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The Hannibal Detail We Never See In Silence Of The Lambs

Upon its release in the gray winter days of 1991, audiences found themselves simultaneously shocked by and in genuine awe of Jonathan Demme's horror masterpiece The Silence of the Lambs. The modestly budgeted shocker won big at the box office, and even bigger at the '92 Academy Awards where it swept major categories. In the near three decades since its release, The Silence of the Lambs has only grown in esteem, and is regularly ranked among the greatest movies ever made.

Dr. Hannibal Lecter continues to rank as one of the most terrifying movie villains, as well. That vile, cannibalistic creature made his first appearance in Thomas Harris' 1981 novel Red Dragon, but it wasn't until Harris' 1988 followup, The Silence of the Lambs, that the character stepped fully into the light and began haunting the hearts and minds of all who read. Of course, once Anthony Hopkins brought the exceedingly not-good doctor to horrifying life in the 1991 adaptation, the character's legacy among the best of the big-screen bads was all but cemented.

That legacy was recently bolstered by Mads Mikkelsen's demented take on the character in the pitch-black small screen series Hannibal. As revered as Mikkelsen's performance in that series is, Hopkins' Oscar-winning work in The Silence of the Lambs remains the high bar for depicting homicidal, sociopathic behavior on the big screen.

Even still, some fans of Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lecter novels have a big problem with the character's depiction in The Silence of the Lambs. They note specifically that in the books Lecter is polydactyl, which means he has an extra finger on one of his hands.

No extra finger is ever seen or mentioned in the movie.  

The mystery of the missing sixth finger

That very fact was broached by u/Robotlolz in an incisive post on a The Silence of the Lambs appreciation Reddit board, with the user bestowing heaps of praise on the film and character before discussing the essential erasure of Lecter's polydactyly.

"The mystery of Hannibal was always one of the more compelling things about the character. Where does a person like that come from? What fires forge a person like that? One thing I always found strange ... No mention of Hannibal's polydactylism [sic] in the Hannibal Rising book. In the books, Hannibal has an extra digit on his hand, 6 fingers. They never mention the condition in the movies, understandably, but it becomes a major plot point in the Hannibal book when he's on the run and has surgery to remove his extra finger."

That key character trait is clearly not a part of Hopkins' portrayal in The Silence of the Lambs or even the prequel film Red Dragon. But based on the timeline of the books, the extra digit should've been there the whole time. One can only imagine the filmmakers left it out of The Silence of the Lambs for one of two reasons: 1) the finger was an unnecessary (and possibly cost-prohibitive) special effect, or 2) it never factored into TSOTL's narrative.

Whatever the reason, Robotlolz raises a valid question about Lecter's missing finger; even if they're wrong about it never being mentioned in the movies. The missing digit is specifically addressed in 2001's Hannibal, when Mason Verger (Gary Oldman) almost casually notes Lecter had indeed had it surgically removed. 

The timeline of that removal remains frustratingly murky, however, and the fact continues to bother the Hannibal Heads of the world.