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Hannibal Rising

A Fine, Young Cannibal

The charming cannibal Hannibal Lecter is back for another round of flesh eating fun and games in Peter Webber’s Hannibal Rising. After the box office success of Hannibal in 2001 and the remake of Red Dragon in 2003, studio executives are back to make a few more bucks off of one of the most compelling anti-heroes in recent memory. What we get in Hannibal Rising is an origin story that focuses on the traumas that shaped/molded a future flesh eating serial killer.

Hannibal Rising starts out in grim fashion as Lecter’s parents and young sister Mischa retreat to a lodge in the woods in the midst of a bombing towards the end of WWII. Hannibal’s parents are killed tragically right in front of Hannibal and Mischa. As if this wasn’t enough, a foot patrol of aspiring Nazis break into the lodge and ultimately use Mischa as food.

Experiencing the aforementioned is more than enough to unhinge most. The remainder of Hannibal Rising focuses on Hannibal’s (Gaspard Ulliel) remaining formative years under the influence of Lady Murasaki (Gong Li), the widow of his uncle. While Mursaki’s love and support of Hannibal helps assuage some of the pain, it becomes apparent all too quickly that Hannibal is damaged goods and won’t rest until the men who ate his sister die at his hands.

Part of what many responded to in Silence of the Lambs was the darkly compelling combination of charm and menace Anthony Hopkins brought to the character Hannibal Lecter. Hopkins has owned the Lecter mantle since 1991. Rest assured that relative newcomer Gaspard Ulliel is a worthy successor as the young Hannibal. Ulliel does a wonderful job of bringing his own brand of youthful charm and menace that is not a simple mimicry of Hopkins.

Additionally, Ulliel carries with him sadness and heaviness that is palpable from the minute you see him on screen. Hannibal is a very damaged young man who has virtually no ability to connect with people in any kind of substantive way and seemingly feels nothing. Not a bad start for a future serial killer. Ulliel convincingly gives us the vivid nascent of a cannibalistic serial killer.

Gong Li does a serviceable job as Hannibal’s caretaker/mentor in his years prior to medical school. The major problem with Lady Murasaki is that it’s hard to believe that she would be unilaterally supportive of Hannibal, particularly after Hannibal presents her with the head of his first kill. Granted, Murasaki lost family in the war too, but it’s a bit of a stretch to believe she would support this course of action.

Credit should be given to director Peter Webber and screenwriter Thomas Harris in bringing to life a painful, but generally plausible origin story for Hannibal Lecter in Hannibal Rising. The film presents a pretty compelling argument for how someone could become a flesh eating monster.

As a viewer you’re put in a somewhat awkward position as you can’t root for Hannibal, but you can’t quite unilaterally condemn him either given what he has endured. It also helps that Hannibal’s victims are pretty reprehensible and horrible people. It’s a sad, painful, and disturbing story, but Hannibal Rising is unquestionably an entertaining thriller as well.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars