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The Silence Of The Lambs Line That Means More Than You Think

In the bloodied annals of horror history, few villains cast quite as long a shadow as that of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. The vile, manipulative man-eater first appeared as a frightfully compelling supporting player in the pages of Thomas Harris' bracing 1981 novel Red Dragon, but took center stage with a beefed-up role in that book's follow-up, 1988's The Silence of the Lambs. Dr. Lecter would end up at the forefront of public consciousness just a couple of years later, when Sir Anthony Hopkins brought him to vivid life opposite Jodie Foster in the Oscar-winning big screen adaptation of Harris' latter book. Hopkins would go on to portray the cannibalistic Dr. Lecter in two more big screen ventures — 2001's generally reviled Hannibal, and 2002's far-better received Red Dragon — but never stopped devouring the screen, delivering iconic one-liners with such unhinged mirth that viewers couldn't help but hang on every word.

Some of Lecter's classic lines are more barbed than others, however. One such piece of dialogue came during Lecter's fateful first meeting with Foster's impetuous FBI Agent Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs: "You know how quickly the boys found you ... All those tedious sticky fumblings in the back seats of cars ... while you could only dream of getting out ... getting anywhere ... getting all the way to the FBI."

Whether you realized it or not, that squirm-inducing line put on full display the complex power dynamics inherent to the character's every relationship.

Everything is a power game when it comes to Hannibal Lecter

If there's one thing that's certain about Hannibal Lecter in his various cinematic ventures (as well as the beautifully gothic, tragically short-lived NBC series Hannibal), it's that ego drives his every action. In fact, Lecter typically feeds his insatiable ego by verbally eviscerating those around him, with cunning displays of his vast knowledge of art, history, and the finer elements of ... ahem, dining with friends. A vast knowledge of the human psyche plays as big a part of Lecter's ego-feeding as anything, though. It's well on display in that interaction with Clarice, as Lecter astutely alludes to the woman's struggle to rise above her station, while shamelessly sexualizing her at the same time. 

If you've seen The Silence of the Lambs, you know his tactic sort of works, with Clarice becoming increasingly unsettled by his rants. You also know that Clarice Starling is more than up to the challenge, and quickly spots the transactional nature of his nasty ruse. As such, she allows him to dress her down, and even confirms parts of his humiliating tale, understanding full well that playing this particular game, and giving "Hannibal the Cannibal" his intellectual satisfaction, is the only way to ensure he'll aid in her investigation. 

What makes this such a fascinating dance is that Lecter clearly knows he's taking the lead, even as he's accepting reimbursement (via contrition) from the person he's tormenting, before blessing them with his insights — which are usually very on point, for the record. That sort of intellectual grandstanding is what makes Hannibal Lecter such a fearsome foe in the genre world, and what makes him one of the greatest villains in the history of cinema.