Hannibal Lecter as Moral Example?

I am going to go out on a limb and say that the character of Hannibal Lecter is less offensive to my Christian sensibilities than author Ayn Rand. At least the version of Tom Harris’s cannibalistic serial killer depicted in Bryan Fuller’s aptly-named TV series Hannibal.

Allow me to digress. This morning, Amanda decided it would be fun to wake up and start her day at 4:30am. While Leeman took the brunt of this early-morning playtime with our daughter, it’s fair to say no one in the house was a happy camper by breakfast. So, to salvage some sense of joy to my morning, I sought the most entertaining podcast I could find for my morning walk with dog and toddler — an old episode of “The Dead Author’s Podcast” featuring the one and only John Hodgman in the role of the objectivist icon. As walked along laughing to myself and no doubt causing those I encountered to question my sanity, I couldn’t help at the same time having serious thoughts regarding the actual beliefs of Ayn Rand that John Hodgman’s performance was parodying.

What is the premise of objectivism? Seeking one’s own individual happiness as the primary moral end. There is no space for altruism or charity. Not really any space for true friendship or compassion. The world Ayn Rand would have created is a world, in my view, wholly devoid of grace. It is a world devoid of love for anything other than the self. It is a world as far away from the Gospel as anything I could possibly imagine. (I will refrain from addressing the obvious question of why then so many Christians, particularly in the US have claimed objectivist beliefs as the foundation for their political beliefs.)

Hannibal has also been on my mind of late, seeing that the series ended its third–probably final–series last weekend. (Because like all the beautiful things Bryan Fuller gives us, Hannibal was snatched away before its time). I have long been an advocate for the moral universe of Hannibal. When viewed against the nihilistic backdrop of so much of this alleged “golden age of TV” in which we live, Hannibal gives us something incredibly important. In contrast to anti-heroes (I’m looking at you Don Draper and Walter White), Hannibal presents its audience with a legitimate villain. Dr Lecter is Satan, the fallen angel. Hannibal corrupts all things that are good — most notably food, art, and friendship. Hannibal is, in no uncertain terms, evil itself.

And yet I love Fuller’s interpretation of the character–subtly brought to life in Mads Mikkelsen’s performance. Dr Lecter can only corrupt beauty and art because the world of Hannibal is a world that affirms virtues like beauty and art exist in the first place. Hannibal can only corrupt friendship because the world of the show affirms friendship–and more broadly connection outside of oneself–as a fundamental human craving, one to which not even Hannibal himself is immune.

The central focus of Fuller’s series has not been gruesome murders or Hannibal’s mind games but the intimate connection between its two central characters–FBI profiler Will Graham and Hannibal himself. Whatever twist and turns the show takes, these two men remain inexorably drawn to one another. Their friendship is distorted, to be sure. Will wants nothing more than to be rid of Hannibal forever and Hannibal wants to corrupt Will for his own purposes. But a friendship–an intimate friendship–it remains nonetheless.

When Leeman and I were recently discussing Hannibal‘s finale, Leeman posed to me the question: “Is the world of Hannibal a world without grace?” To which I must say that the answer is no. Over and over again, the series as brought out the theme that there is a kind of redemption offered in our connection to one another, to something outside of ourselves–if we can only grasp it. Even Hannibal describes his love for Will as “inconvenient” to his more sinister purposes. There is something in that which resonates deeply with my faith. What are the two great commandments? To love God and to love our neighbour. To seek our meaning and our purpose outside of merely our own ends and our own happiness.

So, in the end, I would rather live in the world of Fuller’s Hannibal than in a world of Randian objectivism. I would rather live in a world where friendship and love exist as positive virtues, even if they are capable of being twisted and corrupted. Lucifer was, after all, at one time the bearer of God’s light.

Also, “Hannibal at the Zoo” (or mall) on Twitter is just too much fun.


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