'Hannibal' -- a nasty feast, bad aftertaste

Posted: Sep 06, 2000 12:00 AM
After spending a summer in airports watching delayed travelers devouring the paperback, "Hannibal," and following the advice of my niece, Jennifer ... who shall pay for this some day ... I bought a copy of the "Silence of the Lambs" sequel. That was my mistake and I paid for it, although I can point to two positive results. First, now I won't waste my money to see the revolting book cast in celluloid. Second, my already considerable admiration for the actress Jodie Foster has grown even greater. Foster, to her credit, refused to sign on to the sequel to reprise her role as FBI agent Clarice Starling. "I stand to make more money doing that sequel than I've ever made in my life," Foster told a magazine called W. But she said no. "The movie worked because people believed in (Starling's) heroism," Foster explained. "I won't play her with negative attributes she'd never have." Those of you who don't want to know the ending of the book should read no further, because it is the book's ending that so offends. Director Ridley Scott apparently has decided to dump the most notorious scene in the book, in which serial killer/cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Starling share a candlelight dinner of a man's brain, as what's left of the man watches them dine. Nonetheless, Scott apparently is keeping the more offensive element to the ending ... Starling and Lecter become lovers and run away to Buenos Aires together. The moral of the sequel is that a man can be depraved, cruel and kill innocent people, but if he has millions and a rich man's (forgive the pun) taste, well, any woman ... even a woman who joined the FBI to protect victims ... would fall for him. Author Thomas Harris dedicates much ink to gushing about Lecter's refined taste, as evidenced by his sharp clothes, predilection for truffles and his perfect Tuscan accent. The point is clear: Sure, Lecter likes to eat peoples' livers, torture enemies, and maybe once he did bite off a nurse's tongue, but his victims tended to be crude by comparison to the cultured cannibal. This Lecter is supposed to be lovable because he has a yen for Chateau d'Yquem. The sequel's star is the Lecter of liver, Fava beans and a lowly "nice Chianti" no more. Actor Anthony Hopkins, who plays Lecter, calls the movie "in its way, a dark, dark romance." If so, it is the story of rich, older men's dark romance with themselves. Theirs is a love so strong, women don't count. Both producer Dino De Laurentiis and director Scott have told the media that Foster was dispensable and the movie won't be the worse for the replacement of Foster with actress Julianne Moore. Yet both argued they couldn't make the sequel without Hopkins. The woman is fungible; the older man -- must be because he's so suave and debonair -- cannot be replaced. This sequel marks a racheting up in Americans' consumption of violence. "The Silence of the Lambs" broke ground by featuring a compelling villain, a cannibal with an odd sense of honor. The sequel has to go one further; there has to be more gore than in the first film. So spice the dish up with more exotic body parts. And don't forget to add the sex. It will be interesting to see if the public buys this more lurid version of Hannibal the Cannibal, unredeemed, as it will be, by the clear voice of a Clarice Starling who cares so much about victims that she could hear terror even when voiced by silent lambs heading for slaughter. In a sense, Lecter's seduction of Starling may be a metaphor for the movie-going public's appetite for sensation. It provides thrills so great you aren't supposed to mind a "Hannibal" with no heroine and a Starling who values emeralds and cashmere over scruples and justice.