Who wins the battle in a comparison of the greatest film villain and the greatest film hero?
Hannibal Lecter versus Atticus Finch – Greatest movie villain versus the greatest movie hero.
I wonder how they would fare in a battle against each other. And after butting the characters side by side, I recognized the similarities between Hannibal and Atticus seem all too chilling. Could our favorite villain be just one step away from our archetypal hero?
AFI (American Film Institute) gave number one villain status to Hannibal played by Anthony Hopkins and number one hero status to Atticus played by Gregory Peck, referring to their film roles in The Silence of the Lambs and To Kill a Mockingbird.
The movie portrayals stick out in my mind more than Thomas Harris’ and Harper Lee’s novels, perhaps solely because of the actors’ performances. Both actors won academy awards for best actor for their roles.
First, both Hannibal and Atticus would invite you to dinner, use formal diction, have very polite manners, and both would be good listeners, giving you their undivided attention. Neither is very talkative, but when they speak, wow, their words have great meaning and import.
Second, they both have exceptional analytical reasoning skills. Funny thing Hannibal helps catch criminals and Atticus defends a falsely accused criminal. They both have strong codes of honor, self-control and will power.
But as well, note that the male roles are both secondary to female leads who are young, innocent, and who respect their male mentor, Starling for Hannibal and Scout for Atticus. The female innocence symbolizes the mockingbird ‘do no harm against that which does no harm’ theme in both movies for villain and hero. This reverence of innocence is their bastion; what we admire about both is their ability to ‘see’ who is ‘the innocent’ in society.
Even the movie endings show the hero and the villain adapting values depending on individual circumstances. Hannibal doesn’t harm Starling because of his respect for her compared to other lowly human beings, and Atticus ignores the strict code of the law to protect Boo from the legal system that just let him down. In short, Hannibal is a cannibal, but he doesn’t eat just anyone, and Atticus honors the law, but he allows Boo, a killer, to go free unpunished.
Their likenesses just might render a tie in a Hannibal-Atticus mêlée. I’m sure Hannibal would have made a delectable meal out of Bob Ewell and his daughter Mayella, perhaps saving Tom from their false accusations. And Atticus in defending Hannibal to the best of his ability would have delved into the trauma young Hannibal endured watching his little sister being eaten by Nazi collaborators, leaving the jury afflicted with sympathy, maybe even empathy, for the adult cannibal.
But we like clear winners. If I was forced to declare a victor, I’d have to say Hannibal since he has an unalterable resolution for his conflicts. Because, yes, they are similar, and yes, both would invite you to dinner, but problem is one would eat you for dinner the other would simply say “Calpurnia, bring me the syrup.”
What’s more telling for the champion, or more likely American pop culture, is many audience members actually do hail Hannibal as a hero, albeit an anti-hero.