fava beans and nice chianti .jpg
Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, Orion Pictures, 1991)
Stories & Ideas

Wed 13 Jan 2021

Silence of the Lambs – With some fava beans and a nice chianti

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Maria Lewis
Maria Lewis

Assistant Film Curator

Does Hannibal Lecter's iconic line contain a secret message?

Before sinking his teeth into the role of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs (1992), Anthony Hopkins was better known for theatrical roles on stage. All that changed after playing the iconic cannibal in Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs (1991), for which Hopkins won the Best Actor Oscar in 1992. From the moment host Billy Crystal emerged in the Hannibal Lecter mask and greeted Hopkins in the crowd, to the four additional Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Actress and Adapted Screenplay to go alongside Hopkins’, the 1992 Academy Awards were basically an homage to Silence of the Lambs.

You can imagine the crowd would’ve accepted Hopkins’ acceptance speech to consist entirely of oft-quoted lines from the film. And the most quoted line comes while Hannibal recounts the story of a census taker who once tried to test him. “I ate his liver with some fava beans and nice chianti.”

Not only is the line instantly iconic, but the film’s popularity stabbed it over and over into public consciousness. It’s ranked #21 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Movie Quotes list (while Hannibal appeared #1 on its 100 Heroes and Villains list). It’s also been sampled by DJ Tiifa twice in her track “Insane”, Jim Carrey parodied it in Dumb and Dumber, and Anthony Hopkins appeared as Hannibal Lecter in The Simpsons where he performs the slurping, flickering tongue portion of the quote. You can also buy numerous t-shirts with the quote, but this is the best.

The line has also been obsessed over by internet sleuths on Reddit, who closely examined the ingredients of that bloody meal. Liver, fava beans and red wine are high-tyramine foods that don’t interact well with a class of anti-depressants known as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), which are also used for treating personality disorders. According to Reddit user mrcchapman, by suggesting that’s what he’s eating, Hannibal could secretly be signaling to Clarice that he’s not taking his meds because if he at that meal while on MAOIs, it would be fatal. Or at least the theory goes.

The character, who originally appeared in Thomas Harris’ books, has made it to the screen in many incarnations, including Michael Mann’s Manhunter (played by Brian Cox) and TV’s Hannibal (played with relish by Mads Mikkelsen), but Hannibal will always be Hopkins’ biggest role, having played the character in sequel Hannibal (2001) and prequel Red Dragon (2002).