The 'Shroom:Issue LXXXVI/Critic Corner

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M4E reviews the least-liked of the critically-acclaimed Hannibal Lecter film series!
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Movie Reviews (Mario4Ever (talk))

"I've always found the idea of death comforting. The idea that my life could end at any moment...frees me, to fully appreciate the beauty and art and...horror of everything this world has to offer." So says Dr. Hannibal Lecter to Bella Crawford on an episode of the NBC television program Hannibal. He says this as acting psychiatrist to someone who has embraced death over a short life of agony due to cancer, but he knows he is lying, both to her and to himself. There was a point in his life when death was anything but comforting, the details of which are locked deep in Lecter's memory palace, fragmentary (but not forgotten) aspects of what likely is his personal hell. It is this point in Lecter's life that the film (and novel which preceded it) Hannibal Rising explores. Before we explore this point in Lecter's life, I will provide a brief overview of Hannibal Lecter's other appearances. In his first two, Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs, he is incarcerated in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane and acts as a consultant for FBI profilers Will Graham (who was responsible for Lecter's incarceration after tying him to a series of murders and acts of cannibalism) and FBI Academy graduate Clarice Starling, respectively, in their searches for mysterious and baffling killers. In Hannibal (not to be confused with the NBC program I mentioned, which is set prior to the original Lecter trilogy), he takes center stage, on the run after having escaped from the hospital, while a victim of his, Mason Verger, a pedophile disfigured as a result of a gruesome "therapy session" involving drugs, dogs, and glass, wants him dead. Clarice Starling initially goes after him on order of the FBI, but she ends up saving his life from Verger and becoming Lecter's cannibalistic lover.

Before all of this, Hannibal Lecter was a boy in 1944 Lithuania (1941 in the novel). Driven from their home at Lecter Castle, Lecter, his parents, and his younger sister, Mischa, retreat to the family's hunting lodge in the midst of Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union, Operation Barbarossa. There, a Soviet tank crew stumbles upon them, ordering everyone except Hannibal and Mischa out of the house so that the crew can get water. They are sighted by a German bomber, and while the tank crew manages to shoot the bomber out of the sky, it crashes into the tank, killing the pilot, the tank crew, and Lecter's parents. Meanwhile, six Nazi militiamen loot Lecter Castle and themselves stumble upon the hunting lodge, desperate for food because it is the middle of winter. Forcing Lecter to watch, the militiamen kill and cannibalize Mischa before making a hasty retreat from the Soviet forces that followed them there. One of the militiamen is killed in a bomb explosion, and Lecter is taken into custody by Soviet troops. Eight years later, he has returned to Lecter Castle, which has been converted into an orphanage. The death of his sister has rendered him reluctant to speak and plagued him with nightmares, for which he is bullied and abused. Unable to tolerate such treatment in what was his home, he injures one of the orphanage's student staff members, and with the help of his uncle, who sent him letters periodically during his time in the orphanage, leaves and goes to France, where he meets his Japanese aunt, Lady Murasaki, who teaches him aspects of her culture. His introduction to murder comes when a butcher makes a racist remark about Lecter's aunt. Lecter attempts to beat the butcher to death but is unsuccessful. He later follows the butcher to where he is fishing and, when the butcher refuses to apologize, kills and decapitates him with his aunt's ancestral sword. Though Lecter is questioned by a French detective named Inspector Popil, he is seemingly absolved when the head is found impaled outside police headquarters with a swastika carved on the forehead. Lecter takes the opportunity to apply for medical school, where he eventually earns a scholarship preparing bodies for the Anatomy class. Here, he accidentally witnesses a war criminal receiving an injection that facilitates the recovery of memories of the crimes he has committed. Lecter decides to use this drug on himself and realizes that the militiaman who died from the bomb explosion had dog tags with the names of the other five. He returns to the lodge to collect the dog tags and encounters another of the militiamen, whom he overpowers and then interrogates about the locations of the other three before killing him.

The remainder of the movie involves Lecter hunting down and killing the people who cannibalized his sister while trying to avoid arrest at the hands of Inspector Popil. In that sense, it is similar to Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, in which a woman hunts down the people responsible for killing her husband and his guests at her wedding rehearsal. Both Lecter and "the Bride" are both motivated by revenge and commit a number of murders to attain peace. Neither of them is forced to embark on his or her individual quest for revenge, but each takes some degree of pleasure in it. Lecter differentiates himself from "the Bride" in going beyond simply taking lives in retaliation for a life taken, at times engaging in cannibalism (once doing so when his victim is still alive). This is perhaps the only period in Lecter's life in which what he does could be considered justified, as his victims are all war criminals, and it is that fact that allows him to avoid incarceration and immigrate to the United States. As a fan of the franchise (and by that, I mean someone who has read all of the Lecter novels except for Hannibal Rising, which I own, and seen the film adaptations of the main trilogy), I enjoyed the movie and its exploration of Hannibal Lecter at a time when he is anything but the cool, calm, collected, and calculating individual he is later on in life (best portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, in my unbiased opinion). I think it is for that reason that Rising is the least acclaimed installment. It dispels the mystery surrounding the character and is much more violent than its chronological successors. In addition, the February 22, 2007 edition of Entertainment Weekly implies that Rising only exists because Dino De Laurentiis, who produced or was otherwise involved with past films, told the creator of the Hannibal Lecter character, Thomas Harris, that if he did not create an origin story, he [De Laurentiis] would find someone who would. Because of that, one could say that Rising feels rushed in how it essentially goes from one victim to the next while Lecter conveniently avoids capture because of intervention from his aunt or just happening to finish what he is doing before he can be caught in the act (e.g. drowning one of the militiamen in formaldehyde at the medical school). Despite its flaws, I think Hannibal Rising is worth seeing by anyone who is the least bit curious about how Lecter got his start, provided headcanon disruption is not an issue. It's no "fava beans and a nice Chianti," but it's not likely to leave an unpleasant aftertaste, either.

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