Hannibal: An Insult to Movie-Goers and Literature Enthusiasts

Copyright 2005 Scott C. Guffey

            Mass media has a tendency to treat its consumer as an unintelligent entity.  Newspapers write copy that's read at a fifth-grade or lower level.  One of the most successful "how-to" series of books on the market is marketed "for dummies".  Television discovered long ago that is easier to prove a point through pictures rather than words.

            The entertainment industry is no different.  Hollywood seems to believe that viewers of its movies get bored very easily if they are required to extend their thought processes.  Story plots are usually simple and predictable.  If a movie becomes too cerebral, movie producers worry that they might lose valuable dollars from their viewing audience.  This becomes extremely transparent during the summer period when most of the action thriller movies are released for summer consumption.

The movie, Hannibal, was a summer movie.  It was marketed as the long-awaited sequel to the successful movie, The Silence of the Lambs.  It was also adapted from the conclusion of a series of novels written by Thomas Harris.  The success of The Silence of the Lambs as a movie came from its faithful adaptation of the book.  The creators of Hannibal decided that the ending of the book was not the correct way to end the film, though.  They decided to change the conclusion of the movie.

At the end of the book, Hannibal Lecter exposed Clarice Starling to the satisfaction of eliminating her foes through mental manipulation and heavy mind-altering drugs.  Clarice Starling eventually understood her nemesis and did fall in love with Lecter.  The movie conclusion saw Clarice Starling escape from Lecter's manipulation.  In an action-packed thriller moment, Starling and Lecter grapple and end up hand-cuffed to one another.  In order to escape, Lecter must lop off one of their hands in order to escape.  He slices off his own hand at the wrist and escapes.

The Hannibal Lecter character has become an icon in American society.  Society acknowledges that Lecter is one of the most evil characters to emerge from modern cinema due to the performance by Sir Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs.  Yet, at the end of the movie, Hannibal, he comes off as an obsessed stalker.  At the end of the book, he is the criminal mastermind that has finally succeeded in opening his primary opponent's eyes to his way of thinking.  He has convinced his love interest that she does in fact reciprocate that love.

Jodie Foster played Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs.  In Hannibal, we see Julianne Moore as a substitute Starling.  In The Silence of the Lambs, we see the Starling character respect and admire Lecter.  She becomes notably excited to converse with him.  It is apparent throughout both of the books as well. In Hannibal, all we sense from Moore's portrayal of Starling is fear and loathing of Lecter.

Why couldn't the ending of the movie reflect the ending of the book?  Hannibal was faithful to the book all the way up to the ending, but left people that read the book wondering "What the...?".  There were three reasons the movie ending differed from the book.  The ending in the movie will allow the production of endless sequels whereas the book did not.  The ending to the book may have been too difficult to have been filmed accurately.  And finally, the ending to the book may have been considered too cerebral for the viewers of a movie to understand.

It's a no-brainer to understand that the movie producers would want to leave it open to make a sequel.  Sequels are what production houses strive for.  If a movie is so successful that a sequel is warranted, it means that people are making money.  Just like any business, Hollywood tries to make money.  Hannibal made people some money at the box office, so they want to ensure that there are more opportunities to make money using the same characters.  If they didn't believe that they could turn a profit on future movies starring Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling, they would not have redone Red Dragon, another Harris novel that was made into a movie many years ago.  The second Red Dragon allowed the role of Lecter to be further explored by Hopkins.

It may have been very difficult for the makers of the film to convincingly portray an ending that had the Lecter and Starling characters making nice and falling in love over a dinner of Starling's FBI superior.  The book was able to adequately portray how Starling was convinced to turn to the dark side where the movie would not have been able to explain it.  It would have required excellent script-writing, direction, and superior acting.  Perhaps Foster did not reprise her role as Clarice Starling because she doubted her ability to convincingly portray the book's ending, rather than the rumored repulsion she experienced at the book's ending.

The likelihood they changed the ending of the movie because it was believed that viewers would not be able to comprehend the ramifications is insulting to movie viewers.  Thomas Harris is ultimately the source of both Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling’s characters.  He created the conclusion of the story.  To believe that movie viewers would not have understood the ending insults Harris’ novel.  Was the book a failure?  I don’t believe so.  In comparison to the movie, the book was more satisfying.  The movie did little to solidify the nuances of the characters, and did not make any worthy conclusions.

What if director Ridley Scott had decided to include the book’s ending?  Would viewers have been confused or turned off?  Viewers of Hannibal would probably have been intellectually satisfied.  For whatever reasons, movie creators do not attempt to pique viewers’ mental capabilities and are satisfied with repetitive quick-fix scenarios.  Their opinion of the mental achievement of their viewers is transparently low, and it is more than apparent from the complete change of Hannibal’s ending.

But what if the producers were right?  Viewers of Hannibal might have been confused by Starling turning her back on her FBI career and living a life of solitude with a known serial killer.  She dedicated her life to catching people like Hannibal Lecter despite her difficulties with others at the Bureau.  It is hard to swallow the fact that she pulled a complete turnaround and accepted her pent-up love for Lecter.  If the movie ended as the book did, it is conceivable that viewers might have been left scratching their heads.   The book did indeed leave readers shocked while quizzically wondering about Starling’s motives.  The ending of the movie was altered to give it a relatively clean, close-ended conclusion which is admittedly the way most viewers prefer their movies to end.  If the book ending were supplied instead, viewers might have left the theater feeling that it ended rather mysteriously.

I am hindered by this situation because I had read the novel before seeing the movie.  If I had seen the movie first, I might not have known about the subterfuge.  I might have accepted the movie ending as the appropriate conclusion, and perhaps, believed that it was a better ending than the conclusion of the novel. 

However, having read the book, I enjoyed the way it compelled me to interpret the ending and attempt to understand why Starling would become enamored with Hannibal.  It also required one to review the entire story line of both Hannibal and The Silence of the Lambs for incidents and clues of possible romantic interest from both characters. The movie did little to make me wonder about the characters.  Starling is an atypical good guy, and Lecter is still the psychotic villain.  The movie did not stir up any deep thinking.

It’s apparent that this is not the only movie to underestimate their audience’s capabilities from the repeated use of such hackneyed endings in films.  Movie viewers should seek out movies with more cerebral applications, and boycott movies that transparently insult their intelligence.

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