"You know what you look like to me, with your good bag and your cheap shoes? You look like a rube." - Hannibal Lecter
"Do you think that's right, Herman? Of course, you would have researched that and dropped it out for everybody to see, particularly since I dissed that just ridiculous-looking outfit." - The President of the United States
Prequels are a waste of pre-time. Battle for the Planet of the Apes, for heaven's sake? The Phantom Menace? Wide Sargasso Sea? Muppet Babies? So of course the new Silence of the Lambs prequel, Hannibal Rising, isn't any good.
Hannibal Rising is a the story of the world's favorite gourmand/mass murderer -at least until they prove what I suspect about Racheal Ray - but set in the 40s, back when he was just a troubled teen.
It was written at the same time as the screenplay for the next movie, and it makes commercial sense to age Hannibal down. Anthony Hopkins will be 69 this month and even five years ago his Hannibal was a little like watching people get chased around by Pope John Paul II.
(2002's Red Dragon, Hopkins' last time out, in a remake pretending to be a prequel, is one of those things nice people don't talk about, like Sean Connery in Entrapment or Nicholas Cage's hair.)
One of the problems with Hannibal Rising is the problem with all prequels: The lack of suspense that goes with knowing our protagonist can't die. Young Hannibal has to live to become Old Hannibal, to experience the other books, and meet interesting people and eat them.
But the real problem is that we don't want to know how Hannibal became Hannibal. Rising lays out all the traumas that made Hannibal the little old Welsh killing machine he later became. And by explaining him, it makes him mundane.
It tries to explain where evil comes from, and that's always a letdown. Because to understand is to forgive. And to forgive is boring.
It's like finding out Dracula's problems were rooted in Transylvanian toilet training.
Hannibal Lecter, the character Hannibal Lecter, was always a cheat anyway. Even before we knew all the facts (how his father beat him, how he ran away) he already had too many layers to be pure evil. Because nuance is a redeeming quality.
Pure evil is boorish and blunt and single minded and proud of how stupid it is. It's not Olivier. It's Oliver North.
People think evil is hard to understand, because you can't see it -- it's just a concept, like curved space, or Barack Obama -- but you actually can see it. Look at this picture:
This isn't an evil man. He's a murderer, but he's not evil. This is Lyndon Johnson listening to a tape about things falling apart in Vietnam. After Tet. After he's given up on ever being president again. And he's in agony. This huge giant guy, this cunning bully, is in anguish. This is a picture of a man getting his for the terrible things he's done and knowing he deserves it. He's not just feeling doubt; he's thinking he's going to hell. His war, his lies, his hubris, his dead. History -- and history is important to him -- will not be kind. You wouldn't want to be him.
As opposed to this:
The woman in the hospital bed is Sgt. Carla Best, 659th Maintenance Company. She's from Virginia Beach. Her leg was paralyzed in Baghdad by a roadside bomb. She's going to lose it, but she doesn't know that yet. That's her mother on the left. The grinning visitor giving her the "you go get 'em, tiger" fist pump isn't riddled by self-doubt. Well, not riddled like shrapnel riddles.
He holds the same office Lyndon Johnson did, but it seems to give him a lot more job satisfaction. He has daughters about Sgt. Best's age. Their legs work.
If the man in the picture is feeling an iota of empathy for the woman he's crippled, he's certainly not getting all mushy about it. It's not making him wonder if he's ever made a mistake.
Whatever it is he is feeling, it is not remorse.
So is that really a picture of evil? How should I know? I work in TV. But I know it makes my flesh crawl. Like a really good novel about a psychopath who kills and doesn't feel anything. Only it's not a novel.
You go get 'em, tiger.