I’ve recently gotten into the “psychological horror/thriller”
movie genre, for reasons unbeknownst to me. I enjoy films that keep one on the
edge of his seat with intricate plots and intense scenes, not just through gore
I was brought to the brilliant series surrounding “Hannibal
Lecter”, a cannibalistic serial killer, through a bridge. Yes, you read that
right. I was traveling to West Virginia to watch NKU’s women’s soccer team in my
university’s first ever Division I tournament game. On my Google account, I
keep interesting landmarks and abandoned places marked, so in case I’m ever
headed a certain direction, I can visit them. Just five minutes off the highway
was the Bellaire Toll Bridge, which spans the Ohio River between Ohio and West
Virginia. It has been abandoned 25 years, but is still a site. It’s massive,
rusting, and has been sentenced to death by the Coast Guard, who really is
powerless to force its demolition, since it is privately owned.
The bridge is shown in the film as the iconic structure of its
namesake—Bellaire, Ohio—and Bellaire is the setting of the climax of Silence of the Lambs
, which was filmed
shortly before the bridge was closed. And so it was that I decided to check out
Though Silence of the
is the second book in Tom Harris’s novel series, it was the first
movie. Later, Red Dragon
, and Hannibal Rising
were brought to the
screen. As I mentioned before, the movies are brilliant and live up to their
critical acclaim. Silence of the Lambs
swept the Academy Awards.
I will warn you that this post does contain spoilers, so if
you haven’t watched the first three movies (Red
, Silence of the Lambs
) but plan to do so (and you
should), watch them first before reading this. There are also brief, graphic
descriptions of some of Lector’s crimes, as well as one photo.
|The Bellaire Toll Bridge in what the movie calls "Belvedere"|
The ending of Hannibal
legitimately moved me. It was not at all an emotion I expected to feel at the
end of a psychological horror movie. Clarice Starling, an FBI Special Agent
whose first assignment—while still in the Academy, no less—was to pick Lecter’s
brain to help solve the “Buffalo Bill” case in Silence of the Lambs
, has now been pursuing Lecter for much of the
movie. In Silence of the Lambs
Lecter escapes from prison and becomes dormant in Italy. After a number of
years, he becomes active again after his only surviving victim gets word of his
whereabouts, offering the victim the chance to kill Lecter. This vengeance has
been the main focus of the victim ever since he was left deformed and
paralyzed. With Lecter killing once again, and the scent of a letter written by
him helping to track him down, Starling turns her focus toward him.
Throughout the movie, Starling’s career is in jeopardy because
of a botched drug sting that she tried to call off, but the local police
refused to listen. Heat is placed on her by a superior, Paul Krendler, who had
propositioned her years ago, and still desired an adulterous relationship.
Starling’s refusal is costing her position as her name is dragged through the
For some reason, Lecter had taken a liking to Starling; it
was the only reason he talked to her in the first place. Normally, he was
uncooperative with everyone. Even though Starling is suspended, she traces the
kidnapped Lecter to the property of his victim, who is planning to feed him to
vicious boars. Starling, seeking proper justice, puts a stop to it, but is shot
in the process. She had cut Lecter loose from his restraints, and he carries
her away to Krendler’s lake house. There, he removes the bullet and stitches
the wound, slowly nursing her back to health.
Lecter had mentioned in a phone call with Starling that he
might harm the people who are trying to harm her. When Krendler arrives for a
weekend in his lake house, he is greeted by Lecter, who uses chloroform to
incapacitate him. Starling wakes up a little sooner than Lecter anticipated,
and she comes downstairs to find Krendler seated at the dining table and Lecter
cooking. Krendler is drugged to the point that he is unaware of the danger he
is in and cannot feel any pain.
Lecter removes Krendler’s hat, revealing a perforation at
the top of his head. Lecter then cuts through this and removes the top of
Krendler’s head, revealing Krendler’s brain. Starling begins to weep; though
weak, she is aware of what is happening. Lecter begins to talk to Starling
about the human brain (he was a well-known psychologist) and proceeds to cut a
piece from Krendler’s, which he then cooks in the skillet and feeds to
Krendler. Starling gags and continues to weep. Despite Krendler’s wrongdoing
towards her, she attempts multiple times to save him. This speaks volumes about
Starling, who is risking her life to save a scumbag superior from a serial
killer, though she is too weak to be the least bit effective against Lecter.
Finally, Lecter pushes her against the fridge, opens the freezer, traps
Starling’s hair in the door, and closes it and breaks the handle. He lightly
threatens her, knowing the he has a few minutes before he has to make a
getaway, as Starling had called the police before she walked downstairs.
Starling, though, is so dedicated to ridding the world of
Lecter’s presence that she handcuffs herself to him. For the first time in any
movie, Lecter starts to worry. Starling refuses to unlock the handcuffs, which
leads Lecter to grab a knife from the counter.
“Above or below the wrist?” he asks.
“This is really going to hurt, you know.”
Lecter swings the knife, and we see Starling look away and
In the next scene, Lecter is making a getaway in a boat as
Starling runs down the wooded hill toward the lake in pursuit. The police come
around to the back of the property, where they yell at Starling to stop and
Starling identifies herself as she raises her arms,
revealing two perfectly-healthy hands attached to her arms.
The next scene is Lecter on a plane, where he is trying to
eat a meal with one hand. His other arm is in a sling.
The astonishing reality that Lecter cut off his own hand to
free himself rather than Starling’s, who had been the one to handcuff him, is
brought into its full perspective by examining just who Lecter is.
We really don’t get a great view of Lecter’s grisly deeds in
, except at the beginning.
The opening scene is Lecter watching an orchestral performance. A number of the
members of the orchestra come to Lecter’s home afterwards for dinner. They
express their grief that one of their members could not be there, as he was
One guest asks, “What is this divine-looking amuse bouche?”
“If I tell you, I’m afraid you won’t even try it,” he
Lecter had murdered the man and fed him to his fellow
Later, an FBI agent who had been working with Lecter to
catch a serial killer (that turned out to be Lecter himself) stops by. He was
beginning to suspect Lecter, and Lecter catches onto this. Lecter tries to kill
him, but is also wounded in the process. Lecter is captured and imprisoned.
Years later, as this agent works to capture the “Red Dragon”, Lecter sends the
killer the agent’s address, where the agent and his family are nearly killed.
More is learned about Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs
, but not much of
this is seen. Lecter escapes from prison after he is moved to another state;
this was part of his deal with a senator to help the FBI catch the senator’s
daughter, who was being held by “Buffalo Bill”. Naturally, Lecter lies to them.
The police force in Tennessee doesn’t take Lecter seriously enough. He had a
key hidden in his mouth, which he uses to uncuff himself and handcuff one of
the two officers watching him while they feed him. He proceeds to bite off the
other officer’s tongue and bludgeon him to death, spraying the cage he was
being held in with blood. This officer is gutted by Lecter and hung up on the
cage, which is the first thing seen by all the other officers when they come up
to investigate. To escape, Lecter used his mind, not force. He killed the other
officer and dumped him in the elevator shaft, but not before cutting off his
face and taking his uniform. Lecter put on the uniform and the officer’s face,
and posed as him lying injured on the ground. When he was placed in an
ambulance, he killed the doctor and driver and got away.
Lecter receives a lot of attention in Hannibal
. This is where some of his grisly crimes are displayed.
Starling watches security footage of his attack on a nurse, where he bit off
her tongue and beat her. This got him moved to maximum security. She pulls up
pictures of some of his victims. One was pinned to a wall with three stakes.
While in Italy, he lacerates a man’s stomach before hanging him from a
building, and his entrails spill onto the street. A man working for his only
surviving victim attempts to find Lecter, and Lecter cuts his throat, nearly
Throughout these movies, even though Lecter at times is an
almost likeable character, the viewer gets a good idea of how evil a person he
is. By the time Hannibal
murder count is almost at 20.
That makes the ending of Hannibal
that much more remarkable. All these murders, and yet he shows great care for
Clarice Starling. He saves her life. He launches a vendetta against the man
that was wronging her. And, even when she tries to kill him multiple times and
prevents his escape, he chooses to cut off his own hand rather than harm her.
Such incredible acts of, well, love from a brutal serial killer.
I’m not someone that goes looking for theological concepts
in secular media, but occasionally I notice some. The Bible tells us that “all
have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That might not
be too hard for even non-Christians to believe. Few are the people that will
not admit that, at some point, they have done something wrong, even if they don’t
agree on everything that is wrong. But the Bible doesn’t stop at telling us
that people do wrong. It gives us the very nature of mankind. It isn’t good:
“What then? are we better than
they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that
they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They
are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none
that doeth good, no, not one.” –Romans 3:9-12
“Now we know that what things
soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth
may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” –Romans 3:19
“Wherefore, as by one man sin
entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for
that all have sinned: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed
when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over
them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is
the figure of him that was to come…” –Romans 5:12-14
“Behold, I was shapen in iniquity;
and in sin did my mother conceive me.” –Psalm 51:5
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who
can know it?” –Jeremiah 17:9
“But we are all as an unclean
thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a
leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is none
that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for
thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our
iniquities.” –Isaiah 64:6-7
It’s not just that we do wrong, it’s that we are naturally wrongdoers
. We don’t just sin, we are
. Our bad deeds are
caused by our bad nature.
|Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs|
This is where a fundamental line is drawn between religions,
or between the religious and nonreligious. Many want to believe that people are
naturally good, and sometimes do bad things. Some religions teach this. But
true Christianity teaches exactly the opposite. People are naturally evil, and
they sometimes do good things. Hannibal Lecter maimed himself to avoid harming
Clarice Starling, but that didn’t change his nature, nor did it remove his
The worldview Christians must take is that the world is
naturally a bad place. Admittedly, this will lead to skepticism, which I
consider necessary to wise and safe living. But it does not have to lead to
cynicism. I’ll explain why shortly.
In the Old Testament law, it is repeated many times that
touching something unclean made a clean person unclean, and they had to purify
themselves. Never can someone clean touch something unclean and make that thing
clean. Things default to unclean and impure. That’s the world we live in. That
is what the curse of sin, caused by Adam and Eve and passed down to every other
human who ever lived (save Jesus Christ), has done.
Looking at a good deed and seeing a Hannibal Lecter is not a
bad thing. Recognizing this is critical. The first part of the gospel, and a
very overlooked part of the gospel, is the recognition by man that man’s nature
is evil. No amount of touching acts changes that we are people guilty of very
serious and bad deeds. Moving displays of compassion do not make up for our bad
actions. Instead, our bad actions taint our good deeds, just like how
uncleanness transferred to cleanness and made it, too, unclean.
This sounds unnecessarily harsh because we have been
conditioned to see the good in people. And people do a lot of good things. I do
not take away from Hannibal Lecter what he did to help Clarice Starling. It was
a beautiful display that truly, deeply moved me, like few movies ever have. We
can look all around us and see such actions in real life.
At the same time, however, Hannibal Lecter was a barbaric,
psychotic serial killer. It would be dangerous to overlook that. And it is
dangerous to overlook our own sin natures.
True justice would have Hannibal Lecter executed for his
crimes. God, who is a righteous judge, should not be expected to overlook our
sin because we also do good things. Justice demands that evil is punished, and
that condemns us all. This realization is the fertile ground in which the
gospel takes root:
“For ye were sometimes darkness,
but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (For the fruit of
the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) Proving what is
acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of
darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those
things which are done of them in secret. But all things that are reproved are
made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light. Wherefore
he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall
give thee light.” –Ephesians 5:8-14
The Bible commands Christians to expose sin. This
essentially means that we are to take the evil that is done in darkness and
drag it out into the light, revealing it for what it really is. The result of
exposing sin to the light is that the heart in which it dwelt becomes light.
Christ gives light only when an individual realizes that what they are doing is
dark. In order for the gospel to be effective, we must expose people’s sin.
This, as the Bible says, is to be done in a gentle and loving manner, but it
must be done.
If someone doesn’t think they are doing wrong, or thinks
that their wrongdoing is just a break in their positive behavioral pattern,
they won’t realize their need for the gospel. Why do they need saving? They’re
adequate on their own.
But the Bible says otherwise. No one is adequate except for
Jesus Christ. And it is only through Him that we can be granted the adequacy we
do not deserve.
That’s why, even in having the correct view of mankind, we
don’t have to become cynical. There is hope. In every passage I quoted earlier,
I edited them to show only the sin nature of man. But in every passage, there
is also hope:
“But now the righteousness of God
without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even
the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon
all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come
short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the
redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a
propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the
remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I
say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier
of him which believeth in Jesus.” –Romans 3:21-26
“But not as the offence, so also is
the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the
grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath
abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for
the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences
unto justification. For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more
they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign
in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came
upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift
came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience
many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made
righteous. Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where
sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death,
even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus
Christ our Lord.” –Romans 5:15-21
“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall
be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and
gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from
my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God;
and renew a right spirit within me.” –Psalm 51:7-10
“Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be
healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for thou art my praise.” –Jeremiah 17:14
“But now, O LORD, thou art our
father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy
hand. Be not wroth very sore, O LORD, neither remember iniquity for ever:
behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people.” –Isaiah 64:8-9
When it comes to our sin natures, there is always another
side. Jesus came to Earth and lived without sin, but died to take the
punishment for our sin, and now we don’t have to face God’s justice for our
Yes, just like Hannibal Lecter, our good deeds to not make
up for our natural evil. The gospel starts with our recognition that we need
Jesus, though, took the death sentence for our sin. When sin
is brought to the light, healing and restoration can begin.