A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that various characters face cruel death -- their own or their loved ones'. The heroine is rejected by the law enforcement agency she serves. Later she finds herself stalked, drugged, imprisoned, and threatened with amputation by a love-struck killer. Danger of violent death/dismemberment by either slow torture (including devouring by other humans or wild animals) or quick evisceration. A hideously scarred villain's visage fills the screen. A physically disabled, disfigured, revenge-crazed character claims to be a born-again Christian, although what he practices is anything but. The rural-born Clarice Starling is taunted as "tornado-bait trailer-park white trash." Dr. Lecter expresses his love by tormenting the virtuous heroine. Slight profanity, but it includes derogatory references to female genitals. Characters dwell on revenge in various hideous forms. References to drug use. Verbal references to homosexuality, child-molestation, and sexual harassment. Fleeting nudity, among the Florence Opera chorus and in drawings and evidence photos. People are eaten by pigs, sliced with razors and medical instruments, hanged, shot, and hit by cars. One individual's brain is exposed -- while he's still alive.
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What's the story?
Is it any good?
It's a bit of an overstatement (and a really sick pun) to say that many viewers will find Hannibal thoroughly distasteful. Indeed, the climactic murder and epilogue are especially repellent. Excellent performances and literate dialogue place this material on a rung above all of those Nightmare on Elm Street or Scream sequels--beloved by teenagers -- in which gore takes on a carnival-spookhouse dimension, and audiences are invited to laugh at the bloodletting. The sadism's not funny here, except maybe when the erudite Lecter utters an easygoing "okey-doke" before killing someone. Even Lecter's victims -- especially Mason Verger -- are thoroughly creepy. Lecter's code of conduct, according to a former prison guard who actually became friendly with him, is to "eat the rude." Keep that in mind as you watch how filmmakers can transform the predatory serial killer into a hero -- as long as his targets look like they deserve their fates.
Fortunately, in this dark and often jumbled world (thanks to a globetrotting, somewhat confused narrative), FBI Agent Starling serves as an incorruptible force, determined to enforce the law fairly (even to the point of protecting Lecter). Hannibal's gruesome, much-discussed ending centers around whether Starling will join in Lecter's (literal) thirst for blood as his mate, or resist the seductive madman's evil to the very end. Jodie Foster read the Thomas Harris novel, but then declined to play Starling a second time (even after winning an Oscar for the role in Silence of the Lambs). Note: The movie alters the novel's ending.