Hannibal Lecter meets The Thing: A concise sexual analysis
By Cpl Ferro
of the title is not to suggest a direct opposition between these two fictional
characters, but to introduce them as profoundly complementary incarnations of
monsterhood. In a sense, they are both Ultimate Monsters for reasons I shall
The basis for my analysis is in how these two characters embody “sophisticated
ultimate” expressions of respectively male and female instincts, and that this
is the reason they resonate so powerfully with vulnerable audiences.
The Hannibal I reference is exclusively the one from The Silence of the Lambs
and Hannibal, and the Thing that I reference is exclusively the one from
John Carpenter’s The Thing. I proceed.
Hannibal is portrayed as a veritable walking encyclopedia of Western
Civilisation, a master of psychology and a connoisseur of the arts and, of
course, fine cuisine. In other words, superficially he is the ultimate civilised
man. The difference between him and any other man in essence, however, is that
he has not relinquished his primal instincts. In men, the primal instinct is
often described as territoriality, which is a function of the male mind as
always seeking unambiguous unity. This is the origin of truthfulness as the
highest male qua male virtue.
This drive to unity informs sexuality. Men seek territory because they know that
with territory come women. A man who doesn’t seek women but still seeks
territory is either serving a greater cause of some kind, or is insane, like a
mad dog senselessly defending a tree. Once established, a man thinks in terms of
all his property being an extension of himself: “My wife, my kids, my car, my
house, my country,” etc..
In the universal, timeless scenario, a man, who is a human with certain
unavoidably necessary animal instincts, tries to reconcile his humanity with his
animality. Success in doing this leads to noble pride, but failure, by
being shamed, is catastrophic, because he becomes convinced that his very
existence is ugly, bad, and false in terms of what his mind knows to be its true
human identity as a creature of Reason/Agape made in the image of the unified
creative potentiality of the universe.
A shamed man must escape his identity as a human animal, and has two choices.
Either he can reject the feminine and become an animal, reveling in his male
instincts and in hatred of femininity, generating the ignoble pride of
the macho bully boy and sadist, and implicit homosexual “macho”. Or, he can take
refuge in the feminine and become an “Uncle Tom” in the service of whatever Big
Sister says. Few men end up pure examples of either choice, or a perfect
blend of both, and there are always personality variables to account for, but
this is relatively superficial.
In relatively healthy families, a man becomes a father with a debt of shame on
his conscience that he feels he must expiate. This is why men hope to sire sons,
because a son becomes an extension of himself that he can improve, and so take
noble pride in doing something right. Sons, however, realise this is a kind of
sexual interference, of their fathers “fucking with them” and almost always
rebel in some way in order to “be their own person.” As Lyle Burkhead puts it,
“One of my professors (Thomas Gould) pointed out that there is no law against
sticking a pencil in your ear, because nobody wants to do that anyway. The
government passes laws against things that people want to do. This came up in
the context of the Oedipus myth. Why is patricide a crime? Because boys want to
kill their fathers. If they didn't want to do it, there wouldn't be a law
against it. Why is patricide a serious crime (in most societies), with draconian
punishments? Because boys hate their fathers with a fierce hatred, and they have
to try very hard to control themselves. The more people want to do something,
the more stringent the law against it.”
Ideally, the son and father eventually come to a manly understanding of
territory, and the father takes pride in his son’s having turned out all right
to “do him proud,” while the son draws strength from having “not forgotten the
face of his father,” as he makes his way in the world. But the son himself
carries his own debt of shame, of inadequacy and hatred that his father infected
him with through his militaristically rational demands. And when he has a son he
will attempt to “do better by my kid than my father did by me,” with that same
ruthlessness that his own son will always hate him for.
In Hannibal’s case, we have a man who is not concerned with children, but with
living his life as efficiently and joyously as possible. He is no slavering wolf
attacking the chickens. He is, rather, an immoral, completely shameless,
guiltless, highly intelligent epicure who only kills those he finds discourteous
or otherwise especially obnoxious to his demanding mind. That he eats choice
portions of his victims speaks to his full openness to male instinct, sexuality
itself merges with cannibalism as the exploration of the body – a reflection of
self-knowledge, since the body is the ultimate metaphor for a human.
This is no glib observation. Hannibal exhibits a distinctly female quality that
makes him so frighteningly unctuous when combined with his masculine
rationality. He’s not camp, he’s not homosexual though he understands them, and
he’s not a macho. He’s very rational, and controlled, and psychotic, and,
notably, revolting to female audiences. All these qualities make him as
seductive to FBI trainee Clarice Starling as she is alluring to him. His
sexuality has shifted from his groin to the vagina dentata of his mouth,
and he defines himself as a male canine animal (if nothing else) sexually
through the act of discriminating devourment. He is Spielberg’s Jaws, except
with the maximum cultural refinement and self-control to Jaw’s minimum.
Turning now to his relationship with Clarice, as best shown in The Silence of
the Lambs, we have a female creature entering his demesne who fascinates
him. She is the only woman we are told about who is actually beautiful to
him, as someone he can have a genuinely human relationship with, someone he can
care about. She is played by Jodie Foster, the premiere actress for conveying an
impression of intelligence, and together with her bad childhood
experiences this is key because Hannibal is interested in her mind, not her body
– another reason why he gives audiences the chills. She is damaged and
unseasoned and he realises that she is more interesting alive than dead. He is
intelligent enough to realise that, and self-controlled enough to suppress his
instincts as needed in order to fulfill them on a superior level.
In his cage, at his piano playing what is presumably a Classical piece while
spattered in the blood of enemies who entered his lair and he has now dispatched
with supremely confident psychosexual glee, he is truly the image of pure
And that is what makes Hannibal the Ultimate Male Monster.
The Thing from outer space is portrayed as maximally alien to the men at the
American research station. And notably the are all men, with no live
woman appearing at any time in the film. These men, in their scientific outpost,
with their interrelationships, hobbies, and jobs, represent, above all,
functioning Western Civilisation. Into this comes the monster – appropriately
enough, in the form of a seductively friendly beast.
The Thing is portrayed very differently than Hannibal is. Where Hannibal is
confident, rational, and psychotic, the Thing is paranoid, relatively
irrational, and neurotic. Where Hannibal discriminately consumes and assimilates
the West into himself, rising to a high level of sophistication on its own
terms, the Thing indiscriminately consumes and assimilates the West only for the
purposes of camouflage. Not for it appreciation of the higher things; everything
living or dead is merely a found object to be manipulated to its advantage.
The Thing itself is most notably a “monster that isn’t there,” – a monster with
no original physical form but merely an indecipherable kaleidoscope of imitated
forms it mixes and matches at whim. Its mind and body are one, so that it
thinks itself into new forms. As such, it acts as a new universal physical
principle, a fact that later proves its Achilles’ heel.
When “hiding behind an imitation” in an unmixed form, such as that of a man it
has killed, the monster’s neurosis operates perfectly. Its preconscious
(preverbal) mind lurks silently, looking out of the eyes of its imitated form,
which is all holistically part of its consciousness (verbal). In order to “stay
in character” it must refrain from breaking both the physical and
mental/conscious imitations, for to break one breaks the other and it is loathe
to do this unless it feels assured of privacy or invulnerability.
Its irrationality enters the picture with regards to its selection of victims. A
military mind would have waged a rapid, stealthy campaign of mass-infection.
Opportunities such as infecting Clark (while alone with the monster-dog) and
infecting Childs (while alone with monster-Palmer) would have been taken,
instead of squandered. So the monster is not a good strategist, relying more on
intuition to make its moves.
The sum of the monster’s physical essence of being composed of nothing but
ambiguous signals partly with the effect of confusing its enemies, its neurotic
mental splitting into “inner me” and “outer me” during unmixed imitation, and
its misreading of the strategic situation suggests it is an example of feminine
instinct at work.
The difference between the Thing and women per se in essence, however, is that
it has taken the female instincts to the nth degree. In women, the primal
instinct is to relate, which is a function of the female mind as always
seeking interpenetrating duality. This is the origin of compassion as the
highest female qua female virtue. But as with Hannibal, the Thing is a
consummate egotist and thus is grossly selfish. Able to completely assimilate a
victim’s mind, it is the best possible relater, able to relate so well as to
masquerade as that personality perfectly.
The Thing’s sexuality, then, is neurotic in that it wants to reproduce/copulate
but social conditions related to its intrinsic biology and psychology make that
unwise, raising the cost of sex for its partners/victims (males) to the absolute
(death). This is analogous to the female instinct to raise the cost of sex to
ensure that only a dedicated male mates with her. In the Thing’s case, because
of its mastery of relation, the needed dedication is immediately transformed
into the offspring itself, which the parent Thing has a perfect mental
relationship with and vice versa because of their mutual origin as a unified
being that divides into two psychic copies of itself.
The men encountering the Thing were repeatedly horrified by its biological
manifestations, because visually it screamed at them “whatever caused this is
different from you, absolutely.” The flesh of the Thing is puppeteered by a
feminine instinct that is utterly uncreative and wholly deceptive. It can build,
use tools, and talk, but it cannot invent, and it cannot communicate,
as seen with the Bennings-thing that never even tried to communicate even when
it was about to be conflagrated. There is nothing in there to communicate with,
no consciousness whatsoever that relates to the inner being, and that is the
hell of it.
And that is what makes the Thing the Ultimate Female Monster.
MONSTERS MEET FOR TEA
Hannibal meeting the Thing would absolutely hate it because it is so impolite.
He would also fear it because it so much the opposite of his own nature. And
lastly, he would love it because it represents the ultimate challenge of a mind
to crack and control.
He couldn’t leave it be, or it would destroy him. And he couldn’t simply destroy
it, or he would lose his chance to understand it. Since its only method of
communication is digestion, then, he would have no choice but to fire up the
grill and start cookin’.
He’d always keep some uncooked remains in the freezer, however, just in case he
got a new insight and decided to wake it up and try to talk with it again.
A meal and a neverending mental challenge – the best of both worlds!
Women: What Big Sister Doesn’t Want You to Know