Hannibal Lecter is an American crime fiction serial killer based off a real-life surgeon named Alfredo Ballí Treviño. Well known for consuming his victims, or at least parts of them, Hannibal was also known as “Hannibal the Cannibal.” His character is portrayed and described throughout a series of films, including “Hannibal Rising” (2007), “Red Dragon” (2002), “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991), and “Hannibal” (2001). Set as the protagonist of this thriller genre series, Hannibal is a cannibalistic, psychopathic, and sociopathic psychiatrist that grew up in a wealthy family. For every gutsy viewer able to watch the series without going crazy, the question that typically boggles the mind is, “What drove a successful and highly intelligent psychiatrist towards cannibalizing and killing without guilt or remorse?” Hannibal is a fearful character well-rounded with qualities consisting of brilliant intelligence, emotionless, vengefulness, and charming while harboring indications of both a psychopathic and sociopathic nature. In this final essay, I will explain the subsequential line of events that took place during Hannibal’s life which ultimately symbolized and rationalized the monster contained within in association to Jeffrey Cohen’s “The Monster Culture.”
In the year 1933, Hannibal Lecter was born in Lithuania to a wealthy aristocratic family of four. Hannibal was known as a sweet and caring little boy who had a strong and loving bond with his little sister, Mischa. However, upon entering World War II in 1941, everything he knew about life and the world changed. Despite attempting to escape the war’s collateral damage and becoming a casualty of war by hiding away in their family lodge on the outskirts of the city, this is where Hannibal witnessed both of his parents’ deaths. Besides him and his sister having survived an attack, the rest of his entire family died at the mercy of a Soviet tank right outside their family’s lodge. By eight years old, Hannibal was left to care for his two-year-old sister, Mischa. Shortly after his parents’ deaths, he and Mischa were kept captives by a group of war deserting Nazi soldiers who invaded their lodge. As winter approached, the Nazi soldiers were starving, too afraid to leave the lodge’s safety zone and unable to find anything consumable. This was the moment Hannibal witnessed cannibalism without knowing what was actually happening. In a scene set by the fireplace in the film “Hannibal Rising,” Vladis Grutas, the leader of the Nazi deserters, bit off a chunk of a freshly caught bird and drank its blood with tremendous satisfaction while staring at young and innocent Hannibal and Mischa Lecter. Without guilt or remorse, Vladis calmly stated, “We eat or die.” Soon after, the Nazi soldiers turned their attention towards the two meaty children with ravening and voracious eyes. To survive, the Nazi deserters convinced themselves that it would be righteous to cannibalize Mischa since she was terribly sick and on death’s door. They took her outside, killed her, cooked her, and ate her. According to Monster Culture’s thesis five, the Monster Polices the Borders of the Possible, the Nazi soldiers crossed a thin line by committing an action outside of the cultural norm (Cohen 12). Whether for means of gratification or survival, the Nazis forced Hannibal to witness the murder and cannibalization of his sister. It was this historical moment that Hannibal had lost all humanitarianism and realized justice did not exist, which inadvertently instigated the dreadful monster that Hannibal would one day become.
After witnessing the traumatizing events revolved around Mischa, Hannibal escaped and was brought to an orphanage which turned out to be his family’s wealthy estate. Naturally, he developed posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and had nightmares of disturbing memories that awoke him on a nightly basis. Hannibal became temporarily mute with flashbacks of Mischa for the next eight years. According to the Multi-Health Systems article, “PTSD is a person [that] must have had exposure to a traumatic event… they must also show recurrent and persistent flashbacks, dreams or psychological reactions to any reminder of the traumatic event” (Hare 1). In addition to PTSD, Hannibal was also bullied with other orphans teasing him due to his temporary mute state. Fortunately, by the age of sixteen, he managed to escape the miserable orphanage’s environment and, finding out he had a wealthy uncle in France, ventured onwards in hopes to live a better life.
Upon arriving in France, Hannibal quickly learned of his uncle’s, Robert Lecter, passing and was left alone to live with his uncle’s mistress, Lady Murasaki. She welcomed Hannibal with open arms (Laurentiis, Dino De, et al). This opportunity was the beginning of Hannibal’s path towards fulfilling his vengeful purpose given the time and resources to nurture his internalized monster. Lady Murasaki taught Hannibal the Japanese culture and how to defend himself. He was also granted first-class education at his uncle’s estate where he excelled in academics and was the youngest admitted into a medical school in France. In medical school, he was mentored by Dr. Dumas through which his intelligence flourished at an alarming rate (Hannibal Wiki 1). Achieving academic greatness, he interned at John Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, and soon after completed his highly knowledgeable medical degree. In following through his true and underlying vengeful intentions, Hannibal had obtained tools he yearned for with extensive knowledge of the human body’s anatomy, physiology, pathology, diagnostics, and functionality. His incredible academic success was thanks to his detail-oriented and perfectionistic obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) personality. He remembered every minute detail of information, could calculate and strategize multiple steps ahead of his opponents and depict every element of a scenario. In time, he learned to submerge his emotions and hide away his psychotic and murderous intent simply to achieve his ultimate goals efficiently and effectively.
Hannibal’s emotionless personality and perceptively believing that justice did not exist was triggered by Mischa’s murder. During the Nazi’s massacre of slaughtering the Jews, he had experienced the loss of his entire family. It was these chain of events that gave Hannibal the ability to have no guilt or reaction upon successfully killing those he believed to deserve it.
At the age of 16, for example, he accomplished his first vengeful act by killing a butcher that rudely insulted his aunt at the food market. Besides an eerie smile upon his first murder by chopping off the butcher’s head, he showed absolutely no emotion or guilt. According to the Hannibal Wiki, “Hannibal slices the victim’s cheeks and ate them, his first willful act of cannibalism” (1). Hannibal’s horrendous action is a classic example of crossing over the line in association to Monster Culture’s thesis five, “The Monster Polices the Borders of the Possible,” by doing inhumane things unacceptable in modern society (Cohen 12). More so, when taken to the police station for questioning in regards to the butcher death and his decapitated head’s whereabouts, Hannibal passed the lie detector machine’s test with ease and comfort. These were sure signs of a significantly fearful monster and beginnings of the relentless vengeful path.
Experiencing how easy it was to get away with murder and secure his self-deserved justice, Hannibal set forth on fulfilling his vengeance. He started utilizing his popular “quid pro quo” concept by hunting down the Nazi soldiers, one by one, through exchanges of information. Once Hannibal obtained the information and material he needed through exchanges fully advantageous to himself, he cannibalized them. With each subsequent killing, Hannibal improved and fine-tuned his skills as a professional serial killer. As the monster within evolved to a greater being, the more openly displayed traits of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). His felt entitled ridding society of these unforgivable Nazis, lacking any empathy for those he victimized while increasing his confidence of admiration. The Psychology Today article states that “the hallmarks of NPD are grandiosity, a lack of empathy for other people, and a need for admiration” (1). Hannibal used the quid pro quo to rationalize and outsmart his victims, displaying his superiority over them through multiple strategic angles, brute strength, and skillful coordination. He used phrases such as, “I’m better than you,” “I’m the best,” and “I deserve nothing but the best,” to construe and overtake his victims’ minds. In order to achieve his goals by any means necessary, Hannibal developed mastermind manipulating techniques over others through psychological tactics and hypnotic phrases which ultimately invaded his victims’ minds, conquered their mentality, and controlled their actions.
To achieve his ulterior motives, however, Hannibal knew he had to develop methods that would lower his victim’s guard to simplify his manipulative techniques. He understood the ineffectiveness and low success rate associated with demanding and ordering people to do his bidding. Instead, Hannibal groomed his personality into a charming and seemingly trustworthy gentleman. He used to the best of his ability his intellect, attractiveness, and charisma to gain the trust of those around him. He developed this trait by spending an enormous amount of time with Lady Murasaki, learning a woman’s state of mind and delving into the respectable and honorable Japanese culture’s way of life. The Japanese people believe in working to the best ability in everything they do with the utmost discretion. Hannibal took full advantage of this opportunity, honing in on skills such as suppressing his emotions and rationalizing his actions through honorable feats, with ideas towards achieving his goal of avenging his little sister.
Compiling all these behaviors and factors into his one mind, Hannibal had cultivated an antisocial personality consisting of both psychopathic and sociopathic characteristics. Although there exist debates as to whether he should be labeled as one or the other, I believe he unorthodoxically fits both categories. According to John M. Grohol, a psychologist, “Psychopaths tends to be born – [it is] likely a genetic predisposition, while sociopaths tend to be made by their environment” (Psych Central 1). Both psychopaths and sociopaths have similar personality traits of deceit and manipulation. Psychopaths are perceived as charming and trustworthy, holding steady and normal jobs, and may even have a family with a loving partner. Hannibal was able to uphold a successful academic and social life while keeping his inner monstrosity deceptively hidden away. Sociopaths, on the contrary, are typically a product of their environment’s upbringing. They are unable to trust easily, hold down long-term jobs, or maintain a normal relationship. Hannibal also falls under this category due to his sad and extremely difficult childhood along with his malevolent actions being a result of his environmental despair.
Hannibal was not born a monster, he was made a monster. The complete product of his character is closely associated to the loss of family, the cannibalization of Mischa, losing his faith in God, and coming to the realization that there exists no real justice in this world. Although highly intellectual and considered a genius by some, he is a character unable to discern the difference of what the social norm is compared to his twisted monstrous world. Hannibal took strategic steps, such as attending medical school, spending quality time with Lady Murasaki, and studying under Dr. Dumas, to achieve his own form of justice. Jeffrey Weinstock eloquently describes that “When our monsters change, it reflects the fact that we – our understanding of what it means to be human, our relations with one another and to the world around us, our conception of our place in the greater scheme of things – have changed as well” (Ashgate 276). Ultimately, our actions reflect upon the uniqueness of how we perceive things. Finally, this brings us back to the unanswered question which begs the question, “What drove Hannibal to become the monstrosity he is?” The answer is quite simple, which is that “the little boy Hannibal died in 1994 out in the snow… his heart died with Mischa… what he is now, there is no word for it except… monster” (Hare 1).
John M. Grohol, Psy. D. “Differences Between a Psychopath vs Sociopath.” Psych Central. Feb 12, 2015. Pp 1-2. https://psychcentral.com/blog/differences-between-a-psychopath-vs-sociopath/
This article talks about the similarity and the different traits of Psychopath and Sociopath. They both shared diagnosis such as antisocial personality disorder and have pervasive patterns. They are normal just like anyone else, but a psychopath can be trustworthy and hold a steady job compared to a sociopath, they are impulsive and are unable to hold a long-term job. This article is reliable because it was written by a Psychologists doctor. I will use this to help explain the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses).” Reading culture. Pp.3-25 http://ls-tlss.ucl.ac.uk/course-materials/HARTG075_73436.pdf
The Seven theses of Monster Culture help explains why someone or something is seen as a monstrous. Each thesis explains and defines a monster by different aspects of their appearance, character or representation. The article helps us understand the monster better. I will use some of the theses to examine Hannibal in my essay, which will clarify what cause Hannibal to become a monster.
Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock. “Invisible Monsters: Vision, Horror, and Contemporary Culture.” Ashgate Research Companion. New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Pp. 276 http://www.academia.edu/3865070/Invisible_Monsters_Vision_Horror_and_Contemporary_Culture
This article Weinstock compare horror stories to define monstrosity. Weinstock also used Jeffery Cohen monster theory to define each of the serial killers in the horror stories. Weinstock stated, “When our monsters change, it reflects the fact that we—our understanding of what it means to be human, our relations with one another and to the world around us, our conception of our place in the greater scheme of things—have changed as well.” In other word, our action reflects on our minds. I will use the quote to help understand monstrosity. This article is reliable because it was published in The Ashgate Research Companion.
Hare, R. D. “Well Hello, Clarice.’-A Psychological Analysis of Hannibal Lecter.” The Psychopathy Checklist-Revised, 2nd Edition. Toronto: Multi-Health Systems. July 2013. Pp 1-3
This article talks about how Hannibal Lecter is a cannibalistic serial killer and helps define the cause of how Hannibal Lecter is a monster. The article includes Hannibal cunning and manipulative nature, his diagnosis of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and being examined as a psychopath. I will use this Psychopathy checklist in the Mental Health to verify my evidence of what causes Hannibal to become a monster.
“Hannibal Lecter.” Hannibal Wiki. Pp 1-5 http://hannibal.wikia.com/wiki/Hannibal_Lecter
Hannibal Wiki has a lot of information about Hannibal Lecter. It talks about his childhood to his career to how he got arrested. This information is from the novels of Hannibal Lecter and movies including The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, Red Dragon, and Hannibal Rising. Wiki also includes the numbers of victims had killed in his life to who escape. As stated, “Hannibal did not kill for sexual or sadistic pleasure, [but] primary motives for murder were discourtesy, inferiority to himself, revenge and public service.” He killed people who deserve to be killed and have no reaction upon killing it. I will use to help analysis Hannibal in the essay.
Scott A. Bonn Ph.D. “Our enduring Love affair with Dr. Hannibal Lecter.” Psychology Today. March 2016. Pp. 1-2 https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/wicked-deeds/201603/our-enduring-love-affair-dr-hannibal-lecter
This article talks about how we are fascinated with the gruesome story, and that we see the serial killer as a thriller. Dr. Scott A. Bonn Ph.D. is a professor of sociology and criminology at Drew University stated that “Dr. Lecter’s humanness makes him a much relatable and identifiable villain to the public than other one-dimensional monster characters in films.” Hannibal is human like us, but because of emotionless, he is able to kill with no guilt. We fear what we might become so we do not act but rather watch what we can be. I will use this information in my essay.
Laurentiis, Dino De, et al. Hannibal Rising. The Weinstein Company, 2007.
The film is about Hannibal Lecter childhood. The film help explain and see the reasoning why cannibalize his victim. I will use this to help refer to some scene I discuss in my essay.
PhyslfansHotStar. “Hannibal Rising-We eat… or Die.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtub. 2012, May 29. Web. 2018, Aug 8 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGROHxtQlVQ
I am using this clip to help my viewer better understand the scene in my essay.