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I took a film studies class my freshman year in college. Like most college courses, this one required me to purchase on overpriced book that I would sell back at the end of the semester for a few dollars, if I was lucky. God only knows how much money was spent on college books throughout the course of my academic life. Further, in spite of all this purchased knowledge, there is really very little I explicitly remember from them. One morsel of information I did retain, however, was a page on movie villains for that film studies class. Specifically, that page elaborated on why Dr. Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs is such a great movie villain.
To summarize the argument, Hannibal Lecter possesses an intellectual level of genius that we all envy. We envy his intellect because we see the immense value it brings to his life. Further, his genius is human. By this I mean that it is not superhuman. Viewers feel like it is a genius that, with the right discipline, is achievable in their own lives. Yet, it is still so far beyond what nearly all people are able to achieve that it feels almost superhuman. Therefore, we envy Dr. Lecter for his wisdom. We all want to be as brilliant as him, and we perceive it as possible, yet we somehow know we will never reach that level of intellectual enlightenment.
It is our envy as viewers that makes Dr. Lecter such a horrifying villain. What does it say about our human nature that, in a way, we want to be like Dr. Lecter, a creature who, despite his intellectual genius, displays animalistic traits and the most evil side of human nature? In fact, Dr. Lecter is an abomination of human existence, a man truly not fit for civilization. He slaughters and eats human beings for his own amusement. Yet, somehow, we envy him.
Our response to the character of Dr. Lecter in our own semi-twisted minds makes him the darkest villain imaginable. Lecter, a purely evil beast, makes us want to be like him, at least to a degree, because of his unparalleled intellect. Minus the evil side of Lecter, we are left with an embodiment of everything we should strive for as intelligent beings. He is a true Renaissance man.
And so, Dr. Hannibal Lecter is the darkest of dark and the lightest of light. He represents the two extremes of humanity. On one end, he is a ruthless and evil killer that we abhor. On the other, he is an affluent and distinguished intellectual whom we admire. We are left, then, to tussle with the paradox, and secretly wonder why we would even entertain the thought of wanting to be like him. This creates the most frightening of internal conflicts within ourselves. Lecter the villain penetrates our psyche and asks us to consider how far we would go to achieve the ultimate level of intelligence. Would we be like him? The fact that we secretly and shamefully acknowledge this to ourselves, in our own mind, is what makes it all so scary, and again, what makes Lecter one of the greatest villains of all time.
I am not suggesting that we would all consider really selling our souls to the darker side of human nature to become Lecter-esque in our intellect abilities. It’s just a movie. And, like all movies, the horror mostly exists in abstractions. What I am suggesting, however, is that something in those pages of my college textbook were dead-on right. Dr. Lecter is truly one of the most horrible villains because he makes us recognize how close to the dark side of humanity we all really are.
In addition to being one of the greatest movie villains of all time (vote on this separate great debate here: What is the greatest movie villain of all time?), he is one of the most popular characters in film history. There are few characters that I can think of that have been quoted as often as Dr. Lecter has. In honor of this twisted villain, we have created a list of the Top 9 Dr. Hannibal Lecter quotes. Vote on this fun poll by clicking the button below. Ta ta.
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