I recently watched Silence of the Lambs (1991) and was wondering what Hannibal's mask actually does and why he needs it. When I first saw it, I thought it stopped him talking as people have been warned about what to say to Lecter. However, I was clearly wrong. Still trying to figure it out, I concluded that it must be to prevent Hannibal biting the Senator's face off. But if surely his restraints are enough to prevent him getting close enough to do that.

Hannibal in restraints

This doesn't look like someone who has enough range of movement to do that, even without the mask. So why do they give him it? Is it just a precaution?

  • 15
    While it certainly restricts his ability to eat someone, it also potentially serves as a reminder/warning to those around him that this guy likes to chew on people. If you saw him from a distance, you'd probably stay away.
    – Longshanks
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 7:07
  • 3
    Methinks that the purpose is merchandising and brand recognition.
    – xDaizu
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 11:55
  • 4
    I argue, his restraints are not enough to prevent him from biting someone. A guard might have to check is restraints or move the contraption with the back to a wall. Thus forcing the guard to come close to Mr. Lecters front.
    – sbecker
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 12:41
  • 1
    He was a former hockey goalie.
    – LarsTech
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 17:31

3 Answers 3


Hannibal can and would use his mouth to hurt you if it suited him.

Hannibal, like most people, has the opportunity to use any part of his body to come into contact with another person (a victim).

Unlike most people, Hannibal:

  • Has the medical training to know exactly how to produce whatever damage he wants to inflict in multiple different ways.
  • Has the motivation to inflict this damage if he views you as someone that should be punished for his own slight reasons.
  • Has the desire to do this damage due to his cannibalistic proclivity.
  • Has the extraordinary intelligence to dupe you into making yourself vulnerable -- even when you think you are on your guard.

All this indicates that every avenue he has to inflict his will has to be defeated. That includes his hands, his feet, AND his mouth. Personally, I would include his forehead and use a head restraint to attach his head to the backboard (in addition to the chest, hip, and leg restraints).

  • 2
    I read the first line and got scared +1 Commented May 3, 2017 at 15:23
  • 1
    I can't recall - does the mask also hold his jaw closed, so he can't talk? Considering his intellect and his uncanny ability to "smooth talk" (for a lack of a much better term) people into doing things, it may also be highly beneficial to keep him from talking. He's been known to get into people's heads just by talking. Best to keep his mouth shut!
    – BruceWayne
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 17:45
  • @BruceWayne I am pretty sure he can talk. So it does not restrict his breathing either. It just stops his ability to bite. I agree that he can kill with his words. Remember he "convinced" his neighboring prisoner to swallow his tongue and die. But that was predicated on prolonged interaction. That will probably not work on experienced police officers.
    – John
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 18:15
  • @Kik on screen it was shown in Hannibal... in the books, however, it was mentioned in The silence of the lambs
    – Barranka
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 19:48
  • @BruceWayne John's right. He can talk and therefore breathe with the mask on Commented May 3, 2017 at 20:10

The mask is a way to stop Hannibal from biting other people. They tried a few masks to see which one stroke a more menacing look.

Other characters in other movies use similar masks for similar purposes, like Steve Buscemi's character in Con Air.

Real life anti-biting masks look a little less S&M, although Hannibal's could easily pass for an older model.

  • 2
    The mask you linked to is to protect from being bitten and spat on, not to prevent someone biting and spitting, though. Commented May 3, 2017 at 14:31
  • 3
    As you can imagine, the only way a mask that only covers the mouth can protect you from biting and spitting, is if it's covering the mouth of the bitter/spitter. The mask leaves ears and eyes exposed, both vulnerable spots to biting or diseases transmitted by saliva. The company is called "Restraints International". They sell stuff to restrain prisoners like cuffs and bed restraints. They don't sell safety equipment (like a helmet or protection mask).
    – CyberClaw
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 14:36
  • I might be wrong here, the writing is a bit ambiguous (as it says it can be used by officers, but I'm guessing that means they can use it, and force a prisoner to wear it). It just doesn't make much sense to me if that's actually for the officer to wear.
    – CyberClaw
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 14:38
  • 2
    @JörgWMittag, Breathing shields or more generally referred to 'protection masks' for rescue workers are also applied to the patients face and not the workers. This is to prevent blow-back (spit up, throw up etc...) from getting into the rescue workers mouth when they are preforming rescue breathing/CPR. (source: I was a rescue worker and carried one for 6 years).
    – Ryan
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 17:54

Clarisse was shown a surveillance video of Hannibal attacking a nurse using only his teeth. Jack Crawford (her boss) explains that after the attack, doctors were somewhat able to reset the woman's jaw, and reconstruct what was left of her face. (I'm having trouble finding the scene, so I don't have the exact dialogue.)

This establishes that Hannibal can savagely destroy a person just by biting them, so his mouth needs to be covered to prevent that.

  • In addition: his heartbeat kept calm... Even when he swallowed the piece he took from the nurse (Crawford said). The mask was part of the "standard security measures" taken when dealing with Hannibal Lecter. Barney knew it, even Dr. Chilton knew it... So bad the cops who took Lecter into custody didn't pay enough attention
    – Barranka
    Commented Aug 26, 2019 at 23:05

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .