Two decades ago, in a movie starring Jodie Foster as a young, up-and-coming FBI agent, a Welsh actor, who only appeared onscreen for a total of 17 minutes, stole the show. Twenty years later, Halloween outfits based on the serial killer of The Silence of the Lambs remain a popular choice for mens Halloween costumes. The enduring appeal of Sir Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of the cannibalistic killer, Hannibal Lecter, lies not in his evil, but in his charm. While Hopkins’ Oscar-winning performance in the film is undeniably menacing, it is also curiously endearing.
Some of the empathy that audiences feel for Hannibal Lecter arises from his relationship with Jodie Foster’s character, Clarice Starling. The most riveting scene in the movie is the first conversation between the two. Even while Hannibal forces Clarice to relive a childhood trauma in exchange for information, we start to believe that he cares about her, a belief that is confirmed when Lecter phones her at the end of the film, promising, “I have no plans to call on you, Clarice,” he says. “The world’s more interesting with you in it.”
Foster herself gives Hopkins much of the credit for the audience’s fascination with the character. “He played all of the layers of hiding,” she said in an interview, “instead of trying to make us feel sorry for him, he allowed Hannibal to have that veneer of evil.” By not overtly playing for sympathy, Hopkins is free to play up the evil wit of the character, and in the end, it is Hannibal’s intelligence that wins us over.
It’s the character’s wit as much as his evil that prompts us to donHalloween outfits every year with Hannibal’s infamous muzzle mask. We know his lines from the movie without trying to know them – they are simply memorable. We know the inflection of his voice when he says, “Clarice,” and we know the skin-crawling sucking noise he makes when contemplating eating human flesh.
Mens Halloween costumes of Hannibal Lecter sometimes depict the serial killer strapped to a gurney, arms tied in a straight jacket, face muzzled, seemingly incapable of inflicting harm. But we know how ineffectual that was in the movie, and the sight of Hannibal Halloween outfits still sends chills down the spine, even as we smile, remembering the character’s diabolical wit.
The Hannibal villain endures because the movie mixes attraction and revulsion to beguile the audience. Though we first meet Hannibal while he is imprisoned behind layers of indestructible glass, we do not feel safe. When the movie ends with Hannibal at large, we are secretly pleased. His crimes were horrific, we don’t want to be alone in the same room with him, yet we are glad he is still alive. The character appeared in subsequent films, yet we remember Hannibal best from this first film of the series. As long as people continue to wear mens Halloween costumes of this compelling villain, we always will.