Anyone who knows anything about and has followed ‘pop culture’ regarding the last 25 years knows the name Hannibal Lecter. A Thomas Harris creation, Lecter seems to actually live a life all on his own. Moviegoers were first introduced to ‘Hannibal the Cannibal’, serial killer, in Harris’ novel, “The Red Dragon,” The subsequent film titled “Manhunter,” (1986) directed by Michael Mann, starring acting veteran William Petersen (Gil Grissom on C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation) and Tony Cox as Lecter. But it was not until Sir Anthony Hopkins took over the cannibal role in “The Silence Of The Lambs,” that Lecter became a cinema icon. His portrayal not only won him the Academy Award for Best Actor but it catapulted a fictional character in the psyche of modern life. Everyone can recite at least one Lecter stinging one liner. He was also voted the ‘Best Villain in Movie History.”
“Hannibal Rising,” is a prequel to Harris’ 3 books: “Red Dragon,” (Manhunter, only to be remade in 2002 as “The Red Dragon,” starring Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, and Hopkins – directed by Brett Ratner) “The Silence Of The Lambs,” and “Hannibal.” In “Hannibal,” there were glimpses of Lecter’s past through his ‘memory palace.’ An ingenious creation of Harris that is essentially the gallos of Lecter’s mind. For those of us who read the book (all this was absent in the film version) were privy to the fact that Lecter was born in Lithuania. He was a product of the war and the Nazi invasion, and we were somewhat introduced to his beloved little sister Mischa.
We now come to “Hannibal Rising.” It is the story of young Lecter in Lithuania at the age of nine. His family is privileged and considered royalty. For all intense purposes, it was a normal childhood and Hannibal though brilliant, a relatively normal child. He was devoted to his family and especially close with his mother. However all that privilege does nothing in regards to their fate at the hand of the Nazis. We are taken through his unwavering passion to learn, his friendships with his mentors, his brutal capture, the loss of his family, and the devastating death of Mischa. We are also witnesses to his unsavory life in an orphanage. We see him growing into a teenager with a fascination and gift for the medical profession. He is stellar with autopsies (as you can imagine). He also becomes a renound artist and begins to develop ‘his taste.’ All the while in a constant state of calm. Whether it is his game of playing cat and mouse with the local police, Inspector Popil, his nemesis this time around, it is always clear that Hannibal has the upper hand and intellect.
As Lecter becomes a young man, there are glimpses of the man he will become in our nightmares. Though there is some tenderness and restrained passion shown to his stepmother, a Japanese socialite, Lady Murasaki, it becomes evident even to her that Hannibal is changing – and not necessarily for the better. Crafting is own experiments, he opens up his own ‘memory palace’ to unlock the past he can’t or won’t remember. It is then, Lecter’s epiphany is clear. His path is set before him and we are taken on his journey. The story itself becomes a tool of the hunted becoming the hunter. One by one, step by step, we are witness to Hannibal’s own nightmares becoming reality and his own closure for each. The tag line for the upcoming film is “It All Started With Revenge.” This wraps it up in a nutshell. If you haven’t rooted for Lecter in his past appearances, you may find yourself 100% on his side in “Hannibal Rising.” Those who inflicted pain are methodically dealt with in a matter that seems rather fitting. And no one is better at cool vengeance than Hannibal himself. It will be interesting to see how the book plays out on the big screen. There was talk that Hopkins would do voice overs for the film, essentially telling his own story. However money seemed to be a factor. It still isn’t clear whether Hopkins will appear but it doesn’t seem likely. Gaspard Ulliel is cast as the young Lecter. The film is directed by Peter Webber. The one saving grace may just be the fact that Thomas Harris himself has written the screenplay. It is apparent however, there will be blood and gore. But as with its predecessors, it won’t be misplaced. This won’t be a ‘slasher’ film by any means but at times it will be intense and graphic. Hopefully the transistion from book to screen will be an easy one and the text won’t be altered much. The war scenes alone, if done correctly, will be a sight to see.
As the story winds down, we find out how Hannibal came to Baltimore as a gifted medical student. The only reservation about the book that I have is – though it is clear to the reader what events helped to shape this monster, it doesn’t completely explain some of the choices and turns in his life. All in all, ‘Hannibal Rising,’ is a wonderful read. And for those of us who are Lecter fans, it gives us the insight we’ve been craving. Although for the next book, I would love to see where Hannibal has ended up after is escape from Clarice (the movie version – the book had a much different and desirable ending). Obviously the story at some point must come full circle. I eagerly await that final encounter.