Hannibal Lecter wasn’t born evil. Hannibal Rising tells the story of Hannibal Lecter’s tragic youth, detailing the rise of the monsterous man who later became known as the infamous, “Hannibal the Cannibal,” in later films. Hannibal Rising takes curious Hannibal Lecter fans back to the beginning, back to a time when young Hannibal lived peacefully with his Lithuanian Count father, Italian Noblewoman mother, and much-adored little sister, Mischa.
Thomas Harris, author and screenplay writer, for Hannibal Rising must have decided to give fans something to explain how Hannibal evolved from a normal boy growing up during World War II in Eastern Europe, to the psychopathic genius who has a fondness for, “having a few friends for dinner.” The contrast between the war ravaged European Front at the beginning of the movie, and the post-war adolescent years for Hannibal Lecter is apparent. The young Hannibal (Aaron Thomas), and his little sister, Mischa, (Helena Lia Tachovska), are the picture of innocence. Hannibal displays loving protection for his sister, after his family faces tragedy. The brutality of young Hannibal’s experiences with the group of Lithuanian men who want to be like Nazis, leaves Hannibal guilt-ridden and traumatized after they hold Hannibal and his sister captive in their log cabin during the winter of 1945.
The scenery of the Eastern Front during WWII and the cruelty of the Nazi wannabes stand out during the first part of the movie. The storyline could almost stand alone. The story attached to Hannibal Lecter’s pathology works in a way that tears at the audience’s sympathies for the young Hannibal. Revenge soon creeps up and Hannibal has grown to become a selectively mute and aggressive teenager. Hannibal’s first stab at using kitchen utensils takes place at the Soviet orphanage that was once his family’s estate. He soon runs away to France, where he meets his Uncle’s widow, the lovely Lady Muraski (Gong Li). The dynamics between Lady Muraski and Hannibal are interesting to watch, as she becomes his counselor, teacher, and later a bit more to Hannibal.
Gaspard Ulliel may not be familiar to American audiences, but he will certainly warrant another look. As the young Hannibal Lecter, Gaspard is true to character, often changing from charming schoolboy to crazy-eyed revenge seeker from one scene to the next. The odd French-German accent takes some time to get used to, but it fits with the location. The teenaged Hannibal becomes more sinister and calculating after he flawlessly pulls off his first revenge killing. The progression of Hannibal’s rising becomes clearer when Hannibal crosses the line and savors the seduction of revenge. The latter part of the movie establishes Hannibal as a revenge murderer with a fancy for his own flavor of “just desserts.”
Silence of the Lambs (1991) began the Hannibal Lecter fascination. Hannibal (2001), and Red Dragon (2002) added more insight, and Hannibal Rising offers an explanation of sorts. In spite of fairly strong critic reviews that used every catchphrase about cannibalism to critique Hannibal Rising, fans the Hannibal Lecter character and movies, will want to see this movie. It’s not perfect, and no, Anthony Hopkins does not make any guest appearances, but Gaspard Ulliel and the true to character cast make Hannibal Rising worth a look. The grisly scenes are plentiful, however, and social norms and taboos are cast aside occasionally. The cannibalism debate surfaces too, and both Hannibal and his starving kidnappers attempt to rationalize the practice at times.
Hannibal Rises includes a noteworthy cast. Inspector Popil is played by Dominic West, and both Rhys Ifans (Grutas), and Kevin McKidd (Kolnas) make believable bad guys. Charles Maquignon plays “Paul the Butcher,” a character who has the nerve to insult Hannibal’s woman of adoration (Lady Muraski). Gong Li fits her role as Lady Muraski perfectly.
An R rating is established for Hannibal Rising due to the strong grisly content and some language with sexual references. Nothing can prepare the audience for the grisly scenes, though, so this movie should be viewed with the knowledge that there are cannibalistic themes. I would recommend this movie to Hannibal Lecter fans, and advise those with weak stomachs to stay home. If you can’t make it to the theater to see Hannibal Rising, wait for the DVD release.