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Lecter’s Psychological Profile in “The Silence of the Lambs” Research Paper

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Updated: Aug 24th, 2020

The film The Silence of the Lambs was produced in 1991. It is an American thriller and psychological movie directed by Jonathan Demme. It is based on the book The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. The main character is Hannibal Lecter, a psychopathic serial killer. The others are Clarice Starling and Buffalo Bill, an FBI agent.

In this paper, the author will provide a psychological profile of Hannibal Lecter. To this end, the author will present a diagnosis of this social killer and provide justifications for their findings. Finally, the writer will present a theory explaining the cause of the problem and recommend a possible treatment for the same.

A Diagnosis for the Identified Disorder

In the movie The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter portrays several traits and behavioral patterns that show he is suffering from a psychological condition. An in-depth analysis of his behavior indicates that he has an Antisocial Personality Disorder. The condition is a mental problem characterized by a ‘defined disregard’ for what is regarded as right or wrong (Thomas & Pope, 2012). In addition, the patient fails to respect the rights and feelings of others. Nolen-Hoeksema (2011) notes that people suffering from the disorder manipulate, provoke, and treat others with callous indifference. In addition, they show no remorse or guilt for their actions.

The diagnosis for the Antisocial Personality Disorder portrayed by Hannibal is based on an analysis of the personal and medical history of the character. It is also anchored on a psychological evaluation of thoughts, relationships, family history, and feelings. In addition, the diagnosis entails comparing Hannibal’s traits with symptoms documented in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Justifying the Diagnosis

Hannibal Lecter meets the criteria set for a person suffering from Antisocial Personality Disorder for several reasons. For example, his behavioral patterns match those listed by the American Psychiatric Association in the DSM-5.

Hannibal’s Failure to Conform to Social Norms

According to DSM-V, persons suffering from Antisocial Personality Disorder fail to conform to social norms. As a result, they engage in repeated crimes, which lead to constant arrests. In the movie The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal is portrayed as a prisoner found guilty of murder and cannibalism (Saxon, Utt & Bozman, 1991).

Hannibal Lecter attacks and kills policemen in five scenarios (Harris, 1991). To show how psychotic he is, he disembowels one of the officers. In addition, he skins the face of another and uses the skin to cover his face. Other acts involving policemen include beating one to death and biting another in the face. Hannibal also murders a tourist and steals his car and money (Saxon et al., 1991). Such serious crimes conform to the characteristics of persons suffering from a severe Antisocial Personality Disorder.

Lack of Remorse

While committing crimes, Hannibal does not show any signs of remorse (Harris, 1991). He does not think about his behavior and the hurt and harm he causes his victims. In his conversations, he shows signs of extreme arrogance. Hannibal uses these antics to instill fear in his victims and intimidate those around him. For example, in one instance, Hannibal is handed a questionnaire by Miss Starling. Instead of filling it, he responds by saying that the last time somebody tried to dissect him, he cannibalized them (Saxon et al., 1991).

Failure to Minimize Consequences

Persons suffering from Antisocial Personality Disorder fail to minimize the consequences of their actions (Nevid, Rathus & Greene, 2013). In the movie, it is evident that Hannibal makes no effort to lessen the result of his deeds. On the contrary, he often exaggerates the consequences. For example, after murdering one of the policemen, he does not leave the corpse alone. He disembowels the body and hangs it halfway up the wall (Saxon et al., 1991). Such actions show that he does not empathize with the pain and damage he inflicts on his victims (Harris, 1991). As a result, he is not afraid of the consequences of his actions.

Analyzing the Development of Hannibal’s Condition from a Theoretical Perspective

Antisocial Personality Disorder is attributed to several causes. The primary factors associated with the mental condition include personal experiences, as well as family and medical histories (Rotgers & Maniacci, 2006). From the movie, it is apparent that the main cause of Hannibal’s condition is his childhood experiences. His condition can be analyzed from the perspective of psychodynamic theory.

The character was born to a wealthy aristocratic family in 1933. He lived with his parents and younger sister. He grew up during World War II. When he was eight years old, his parents relocated. The family went to live in a forest to escape the fighting. When living in a house in the forest, the boy witnessed his parents being killed by German deserters (Harris, 1991). In addition, the Nazi collaborators murdered and cannibalized her sister as he watched. Five years later, Hannibal is shown in an orphanage. He is haunted by nightmares about the deaths of his parents and sister every night.

The psychodynamic theory explains that traumatic events can lead to the development of antisocial behaviors (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2011). The experiences of watching his parent’s murder and his sister being cannibalized explain the cause of Hannibal’s Antisocial Personality Disorder (Thomas & Pope, 2012). While in the orphanage, he finds it hard to obey the set rules. In addition, he does not talk to anyone. He became aggressive towards those he did not love.

Treating Hannibal’s Antisocial Personality Disorder

Hannibal’s condition can be managed. However, it is important to note that the effective management of Antisocial Personality Disorder is affected by several factors. They include the severity of the condition and the ability of the patient to comply with the rehabilitation (Nevid et al., 2013). According to Thomas and Pope (2012), the family of the patient suffering from the condition should look for help from qualified medical and mental health professionals with experience in managing the problem.

Hannibal’s problem can be treated through cognitive therapy, medications, and imprisonment (Rotgers & Maniacci, 2006). Cognitive therapy entails setting guidelines to help the patient manage his problems by changing their behavior and ways of thinking (Nevid et al., 2013). However, for the therapy sessions to be successful, it is important to look for a medical expert who is not intimidated by Hannibal’s threats and behavior patterns.

No specific medicines are permitted to manage the condition (Thomas & Pope, 2013). However, doctors are allowed to prescribe drugs to reduce aggression, anger, and threatening behavior. Some of the medications include Phenytoin, lithium carbonate, and carbamazepine (Rotgers & Maniacci, 2006). Incarceration acts as a form of management because it keeps antisocial offenders behind bars and deters them from committing other crimes (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2011)


Antisocial Personality Disorder is a complex form of mental illness. It is associated with spontaneous and reckless criminal tendencies. If not well managed, the problem affects both the patient and those around them. Such a scenario is witnessed in the movie The Silence of the Lambs. Hannibal Lecter, the main character in the film, appears to be suffering from this condition.


Harris, T. (1991). The silence of the lambs. Milano: St. Martin’s Paperbacks.

Nevid, J., Rathus, S., & Greene, B. (2013). Abnormal psychology in a changing world (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2011). Abnormal psychology. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Rotgers, F., & Maniacci, M. (2006). Antisocial personality disorder: A practitioner’s guide to comparative treatments. New York: Springer Pub.

Saxon, E., Utt, K., & Bozman, R. (Executive Producers). (1991). The silence of the lambs [DVD]. New York: Orion Pictures Corp.

Thomas, C., & Pope, K. (2012). The origins of antisocial behavior: A developmental perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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