Manhunter. The Silence of the Lambs. Hannibal. America has participated in a long and twisted celluloid love affair with Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter. Now, 10 years after evading Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling in 1991’s hugely successful Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal’s hiding out in Florence, Italy. But he has two determined foes hot on his trail: Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi, an ambitious Italian cop, and the extremely wealthy Mason Verger, a rare survivor of Hannibal’s predations. Not that FBI special agent Starling has ever completely forgotten her encounter with the intelligent, vicious and flesh-obsessed murderer.
The movie opens as Agent Starling is made to take the fall for a botched drug bust. A corrupt Justice Department aide, Paul Krendler, pushes Starling off the case to avoid bad PR and puts her on what he believes is a dead case: the pursuit of Hannibal. Meanwhile, Inspector Pazzi recognizes Hannibal from the FBI’s most-wanted list and pursues him on his own time—not in the pursuit of justice, but for the $10 million reward. And Mason Verger has hired a team of Italian hitmen to exact his own personal revenge.
What follows is a monstrous trip through the dregs of humanity as greed, ambition, vindictiveness and resentment clash with an implacable, remorseless killer.
positive elements: Agent Starling places honor and duty ahead of personal gain. Inspector Pazzi allows his life to be put in jeopardy to protect his wife.
spiritual content: A man with a hideously disfigured face asks Agent Starling, "Have you accepted Jesus?" She responds, "I was raised Lutheran." He answers back, "That’s not what I meant. ... You can look me in the face, but you’re shy when I mention God." The man later says in regard to a crime, "I have immunity from the risen Jesus."
Hannibal asks a soon-to-be victim to say grace at the dinner table. After the victim makes a crude remark to Agent Starling, Hannibal says, "You’re like the Apostle Paul. He hated women too."
nudity and sexual content: A flashback scene hints at homosexual flirting. The cameras linger on a line drawing of a topless woman. A cop propositions Agent Starling with a crude reference to genitalia. Crude remarks are made about deviant sexual acts. A stone statue features full male nudity.
violent content: Intense, sick and repugnant. Among other things, there’s a violent shootout between cops and drug pushers. A man’s head is crushed against a windshield. Blood spurts from the mouth of a shot man. A man’s head explodes. A woman holding a baby is shot in the head. A man high on drugs peels his face off, and the scraps are fed to a dog. Hannibal attacks a nurse and bites her ear off. A pickpocket is knifed. A man’s throat is slit with a straight razor. A man is disemboweled, then hanged from a balcony—his entrails splatter to the ground below. Wild boars attack and eat humans. Hannibal cuts off the skull of a heavily drugged man, exposing his brain. He then proceeds to cut out a portion of the brain, fries it in a wok, and feeds it to the still-alive man, who replies, "Hey, that tastes pretty good." Hannibal also feeds a small portion of fried brain to a young boy on an airplane.
crude or profane language: God’s name is abused four times. A handful of other profanities and obscenities include two uses of the f-word.
drug and alcohol content: Cops smoke cigarettes. Agent Starling consumes a mixed drink. Lecter drinks wine on several occasions. Other characters also imbibe.
other negative elements: Director Scott apparently tried to "lighten the mood" of this movie compared with that of The Silence of the Lambs. But the jokes aren’t funny, they’re just disgusting. After screening the movie, gory storyteller Stephen King said, "It was okay, but it was done in bad taste." That’s an understatement. Hannibal is a vicious and methodical executioner, yet most of the film’s other characters (with the exception of Agent Starling) are made out to be worse than the urbane, cultured Hannibal.
conclusion: Newspaper editors and film critics alike have cracked all kinds of jokes and made bad puns about Hannibal’s cannibalistic subject matter. And the fact that the movie grossed $58 million opening weekend (outpacing How the Grinch Stole Christmas’s debut) gave them all kinds of opportunities to do so. But there is absolutely nothing humorous about this film. It is grotesque and, dare I say, downright evil. Anthony Hopkins, who put a face on this evil in both Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal, told GQ, "Hannibal Lecter is one of those creatures from the dark side of the human personality. ... He’s self-governing, and he may tap into our desire to become like machines: to have no pity, to have no conscience." Hannibal costar Julianne Moore says shooting the film landed her in a therapist’s office. "I actually talked to my shrink about it," she told Vanity Fair. "As a parent, as a person—what is this? Hannibal is the dark side that is part of everyone. ... We are socialized, civilized, but in our fantasy lives we explore those themes. That’s okay, but it’s a fine line I feel uncomfortable with. I don’t want to sound as if I’m sitting here rationalizing violence." And yet her very involvement with the film is an attempt to rationalize. Don’t let your family’s involvement do the same. Cross Hannibal off the "possible" list and give the entire phenomenon a wide berth.