Hannibal: More Important than Silence of the Lambs



I recently wrote a post arguing how Alien 3, one of the least popular Alien films, is actually the most significant entry as far as progressing the main character of the franchise is concerned. It got me thinking of other examples where less popular or less successful entries into movie franchises can actually be very important, or in some instances, the most important chapter when it comes to discussing or understanding the characters.

For this post, I'll be concentrating on Hannibal, the 2001 sequel to Silence of the Lambs. Hannibal puts a lot more focus on the titular character of Hannibal Lecter than in other films but it still never loses focus of Clarice Starling either. It follows Hannibal as he hides out in Florence, before realising he has been discovered by a corrupt Inspector Di Pazzi. This leads to Clarice Starling, who by now has been ousted from the FBI for, frankly being too good at her job, to pick up the trail of Hannibal and try and bring him in. It is a gripping game of cat and mouse and both characters are challenged in incredibly interesting ways.

The response to Hannibal was lukewarm, but I will argue here that this is the film that elevates the characters of Starling and Lecter to the revered heights that we hold them to now.

Hannibal takes on a very different form than its previous entries in the series. Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambshad a paint by numbers approach to their investigation. They were certainly gripping and thrilling, but they were not unfamiliar to audiences. Hannibal, on the other hand, featured a very different structure and showcased the characters in a different light that was unexpected. This emphasis on the two characters, and not on a different serial killer that they were trying to pursue, meant that it did more for the mythology of these beloved characters than Dragon and Silence.


Let's look at the character of Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs. Clarice is a rookie, following the orders of her superiors and learns to overcome the death of her father in her 'therapy' sessions with Hannibal Lector. It is her quick thinking and ingenuity that leads her to Buffalo Bill. In Silence, Clarice is a sheltered character, protected by her superiors, by a wall of glass, separating her from Lecter and all the while following orders.

In Hannibal, Clarice doesn't have those safety nets. She is held fully accountable when things go wrong, even when they are not her fault. She is vilified and has her integrity thrown into question. Despite the fact that she is a seasoned veteran of the Bureau, she is truly challenged, more so than before.

It goes without saying that Hannibal is where we see the character of Lector truly shine. We see him living his day to day life in Florence, we see how he hunts and preys on unsuspecting people. He is methodical and cunning and takes risks by reaching out to Clarice, despite knowing that it could get him caught. We learn more about who he is as a human being than in any other film. For this reason alone, it is an important film.

Clarice might have hit a turning point in her personal life when she opened up about her father in Silence of the Lambs. However, it is the resolution of their therapy sessions at the end of Hannibal that gives us our greatest insight into Clarice. Hannibal is handcuffed to Clarice. Even though his freedom is at risk, Hannibal cannot help but show his admiration for Clarice. He says:

"My freedom, just that. You'd take that from me. And if you did, would they have you back, do you think? The FBI? Those people you despise almost as much as they despise you? Will they give you a medal, Clarice, do you think? Would you have it professionally framed and hang it on your wall to look at and remind you of your courage and incorruptibility? All you would need for that, Clarice, is a mirror." Clarice is incorruptible. She is the perfect agent and his match. Sometimes it takes another character to highlight this before we notice. It is hard not to notice by the end of this film.


Film buffs love to hail Hannibal and Clarice as such well rounded and well written characters but the evidence, like Ellen Ripley in Alien 3, comes from Hannibal, a film that many people tend to ignore when discussing these characters. It has become too easy to lean on quotes and memes from Silence of the Lambs when discussing these characters, but I would prefer to lean on Hannibal to see these characters at their best.