When Hannibal first meets Clarice, he talks about how he cannibalized a census taker:

A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.

He follows that line up by hissing at Clarice.

I'm confused what the meaning behind the hiss is. One of the defining characteristics of Hannibal is that he's obsessively polite and abhors impoliteness in others, and hissing directly at your conversation partner during your first meeting feels exceptionally rude. In fact, it sounds like something Miggs would do.

I've read a lot about the intricacies of Anthony Hopkins' acting in this film, is there any in-character reason for the hiss?

  • For what it's worth, I saw an interview with Anthony Hopkins in which he said that the hissing-slurping sounds were improvised with him, and that he was just trying to be "over the top". It was a surprising / unsettling / scary moment, and that may be why the director chose not to cut it out of the film. Commented Dec 1, 2019 at 0:32
  • Thank you, but since I don't have a link to the original source, I don't think I ought to post it as an answer. Plus, it doesn't really explain why the character would hiss/slurp, and we also don't know why the director chose to keep that take. Commented Dec 8, 2019 at 0:42

1 Answer 1


He's testing her.

Clarice is a trainee sent to him as a part of evaluation. First he made sure she know that he knows that the initial chit-chat was to gain trust and ask him to fill out the form.

Then he proceeded to talk about her life, past, dreams and family. She seemed to be disturbed but insisted to push her.

So then he resorted to trying to terrify her with violence. She didn't have a comeback to that so Lecter sent her back to Crawford with HER own evaluation "I failed".

IMHO Lecter was willing to help Crawford from the start. It's part of his constant game to escape and he knows that by helping he will get something in return. He just likes to play games and is curious as to why Crawford didn't come to him himself or to send a real agent.

He probably suspects that Clarice is something extraordinary if, as a trainee, she was sent to face the Hannibal-cannibal.

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