psychiatrist, serial killer, and cannibal) through numerous articles on the internet. Anthony Hopkins’ performance was the standout in almost everything I read. Naturally, I felt compelled to watch ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, where Hopkins makes his debut as the serial killer/cannibal. I wasn’t let down by the film. Hopkins was indeed mesmerizing as Lecter. We are introduced to him when Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling visits prison to interview him (she’s with the FBI) and from the instant we see Hopkins as Hannibal, there isa devilish glow to his demeanor. He was standing upright with his hands by his side, strangely at peace with himself in confinement. But the highlight would have to be his eyes. Coated with the slight tint of red and widely observing, those eyes had a sadistic feel to them, observing you from head to toe and picking up information within seconds. He is Sherlock Holmes, only with a diabolical side to him. And the voice, we mustn’t forget the voice. It’s faint, hissing nature hooks the viewer onto every word he says.
Sadly, then, it came as a disappointment when his screen time was limited. We wanted more of him. We wanted more of his dialogue and more of his devious ways. After his grandly and gruesomely orchestrated escape scene, he vanished into thin air, only appearing for a minute or two towards the end. I was led into the film with the wrong expectations, as all the positive feedback on Hopkins’ role made me think that he was the focal point of the movie, when in fact it was Jodie Foster’s character. I’m not taking anything away from Hopkins’ portrayal. It was just that the performance was so good that we simply had to see the character more often.
I was rewarded with this through the sequel, where Lecter had moved to Europe. The problem was that it wasn’t the same Lecter. Lecter felt different in the outside world. He was more civil and refined, lecturing about art to the affluent of Florence. He had to be to remain outside the radar of the cops, and it made sense for him to be that way because he wasn’t in prison anymore. Being caged and imprisoned can bring out animalistic tendencies in people, so once Lecter wasn’t in that environment anymore it was realistic to see this transformation. He had also put on a lot of weight. That also made sense since he wasn’t on a prison food diet, instead dining once again on his most favorite dish (humans that is) no doubt. The character’s progression through time was done authentically, but that deviated from the original portrayal so much, that it simply wasn’t our beloved Hannibal.
Of course, Hopkins does his best yet again. The dialogue, and his methods of killing his victims were quite exceptionally brutal. Hopkins played the part of Hannibal outside in the real world as he had to. The evil in his eyes had deserted him with age, as Hopkins’ brows had close up on him. The serpentine nature of his voice, too, was slightly absent. Once again, this fits well with Hannibal’s portrayal in actual society because he can’t give people the creeps and hide his hidden desire to feed on human flesh. But the problem was, that it wasn’t the same. When Hannibal gets captured by one of his victim’s men (Mason Verger), thrown in the back of a van and tied up, the character’s aura diminishes somewhat. It’s a bit of a pathetic sight. Imagine Harry Potter spanking Lord Voldemort. That’s how it felt to me. It’s not the same Hannibal in the first movie, but it’s the Hannibal that the movie needs given the passing of time and a different environment.
Thankfully, we got another Hannibal movie in ‘Red Dragon’ which is thematically similar to ‘Silence of the Lambs’. The only difference was that this was a prequel, and the events take place prior to ‘Silence’. The manner in which Hannibal got caught is presented in the prologue at the hands of Edward Norton’s FBI officer. Then of course, like the first movie where Lecter helps Starling find Buffalo Bill, he helps Norton’s Will Graham find another serial killer while behind bars. This movie struck a similar tone to ‘Silence’ and we saw Hopkins give a portrayal akin to the one in that first movie. It showed that the actor hadn’t lost control of his projection of Lecter, and that the reasons for the second movie’s (sequel ‘Hannibal’) different portrayal of Lecter was situational and influenced by the environment as stated previously. The fact that Hopkins had created the same intensity for a prequel when he had aged by more than a decade goes to show his acting prowess. Hopkins had aged by more than 10 years, but he was playing Hannibal Lecter before ‘Silence of the Lambs’. Creating the same feelings as he did in that first film is then a mammoth achievement. The hissing voice, the evil eyes, it was all back.
The only downside was that he, like I said, had aged. His physique wasn’t the same as in the first film (naturally). This is in no part the fault of the actor’s. Is it wise for a film studio to develop a franchise with prequels and the like when its actor have inevitably aged? This is what I noticed with ‘Red Dragon.’ The movie was better than ‘Hannibal’ but Lecter had to look younger since it was a prequel, but Hopkins had aged so there was a conflict. The fact that he still managed to give the same ferocity to the role must be applauded.
Nowadays, though, my question becomes immaterial. In most cases, prequels are made with different actors. ‘X-Men: First Class’ had James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender play Professor Xavier and Magneto respectively, rather than the original actors Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, as that would have been absurd. Then with The Hobbit trilogy, Peter Jackson has relied on the aid of technology to make the LOTR characters younger. Gandalf underwent this for ‘An Unexpected Journey’ and Legolas now for ‘The Desolation of Smaug’. Age is not a barrier anymore to creating prequels, even when it is a major lead that is in focus. Even the character of Hannibal is now being played by Mads Mikkelsen for TV.
Of course, Hopkins didn’t have the help of Weta Digital for the Red Dragon so had to make up for that loss through his acting and he didn’t disappoint. But to me, across all three films, I would undoubtedly state that ‘Silence of the Lambs’ saw the best portrayal of Hannibal the Cannibal, setting the benchmark for all others, including Hopkins’ own performances. After that first movie, it wasn’t the same. Some may blame the environment in which Lecter was in, preferring to have him imprisoned rather than roaming the world, and others may blame the passage of time. I believe it to be a combination of the two. Would you expect an athlete to play with the same consistency in every game? Would you expect him to play the way he did 10 years ago when he was at his prime?