It is a relationship which, as Fuller says, “doesn’t exist in the books; [Hannibal and Graham] met twice on an investigation and then Hannibal tried to kill him. We are essentially making up a lost chapter of a Thomas Harris novel. So it was about staying true to the canon of Harris and what he told us happened, but then taking those two pages and turning them into 13 episodes.”
When Hannibal finally agrees to help Clarice, it's with the understanding that for every bit of information he gives her, she will tell him something about herself. Because Hannibal, by nature and by profession, is an expert in prying, the questions he asks, and the answers he receives, both frighten and soothe the young woman. For Hannibal, they are a turn-on. Through the bulletproof glass, in dizzy succession, Hannibal and Clarice become analyst and analysand, teacher and pupil, father and daughter, lover and beloved, while always remaining cat and mouse.
We know serial killers, in reality, to be scarily deranged and repulsive. With Lecter, our uneasy fascination with the monster is assuaged by grudging admiration for his genius and good manners. Hopkins managed to embrace these layers in The Silence of the Lambs only, and Brian Cox did it in Manhunter.
Mischa's horrible slaughter and consumption by the deserters formed the fantasy that shaped Hannibal Lecter, a revenge fantasy. In his dream, the deserters are crude and uncouth. They're not soldiers but deserters, cowards, ignoble by definition. They take over Lecter's parents' property and relegate the young residents to the barn. Their breath stinks.
Behavioral science has taught us that serial killers aren't born that way; they're formed by a combination of factors that begins in childhood. The blueprint for a serial killer's rampage is his inner fantasy life, which is a direct response to traumatic events that occurred when he was a child or young adult. Hannibal Lector's life-defining trauma happened at the age of six when he witnessed the death of his beloved sister Mischa.
A murderer's modus operandi (MO) is the actions he must take to complete the kill. The murderer's signature is what he does beyond that, ritualistic behavior that satisfies some aspect of his fantasy. Cannibalism is Lecter's signature, but Lecter is not satisfied to simply eat his victims. He must feast on them. The elaborate preparation for a five-star meal of human flesh is as much a part of his fantasy as eating the flesh.
Before he was caught, he was a respected psychiatrist and patron of the arts in Baltimore, Maryland. He was born in eastern Europe to an aristocratic family but suffered unspeakable hardship as a boy during World War II. Fourteen homicides have been attributed to him, though authorities suspect that there were probably others.
Dr. Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter first appeared as a minor but important character in Harris's novel Red Dragon. In the next book, The Silence of the Lambs, Lecter came into his own, and the movie version highlighted the killer's complex relationship with FBI agent-in-training Clarice Starling. In these two novels, Lecter, in his indirect, Cheshire-Cat way, advises the FBI as they hunt for headline-making serial killers who are on the loose and very active. He himself is not the target of law enforcement's full-court press until Hannibal, the third book in this series.
Some have suggested that Lecter is based on a Mexican doctor that author Thomas Harris interviewed in prison; others have suggested that Lecter was modeled upon a real-life offender, William Coyner, who escaped from prison in 1934 and went on a murder and cannibalism spree in Cleveland, and others have hinted that Lecter may be based on Welsh killer, Jason Ricketts, who murdered and eviscerated his cellmate in a Cardiff prison. Most commentators, however, believe that the character of Hannibal Lecter is derived from the case studies that Harris reviewed while visiting the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit in Quantico, Virginia.
By naming Hannibal Lecter after the original Cathaginian general, author Thomas Harris is attempting to explain why his protagonist is a murderer and cannibal. Hannibal (247-183 BC) was one of the most brilliant masters of military tactics who ever lived. In his comprehensive history of the Punic Wars, Will Durant writes of Hannibal: "The Romans could not readily forgive him for winning battles with his brains rather than the lives of his men. The tricks he played upon them, the skill of his espionage, the subtlety of his strategy, the surprises of his tactics were beyond their appreciation until Carthage was destroyed."
Influenced as I am by Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy of the Will to Power, I believe that much of our pleasure in horror films comes from our dual identification with both the threatening antagonists and human protagonists. The astounding feats of the monster or human psychotic are what most attracts us to them, for they exhibit powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.
Lecter penetrates the minds as well as the bodies of others (see for instance his effect on Miggs in "The Silence of the Lambs"): "he specializes in getting...into one's thoughts [as well as "under one's skin"] and he makes little of the classic body/mind split as he eats bodies and sucks minds dry."