Love letter for a cannibal

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Emily Bi/Staff

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I’m not a film critic by any means. A quick skim through my Daily Cal author page will quickly let you know that my area of expertise is mostly music and opinions. Yet there is something I know to be a deep truth of the universe: “The Silence of the Lambs” is the best film ever made.

To substantiate this claim, however, let’s go back in time.

Thomas Harris and his uncanny, cannibalistic antagonist, Hannibal Lecter, sneaked up on me back in high school and (in a very in-character manner) haven’t let me go ever since. Sure, I have my favorites, but the Lecter canon in its entirety holds a special place in my heart. You name it, I love it — the books (even “Hannibal Rising”), the movies (even “Manhunter”), the television series (even season 3).

I owe Harris many things, including my novelistic writing style and my soul. I do not, however, owe him gratitude for my lifelong horror obsession. That began way before I discovered Hannibal Lecter, although this prior obsession certainly put me on the path toward said discovery. In elementary and middle school, I naturally gravitated toward anything with a particularly macabre cover, and this led me to my favorite authors: R.L. Stine, Lois Duncan and Mary Downing Hahn.

Eventually I branched out and started “educating” myself on the horror classics. I pored over “The Exorcist” and “Psycho” before eventually picking up “Red Dragon” and “The Silence of the Lambs” at the local library.

The rest, as they say, is (relatively recent) history.

A psychologist who saw me in high school told me I must be an adrenaline junkie because I love the thrill of scaring myself. I can’t find a reason to counter this claim.

I’ve always been addicted to pushing my own boundaries and finding the scariest books, the scariest films, the scariest television series. It wouldn’t be a stretch to estimate that I’ve read every listicle out there that ranks “the most terrifying” horror flicks and psychological thrillers. If that isn’t convincing enough, there’s always the fact that, on any given night, I’m sitting on the living room couch with my housemates, watching a scary movie.

At this point, “The Silence of the Lambs” comes back into the picture. Of all the horror movies I’ve seen — and there are obviously many — it’s this one that holds the esteemed title of being my favorite. It was terrifying for its original audience, but, similarly to the “The Exorcist,” the success of its cinematic fear tactics have gradually fallen as we as a society have become more and more desensitized to many of the tactics older horror staples relied on to shock people.

Still, it’s not just my undying love for Jodie Foster that keeps “The Silence of the Lambs” so high up on my list. But it’s not exactly the horror tactics, either — much like other members of my generation, I don’t scare easy.

For me, the magic of “The Silence of the Lambs” — and anything else within the Lecter canon — is the seamless way that reality is married with the absurd existence of a surgeon-turned-psychiatrist-turned-cannibal named, of all things, Hannibal.

Somehow, it’s pulled off. Somehow, it’s good.

Furthermore, Hannibal is remarkably human. This is more true of the television series’ version of the esteemed Dr. Lecter, but even in his harshest moments, it’s still difficult to pin him down as a sociopath. Although he allegedly is one, even Lecter himself confesses it’s the cop-out diagnosis — nobody knows what he really is, so they pretend that they do in order to sleep better at night.

Against all odds, Harris created a villain too despicable to be hated. Instead, we find ourselves rooting for him, at least sometimes. The now-cheap horror tactics have become outdated over the years, but “The Silence of the Lambs” never stops being terrifying because of how weirdly likeable a character Hannibal is.

As much as I love delving into the deepest pits of what the horror genre has to offer, I’ve never found another antagonist like Hannibal. And, within the Lecter canon, this marvel isn’t just limited to him — Francis Dolarhyde, the other antagonist in “Red Dragon,” is also remarkably human and, if not as likeable as Hannibal, definitely a standout character in his own right. Rest assured, Harris is no one-hit wonder — even if he only ever wrote one non-Hannibal novel.

For me, Harris’ fictional universe is real despite its very surreal aspects. In this world, a Lithuanian doctor who “eats the rude” is somehow fleshed out to be a real person, a character with endless depth who is so much more than his regretful culinary decisions.

I can’t think of anything much more metal than that.

Alex Jiménez writes the arts & entertainment column on consuming art as an artist. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @alexluceli.