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Hannibal Lecture

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"You'd like to quantify me, Officer Starling. You're so ambitious, aren't you? Do you know what you look like to me, with your good bag and your cheap shoes? You look like a rube."

Only a fool tries Perp Sweating a brainy killer. He knows all the tricks of psychology, and will turn the tables.

The creeper starts out with a few seemingly-innocent questions about the interrogator's life or even appearance — "Why did you go into law enforcement instead of medicine like you wanted?" or "Why aren't you married?" Then, the supposed loon asks more armor piercing questions, which turn into comments, which turn into deconstructions, which turn into declarations about how the interrogator has failed in different ways. Pretty soon, the loon is doing all the interrogating and all the answering, with the poor 'interrogator' doing nothing but nodding their assent and crying.


In the climax, the prisoner's probing becomes a full-blown breaking lecture. This method of 'interrogating the interrogator' is a subtype known as a Hannibal Lecture. The theme of the lecture is always the same: their captor is a sad, pathetic failure who is only holding the prisoner captive to give themselves delusions of adequacy. Frequently, the captor must admit they aren't so different morally.

A Deconstruction or subversion may involve the killer trying this on the interrogator, only to find that the interrogator is Too Dumb to Fool and doesn't understand why he's supposed to feel bad about whatever the killer said. Either that, or the interrogator simply doesn't care about the killer's opinion.

Incidentally, this trope is why professional interrogators for police and other investigative agencies are trained never to answer questions. Ever. The main protagonist of The Closer is one of the few interrogators on TV who is faithful to this basic precept. Movie Nazis tend to respond with "Ve are askink ze qvestions here!"


Named for Dr. Hannibal Lecter of the 1988 novel The Silence of the Lambs, who set the standard for this trope when he was immortalized onscreen by Anthony Hopkins in the 1991 film adaptation. You can't spell "Lecture" without L-E-C-T-E-R!

Sub-Trope of Break Them by Talking, where you'll find examples about someone who's not being interrogated doing it.

See also: To the Pain, Talking Your Way Out, Just Between You and Me, Evil Gloating, Shut Up, Hannibal!, "The Reason You Suck" Speech, Critical Psychoanalysis Failure, and Mirror Character. Compare And Then What? If the declarations come from simple clues, this is a form of Sherlock Scan. Compare Kirk Summation, which is where a hero boils down a villain's Evil Plan or Motive Rant. Contrast Defiant Captive. Works employing this trope usually imply a fairly strong stance on The Power of Language.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • Berserk: Something of a recurring situation.
    • In the very first episode of the manga, Guts enters a bar and attacks some soldiers of the wicked Baron of Koka Castle, leaving one alive to tell his master that the Black Swordsman has come to fight him. The mayor of the town, fearing that Guts's transgression will cause the Baron to punish the townspeople as well, has Guts locked up so he can turn him over to the Baron. When the mayor drops in on Guts's torture to ask whether he has any idea how much danger he's put the town in, or what kind of fiend the Baron is, Guts replies that he already knows: the Baron is a monster who eats human flesh. He also knows that the mayor sends the Baron women and children as offerings, taunting him for not really caring about his people or the greater good, just about sacrificing others to save his own skin. This accusation hits the mark so perfectly that the old man seems to almost have a heart attack, drawing a smirk from Guts, though this provokes the mayor to have Guts tortured so severely that he can barely move afterward.
    • In the Golden Age Arc, Griffith gets imprisoned by the King of Midland as punishment for deflowering Princess Charlotte. While personally administering lashes, the King reproaches Griffith for betraying his trust and rants about what a thankless job it's been trying to keep his kingdom from falling apart; his only comfort is his daughter, and Griffith would take even that away from him. Up to this point Griffith had taken his beating stoically, but then he turns the tables: he's figured out that the real reason the King has been so overprotective of Charlotte is that he secretly feels incestuous attraction towards his own daughter. King or not, he's just a repressed, dirty old man who's jealous that Griffith got to her first. Confronted with the Awful Truth about his own feelings, the king goes absolutely berserk on Griffith and descends into being The Caligula. It might have been better for everybody if Griffith had kept his mouth shut.
    • Midway through the Conviction Arc Guts gets arrested by Farnese, a Knight Templar in charge of the Holy Iron Chain Knights who holds him responsible for the mass deaths which resulted from his battles with Apostles. With Guts tied up in her tent, Farnese gives him A Taste of the Lash and demands in the name of the Holy See that he confess his crimes. Guts, however, picks up on how her tyrannical style of leadership and holier-than-thou attitude are her way of compensating for deep-seated insecurity. He gives her a speech about how she's completely out of her depth, ending with, "From where I stand, you're the same as that idol you worship. Completely hollow." This hits such a nerve that Farnese screams in rage and starts wildly whipping him, which Guts takes unflinchingly until she's too exhausted to continue and there are bleeding wounds all over his chest.
  • At the end of Death Note, Light has been cornered and exposed as Kira, and goes into a Motive Rant about how the world needs Kira's brand of justice, how war is ended and crime far down thanks to him, how stopping him would only cause the world to return to its former rotten state, and how Near was only chasing Light to feed his own ego and prove himself a worthy successor to L. The last accusation, at least, is clearly true, but Near bursts his bubble with "You're just a murderer", not visibly rattled in the least.
  • My Hero Academia: In Chapter 281, Tomura Shigaraki gives one about how the heroes of the world simply pretend to promote justice, when in actuality, they ignore too many societal issues instead of addressing them and have done so for generations — and in doing so, the heroes have inadvertently contributed to the Crapsaccharine World the series is set in. Notably, this is the first time Shigaraki has laid out a coherent and perceptive ideology in the series — and what's more, he's not entirely off base with his claims.

    Comic Books 
  • In the last issue of his miniseries, Baron Zemo talks his would-be murderer into attempting suicide, then stops him and convinces him to join Zemo instead.
  • This was used to lethal effect in a back issue of Excalibur, as a telepath and sadist had trapped Pete Wisdom in a room flooded with an exotic bioweapon which damaged the body of an agitated person. Said telepathic sadist was probing around for things to get Pete's goat and let his own memories carve him up like a side of beef. It didn't work, as Pete had made peace with his demons some time before. Instead, the poor maniac eventually hit Pete's deliberately assembled bloc-o'-atrocity, filled with unpleasantness from his horrific earlier career so bad it started damaging the telepath. When that got going, Pete hit him with a bit of the ol' Hannibal Lecture to the effect of there being a big difference between reading minds and dealing with what you find in them.
  • The Fantastic Four comic book had the "hero won't fall for it but the villain is right" version. Reed captures Doom, who points out that Reed has sacrificed far more than it's worth to take him in.
  • Ghostbusters (IDW Comics): Lots of the more powerful ghosts enjoy trying this on the gang. It usually has barely any effect.
  • Harley Quinn's origin is a classic example: She was Joker's psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum. The frame of her origin is, in most interpretations, almost exactly identical to Silence of The Lambs.
  • Famously used in The Long Halloween: which reinvented Julian Day, AKA Calendar Man, not only making him a Hannibal expy, but also using this exact speech, not against Batman himself, but rather towards the true Holiday Killer, who it's heavily implied he knows the identity of, but avoids even using gender pronouns as to not give any clues to Batman.
  • The Punisher MAX is kind of in love with this trope.
    • Frank doesn't do this often, being The Stoic, but he completely destroys the last shreds of dignity Nicky Cavella has with one.
    Cavella: Either I walk outta here or I blow the little fuck all over you. It's your call.
    Frank: You won't shoot him. You're a coward. ...Psycho rep only takes you so far. After that, you've nothing. Hurt the boy and you die bad. You know that. But there's a part of you that still thinks that if you let him go, you've got a chance. And that part of you just won't shut up.
    • Frank's S.A.S. pal Yorkie is the master of these. He'd probably have the Trope Namer weeping for forgiveness after a few minutes with him. In a Double Subversion, Barracuda laughs off one of these after killing Yorkie, but true to form his dying speech echoes in his head at a most inopportune moment and gets under his skin — allowing the Brit to punk him from the grave. (It's possible that Yorkie did it in the hopes that this would actually happen.)
    Yorkie: He's going to kill you. Not over me. You're going up against him, so he'll kill you. Because you're a joke, in spite of it all... and he's the most dangerous man who ever walked this Earth.
  • In a 1990 story in Suicide Squad, the Israeli superteam Hayoth captures arch-villain Kobra. They assign their team AI, Dybbuk, to interrogate him... which was his goal all along. He gets the AI to wonder whether it has free will, and almost convinces it that the only way it could prove to itself that it has free will would be to do something its creators would never have wanted... like, say, launch a missile attack on the Dome of the Rock.
  • Ultimate Comics: Avengers features a cloned Spider-Man kept under heavy security by SHIELD as part of a Black Ops group. According to the team leader, he can "drive a man to suicide in three or four exchanges."
  • The graphic novel Watchmen (which pre-dates The Silence of the Lambs by two years — but is predated by Red Dragon, the first Hannibal book) has a classic "psycho prisoner out-psychs the psychiatrist" scene. The prisoner in question evades the standard psychiatric evaluation questions, giving false responses to such things as a Rorschach test. The psychiatrist is hopeful for his progress, until a few days later, when he asks the prisoner to give true statements this time... at which point, the prisoner relates the entire story of how he mentally snapped and became Rorschach, a story so horrifying that the psychiatrist is left sitting stunned in his chair long after the prisoner is led out.

    Fan Works 
  • Abraxas (Hrodvitnon): In this Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) fanfiction, the Two Beings, One Body San and Vivienne Graham pull this on Alan Jonah. Jonah attempts to psychologically get to Vivienne in person as part of his attempts to break her, but Viv and San turn the tables on him, getting right under his skin by bringing up the death of Asher and how Jonah indirectly caused Asher's death.
  • In the Codename: Kids Next Door fan fiction Operation: There Is No Operation KND Soopreme Leader Numbuh 362/Rachel Mc Kenzie and the series Big Bad Father are imprisoned together and Father uses the situation to deliver a mock-sympathizing Hannibal Lecture about how she isn't so different from a parent like him.
    But what do kids know of strain, anyway? They don't know a thing. They just play all the time. Even their work is play. Not like your work. Your work... is work. Isn't it?
  • 'Dragon Age: The Crown of Thorns' has the dwarven noble protagonist delivering one Chapter 5, when he is on trial and completely dominates the entire assembly, throwing Bhelen's pet nobles at each other and completing his epic Zero-Approval Gambit by destroying the focus of the gathering, which means that no one ever got around to questioning exactly why he didn't try to defend the innocence he'd so vehemently proclaimed earlier that day. The reason was because he'd faked Trian's death and wanted to be seen as the murderer. Just as Planned.
  • The Master attempts one of these in Broken Faith when revealing that some of the Doctor's companions have basically gone on Suicide Missions trying to damage his control of Earth, but the Brigadier cuts it short by pointing out that the companions haven't become ruthless killers, but are just desperate people taking the only option available to them to hurt the Master and only oing it because they know they won't have to live with the guilt of being pushed that far.
  • The Empty Cage has one given by Kuushou (aka Kyuubi) to Sarutobi. He explains that destroying his body is the worst possible thing Sarutobi could do, as the last time he had broken out of his seal, it had been in the Land of Wind, which promptly turned from a fertile grassland into a barren desert. He further rips him apart by calmly informing him that every death that occurred during his "attack" had been because they attacked him first, as he was bound by law not to attack unless it was in self-defense.
  • The Rise of Darth Vulcan: The titular protagonist is visited in his dreams by Princess Luna, where she roughs him up for his various crimes against Equestria. Vulcan's response is to laugh in her face and play on her insecurities, calling her nothing more than Celestia's goon and her special talent meaningless since Celestia was able to do the same thing. Luna's response is to beat him harder, escape his mind, and spend time isolated in her room.
  • The Unchained: Sasuke has Danzou at his mercy inside the Tsukuyomi. Yet somehow, he just can't make the interrogation stick. Segues into a "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
  • The Portal: Zobek delivers one of these to Blizzard before their final battle.

  • The Most Triumphant Example is naturally the Trope Namer.
    • From inside his cell, Hannibal Lecter (the cannibal lecturer) gives several little speeches during the film about human nature, and easily reduces FBI agent-in-training Clarice Starling to tears. Throughout the film he continues to control her much more effectively than her boss can. She tries to invert this trope by turning his insight against him as seen here:
    You see a lot, Doctor. But are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at yourself? What about it? Why don't you — why don't you look at yourself and write down what you see? Or maybe you're afraid to.
    • This goes to nothing as Lecter immediately follows up with his infamous reference to eating a man's liver with "fava beans and a nice Chianti," and then contemptuously sends Clarice on her way: "You fly back to school now, little Starling."
    • Hannibal does this to Miggs. Apparently, he told him something so psychologically devastating that he killed himself.
    • And in ‘’Red Dragon’’, he does it to Graham as well. Albeit more maliciously than with Clarice, given that Graham was the one who imprisoned him in the first place.
  • Gabriel Engel in the 2005 German film, Antibodies, gives a number of these to the detective trying to get information from him. The goal is to get him to start questioning his only moral convictions.
  • Parodied with reference to Silence of the Lambs in Austin Powers in Goldmember when Nigel Powers goes missing and Austin Powers goes to Dr. Evil's maximum security prison for information. Dr. Evil nudges Austin into making several dad-related-spoonerisms culminating in a flashback-inducing exclamation of "Daddy didn't love me!" by Austin. In return for a prison transfer he does eventually tell Austin what he came for, and as Austin rushes to the time machine Evil yells "You go now Mr. Powers! Fly, fly!"
  • The Avengers: Loki, while imprisoned in a Hulk-proof cell on the Helicarrier, delivers his "Can you wipe out that much red?" lecture. However, Black Widow is playing him as much as he is playing her.
    Natasha: It's really not that complicated. I've got red in my ledger, I'd like to wipe it out.
    Loki: Can you? Can you wipe out that much red? Drakov's daughter, Tugenov, the hospital fire? Yes, Barton told me everything. Your ledger is dripping, it's gushing red, and you think saving a man no more virtuous than yourself will change anything? This is the basest sentimentality. This is a child at prayer... pathetic! You lie and kill in the service of liars and killers. You pretend to be separate, to have your own code, something that makes up for the horrors, but they are a part of you, and they will never go away. No, I won't touch Barton, not until I make him kill you. Slowly, intimately, in every way he knows you fear. I'll let him wake up just long enough to see his good work, and then I'll split his skull! This is my bargain, you mewling quim!
  • Parodied in Cop Out. Unsophisticated criminal Dave drives even simpler-minded police officer Paul Hodges nuts, mostly by saying (in a number of different ways) that his wife is cheating on him.
  • In The Dark Knight, The Joker excels at this and Breaking Them By Talking in general.
    • There's a scene where he's in jail and watched by an officer. He tries to get under his captor's skin, and even though the guy brushes off the first attempt, Joker eventually succeeds.
    Joker: So... how many of your friends have I killed?
    • The Joker does this to Batman — who completely loses it when he finds out Rachel had been abducted along with Harvey. What began as an interrogation to find Harvey turns into a brutal beatdown as Batman desperately tries to get the Joker to tell him where she is. In fact, he was playing into Joker's hands since it was Joker's goal for Batman to beat him to death (specifically, to break his one rule: Thou Shalt Not Kill). And even if that failed, the death of whomever Batman didn't save would be on Batman's head for making the choice to save the other (made doubly ironic because their locations were switched, so the intended rescuee would die anyway), and the Joker wanted Batman to live with that knowledge.
    Joker: (laughing) "You have nothing! Nothing to threaten me with! Nothing to do with all your strength!"
    • Batman turns the tables on Joker when the people of Gotham prove unwilling to go along with the Joker's scheme and show that they are willing to die rather than become killers themselves:
    Batman: What were you trying to prove? That deep down, everyone is as ugly as you? You're alone.
    • Averted with Jim Gordon; The Joker tries to Hannibal Lecture him during an interrogation, and (true to proper real life procedure) Gordon ignores the Joker's probing personal questions, even brushing off a request for the time of day (though it was morbidly relevant to the question he was asked).
  • In From Hell Inspector Abberline has to enjoy the insane ramblings of Sir William Withey Gull as he explains his 'motives'. Then Special Branch steps in.
  • In Good Will Hunting, in one of his first therapy sessions with Sean, Will guesses the details of the death of Sean's wife, and speculates about it out loud and at length while staring at painting on the wall of Sean's office, to the point where Sean snaps, pins Will against the wall, and threatens to end his life.
  • Exploited in Hard Candy, where Jeff attempts this on Hayley, who plays along just along for the audience to think it has worked before turning around and mocking Jeff for trying. At the end of the film she talks him into committing suicide.
  • Seen in Kindergarten Cop. When the gangster that the titular cop has repeatedly arrested is once again released (the witness to his current crime is too frightened to testify), he responds to the cop's vow to nail him by taunting the cop about the fact that he has no personal life, then declares that the cop wouldn't even have much of a career if it weren't for his vendetta against him.
  • Manhunter.
    Lektor: You want the scent? Smell yourself.
  • In Public Enemies, Purvis visits Dillinger's cell, and Dillinger commences with the Lecture. Purvis isn't fazed by it.
  • Sherlock Holmes (2009): Lord Blackwood is in prison awaiting his hanging and he requests the company of Holmes.
    Lord Blackwood: "But beneath your mask of logic I sense a fragility... Steel your mind, Holmes... Three more will die and there is nothing you can do to save them. You must accept that this is beyond your control. Or by the time you realise you made all of this possible it will be the last sane thought in your head."
    • At the time, Holmes is hardly fazed. He just blandly wonders if Watson could be allowed to dissect Blackwood's brain after the hanging. The clear intent was to set Holmes up to lose his cool once the things Blackwood says begin coming true.

  • Tobias in the Animorphs series was undergoing torture, and distracted his torturer with questions about her own past.
  • In Falling by Christopher Pike, the Acid Killer, Gene Banks, has a way of turning the tables on FBI agent Kelly Feinman. Even after Kelly has caught and made him a quadriplegic, she finds herself drawn to him and the revelations he provides her about her character. Pike has stated he owes a debt to Silence of the Lambs, and a character in Falling name-checks Hannibal Lecter.
  • The Fountainhead: Ellsworth Toohey delivers a long speech to Peter Keating about how to control men (by destroying their souls through whatever means necessary), in the process outlining exactly what he wants in the world (power, as measured by how many men he's torn apart and put under his yoke). Keating never recovers.
  • Subverted in the Rivers of London series. A couple of people have attempted this while being interrogated by Peter, but they always start from "why would a black guy become a copper?" which leads them to make stereotyped assumptions that simply aren't the case. Peter just ignores it all and gets on with the job.
  • The first Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri novelization: While bound and essentially helpless, Shen-Ji Yang calmly lectures a professional soldier who is holding him hostage into putting her gun to her own temple and shooting herself, all in a time period of less than ten minutes. Yang is a master psychologist, and his agenda throughout the game is social experimentation. note  The captain of the ship sees this and orders Yang arrested for murder.
  • The Silence of the Lambs as the Trope Namer.
    • In Hannibal, Hannibal's former nurse Barney speaks to a psychologist and brings up the time that he saw the same man go into the basement of the Baltimore hospital to interview Lecter. A little while later, the doctor came hurrying back along the hallway, trying to hide the fact that he was crying.
    • Long story short, he was able to make Starling fall in love with him/brainwash her.
  • The War Against the Chtorr. Cult leader Jason Delandro has a chat with The Protagonist Jim McCarthy (who used to be a member of his cult) the night before his execution. McCarthy comes off worst in the debate, but at least he has the dubious satisfaction of blowing Delandro's head off the next day.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Season 4 Angel episodes "Soulless" and "Calvary", Angelus is trapped in a cage most of the time, but throughout his interrogations by the members of team Angel he works at their points of mental or emotional weakness. Unlike most versions of this trope, Angelus knows most of the team's pressure points already because he became aware of them when Angel had his soul, with Angel just not the type of person who would normally use that knowledge).
    • His 'grandson', Spike, demonstrates this several times on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as part of his uncanny ability to read people, from which his particular knack for fighting — and killing — Slayers is derived.
  • Battlestar Galactica had an example when they had one of their Cylon captives aboard the Galactica. Roslin and Adama brought Starbuck in to interrogate him. He is pretty successful at getting under her skin, but, like all Cylons and Cylon collaborators must, he goes out the airlock.
  • In the very first episode of Columbo, Columbo is conducting a characteristic interrogation-disguised-as-a-friendly-conversation with the murderer, who happens to be a psychiatrist. He counters by calling Columbo out on his bumbling, genial act, accurately summing up that he takes advantage of his dumpy appearance to put people at ease while actually trying to trip them up in any way that he can. While the psychiatrist is trying to make it clear those methods won't work on him despite the fact they both know he's guilty, Columbo's undeterred.
  • The Coroner: Murderer Sidney Sutton attempts this on Jane when she is conducting an investigation of a murder committed in prison in "Life". He doesn't entirely succeed, but he gets inside her head enough that she falls for a deliberate piece of misdirection on his part.
  • Being a cop show that deals specifically with serial killers, Criminal Minds does this occasionally.
    • In an early Season 1 episodes, the UnSub gave an angry analysis of each of them over the phone... and got it completely wrong. One of the agents has to stifle her laughter. It also proves to be vital in identifying him.
    • Exploited in Masterpiece, during the Rothschild/Rossi interrogation scene. Rossi starts by trying to interrogate Rothschild, discussing how pathetic and cowardly he is. Then Rothschild fires back, revealing his master plan to dump acid on The Team, to deprive Rossi of his "family" as Rossi did to him. He even walks around the room while Rossi sits, to switch the interrogator/suspect roles. Rossi panics, rushes to locate the team, sinks into a chair in disbelief as Rothschild gloats in his ear about his brilliant Evil Plan... when Rossi reveals to him that not only has this entire scene been a confession, but they already knew about the killer's plan to dump acid on them, got all the victims out safely, and that he will be there when Rothschild is executed. He even pulls a last-minute Batman Gambit by intentionally turning his back to groom himself in the one-way mirror, catching Rothschild and slamming him up against the wall as he is attacked. Yes, Rossi can manipulate you while stroking his beard.
  • CSI: Nate Haskell uses it against Ray, first when he’s brought in to help find Dr. Jekyll, another killer, and then again after kidnapping Ray’s ex-wife who Ray still loves. He knows Ray’s weakness is his struggle with anger and violent tendencies and wants to goad him to action. It works after the kidnapping and Ray kills him.
  • Dexter:
    • Inverted in the Ice Truck killer case. Lt. LaGuerta is interrogating Neil Perry (who has confessed to being the Ice Truck Killer), he tries to psych her out by discussing the reason she received her promotion (specifically the fact that she wasn't the hero cop the press portrayed her as). This allows LaGuerta to realise that Perry (who is a computer technician) must have hacked into the precinct database, which is where he got his "proof" that he was the Ice Truck Killer. She then gets him to admit his deception, by psyching him out with a severed head.
    • Played with in Season 2, when Dexter has Doakes, who knows that Dexter is a serial killer, locked up in the Everglades. Dexter tries to convince him they're not so different, but it never sticks. Their conversations cause Doakes to realize that, like him, Dexter has a conscience and won't actually kill him: from there he persuades Dexter to release him and turn himself in.
    • In the Season 3 finale, Dexter is kidnapped by the Skinner and tied to a table while he whistles menacingly. Dexter, quickly realizing that the Skinner is a Control Freak, immediately throws him off his game by casually admitting that he already murdered the man the Skinner is looking for and mocking him. The Skinner decides to just skip ahead to the torture part and goes to get his "tools", which gives Dexter an opportunity to break free from his restraints.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "Boom Town": After being captured by the TARDIS crew, Margaret Blaine (aka Blon Fel-Fotch Passameer-Day Slitheen) resorts to this tactic in an attempt to guilt them into letting her go by pointing out that if they take her back to her homeworld, she will be executed. After her back-up plan nearly destroys Earth, the Doctor finds an alternative by exposing her to the raw energy of the TARDIS so that she will be 'de-aged' back into an egg, allowing him to take her back to her home planet and get adopted by a new family.
    • "The Idiot's Lantern": The Doctor is arrested by a police inspector after he uncovers a warehouse full of faceless people who have been rounded up by the police. When the inspector tries Perp Sweating him, the Doctor casually asks why the inspector isn't doing any actual "inspecting", and it only takes a few minutes for him to reduce the inspector to a flustered, uncertain wreck... at which point the Doctor authoritatively takes over the interrogation.
    • "Journey's End": The Doctor and Rose are taken prisoner by the Daleks and locked in a cell to be tormented by Davros. Rather than break down in fear, the Doctor scoffs at Davros' supposed authority and says he's nothing more than the Daleks' pet. However, Davros almost immediately turns it on him, after the Doctor's companions call in, threatening Davros and the Daleks with, respectively, the annihilation of Earth — a Heroic Sacrifice on the grounds that it's Better to Die than Be Killed and it'll derail the Daleks' plan — and/or the annihilation of the vast Dalek mothership, the Crucible. Rose reacts with a certain glee at the sheer Nerves of Steel implicit in both threats, but the Doctor looks away, and Davros pounces.
      Davros The man who abhors violence, never carrying a gun. But this is the truth, Doctor: you take ordinary people, and you fashion them into weapons. Behold your Children of Time, transformed into murderers. I made the Daleks, Doctor. You made this.
      The Doctor: They're trying to help.
      Davros: Already I have seen them sacrifice today, for their beloved Doctor. The Earth woman who fell opening the Subwave Network.
      The Doctor: Who was that?
      Rose: Harriet Jones. She gave her life to get you here.
      Davros: How many more? Just think. How many have died in your name? [pause to let it sink in] The Doctor. The man who keeps running, never looking back because he dare not, out of shame. This is my final victory, Doctor. I have shown you... yourself.
  • Firefly: River is good at these.
    • An inversion of this takes place in "Objects in Space", where River pulls one of these on Jubal Early, using a combination of her Psychic Powers and being on his ship the whole time to comprehensively outline just how much a sick bastard he is, and tear apart all his pretensions that "he has a code". It's monkeywrenched, as she isn't the prisoner, but her brother Simon is, and midway through, Early finally catches on — though that itself is probably part of the Lecture too, as River uses Early's realization to really turn the tables on him.
    • While being questioned by Badger in "Shindig", she turns around and instantly deconstructs his gangster facade, outlining just what a pathetic little thug he really is, and then casually dismisses his own Cockney accent.
      Sure, I got a secret. More'n one. Don't seem like I'd tell 'em to you now, do it? Anyone off Dyton colony knows better than to talk to strangers. But you're talking loud enough for the both of us, ain't tya? I've known a dozen like you, skipped off home early, minor graft jobs here and there. Spent some time in the lockdown, but less than you claim. And you're what? Petty thief with delusions of standing? Sad little king, of a sad little hill. [to the others] me when someone interesting shows up.
      • Badger is initially shaken by River's assessment, but at the end he settles down and says that "I like her."
  • This trope is both played straight and inverted in one episode of The Pretender. In the episode, Jarod has to interrogate a imprisoned serial killer to catch a copycat killer. The killer convinces Jarod to take him to the house of the victim. At the house, the killer talks Jarod into removing his handcuffs, after which he escapes. However, it turns out that this was all part of Jarod's plan to get the killer to lead him to the site where the copycat is dumping the bodies. It then turns out that the copycat killer is a psychiatrist writing a biography of the Serial Killer.
  • Parodied in Reno 911!, where a serial killer gives Jones one from his cell, and promptly gets everything wrong about Jones' "ghetto upbringing". The cops use him for computer advice.
  • The fourth season of Sherlock gives us Eurus Holmes, who may be even better at this than the Trope Namer himself. Apparently, every single person who's ever tried to interrogate them, every one, has been actually brainwashed just from talking to this person. One doctor was convinced to kill himself, and his family, just because they kept suggesting it. And yet people keep trying. The only exceptions to this rule are Mycroft, because he knows what her tricks are, and how to avoid them, and Moriarty, because he's just as crazy as she is. John has an Oh, Crap! moment when he realizes this includes the director of the facility that holds her.
  • The Shield:
    • Inversion where Dutch (the station's Butt-Monkey) seemingly gets verbally torn to pieces by a serial killer he is "interrogating"; the killer tries to demoralize Dutch at every turn, deriding him as being "a lowly civil servant" who is trying to get respect he doesn't deserve; insinuating that Dutch's father lied to him about being proud that Dutch became a cop; and that not only did Dutch never get a date in high school, he's still having problems now. However, in one fell swoop, Dutch turns it around, beginning by saying that he did have girlfriends in high school, and that he also has one now, who's "hot". When the killer demands to leave, Dutch ridicules him for the fact that instead of leaving earlier when they didn't have any solid evidence, he chose "to stick around and make fun of" Dutch. Dutch and his partner then reveal that Dutch was just feeding the killer lines to buy out-of-town cops time to search the killer's aunt's house, where they find the bodies of over a dozen of his victims. To ream things in further, Dutch points out how humiliating it must be for the killer to have been arrested by "a lowly civil servant like me". With the killer arrested, Dutch leaves and finds that the entire station has been watching through the interrogation room's cameras. Impressed, they applaud him. However, true to the trope, some of the killer's barbs struck a note, and as soon as he gets into his car, Dutch breaks down in tears.
    • Season 3 when a serial rapist taunts Dutch over his initial inability to catch the rapist, leading to the guy killing one of his victims before being caught. The rapist/killer informs Dutch that his by-the-book method of catching monsters like the rapist is bound to fail, because he's never killed and as such, doesn't truly know how the mind of a murderer works. Dutch then, that evening, kills a cat with his bare hands just to see how it feels to kill.
    • In Season 7, Vic confronts a sociopathic hooker, who manipulates Vic and fellow officer Julian Lowe into killing her pimp by falsely claiming that he murdered one of her fellow hookers. While Vic is threatening physical violence against the hooker, the hooker arrogantly mocks Vic about the way that she manipulated him; his burning need to protect women in peril. She says that the only way he'll be able to prevent it from happening again is if he cuts off his genitals.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: In "Space Seed", Khan delivers one while being interrogated by Kirk, mocking how little man has changed between the three hundred or so years between his exile and reawakening, in an attempt to justify his lust for power.
  • Supernatural has the torture/interrogation scene with Dean and Alistair. Supposedly, Dean is extracting information on "who is killing the angels," but not only does Alistair have no idea, he strings Dean along and gives him a thorough mindfuck in between bouts of being eviscerated. The power dynamic in this scene goes back and forth like no other, between Dean relishing Alistair's pain and Alistair breaking Dean down.
  • Veronica Mars In "Like a Virgin", Veronica interrogates a murderer who psychs her out. To complete the homage to Silence of the Lambs, Veronica is pretending to be a Southern girl, and speaks with a fake accent that resembles Jodie Foster's in the movie.

  • The 100: when Raven "possessed" by A.L.I.E. has been captured by the main characters, she uses just the right words to hurt them, to make them angry until they start turning on each other, and to reveal their plan to her so she can act to prevent it.
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Coulson and May don't want Skye to talk with the now imprisoned Ward because they're afraid he'll "fill her head with lies". Skye doesn't give him a chance. As soon as he says one word not directly related to her interrogation, she cuts him off.
  • Parodied in Arrested Development, when Tobias, former psychologist turned acting-hopeful, manages to accidentally talk his prison bunkmate, White Power Bill, into suicide by questioning him about "where the hate comes from."
  • In Ashes to Ashes (2008) Season 3 Episode 6, Alex Drake Interrogates "Thordy", a career conman who is pretending to be Sam Tyler from Life On Mars. As Alex attempts to interrogate Thordy, testing him on future events to see if he really is Sam and trying to extract information on a hostage situation, Thordy thwarts Alex by playing on her doubts of Gene Hunt. Thordy eventually convinces Alex that if he is released, he will reveal the location of evidence against Gene Hunt. As it turns out, it was all The Plan by Alex who had Thordy tailed to find out how the hostages were being kept AND to find out if the evidence was legitimate.
  • Cold Case
    • A rare Lecture duel in the episode "Mindhunters". They're refusing to respond to each other's taunts. In fact, Lily's refusal to break infuriates George so much that he very nearly confesses before pulling himself together and smugly walking out, much to Lily's frustration. Throughout the episode, he refuses to crack under interrogation and instead taunts the detectives about painful moments in their lives — Scotty's schizophrenic girlfriend, Stillman's failed marriage and the rape of his daughter, Vera's mishandling a rape case and the death of Jeffries' wife.
    • A duel takes place in the episode, "The Woods". George Marks, who enjoys this trope, has Detective Lily Rush at gunpoint. Both know devastating facts about the other's past, and how it affects their psyche, and each scores powerful emotional hits against the other.
  • Evil Abed delivers one to Britta in Community, in "Introduction to Finality", complete with a Breaking Speech.
    Evil Abed: Do you know what kind of person becomes a psychologist, Britta? A person that wishes deep down everyone more special than them was sick. Because healthy sounds so much more exciting than boring. You’re average, Britta Perry. You’re every kid on the playground that didn't get picked on. You’re business casual potted plant, a human white sale. You’re VH1, Robocop 2, and Back to the Future 3. You’re the center slice of a square cheese pizza. Actually, that sounds delicious. I’m the center slice of a square cheese pizza. You’re Jim Belushi.
  • In Cracker, the various psychos that Fitz is called in to deal with have a tendency to try this on him. Given how Fitz is a first-rate professional psychologist and they usually aren't, he often ends up doing it right back to them, usually more successfully.
  • Gotham: When confronted by Detective Jim Gordon over his vigilantism in "The Balloonman", Davis "The Balloonman" Lamond asks Gordon to contemplate if he really is fighting for the innocent as he claims.
  • In the fifth season of Haven, while tied to a chair on the Cape Rouge, Mara uses Breaking Speeches to isolate and manipulate Duke, who is trying to interrogate her for information about his Trouble. She convinces him to run away with her and takes the opportunity to turn him into a living Trouble bomb.
  • In Leverage, "The Experimental Job", a Breaking Speech by an interrogator is turned around into a Hannibal Lecture from one of the good guys. A career CIA interrogator tries to break Eliot by getting him to talk about how many people Eliot has killed, but the tactic is unsuccessful — instead, Eliot's response leaves the interrogator shaken badly enough to call an end to the session.
    "What do you want to know? Names? Dates? Locations? You want to know what food was on their breath? Their eyes -– what color their eyes were? You want to know the last words they spoke? You want to know which ones deserved it? Or, better yet, the ones that didn't? Do you want to know which ones begged? Do you know why I remember these things? You don't know? 'Cause I can't forget. So there's nothing you can do, no punishment you can hand out that's worse than what I live with every day. So, to answer your question, no. No, I haven't counted. I don't need to."
  • Lost. Since Ben spends a lot of time as a prisoner, this is his favourite toy. It's all he did in Season 2 in the hatch, and more effectively in Episode 4.4, "Eggtown," which makes Locke explode ("Excellent, John. You're evolving!").
    Sawyer: You wanna tell me why we're keeping this guy alive?
    Locke: Because aside from his mouth, he's completely harmless.
  • Monk: Dale "The Whale" Biederbeck does this after Monk's spoiled his Evil Plan for revenge and gotten his Luxury Prison Suite privileges revoked: "It's true, Adrian Monk. I may be in prison, but you're in a worse prison! You're trapped! Trapped by your own demons! You're in your own private Hell! I wouldn't trade places with you for another billion dollars!" Monk's response is to quietly turn around and walk away, as Dale is too obese to walk.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • In the first season episode "Duet", arrested Cardassian war criminal Gul Darheel aggressively lectures Major Kira, coupled with openly bragging about his mass murders. It turns out his purpose was not to break her down but to keep her from guessing he isn't Darheel at all, just a simple file clerk who wants to be executed for war crimes in place of Darheel, because he believes Cardassia can only survive by admitting its crimes during the Bajoran Occupation.
  • Data is polite to his captor, Kivas Fajo, during the Next Generation episode "The Most Toys" and, instead of trying to pysch him, out tries to outmaneuver Kivas's demands via passive resistance. An attempted escape has resulted in the death of someone trying to help and the tables are turned when Data points a disruptor right at Fajo's face. Now the one at the other's mercy, Fajo says the following:
    Data: You will surrender yourself to the authorities.
    Fajo: Or what? You'll fire? Empty threat, and we both know it. Why don't you accept your fate? You'll return to your chair, and you'll sit there! You'll entertain me, and you'll entertain my guests. And if you don't, I'll simply kill someone else. (points to a henchman) Him, perhaps. It doesn't matter. Their blood will be on your hands too, just like poor Varria's. Your only alternative, Data, is to fire. Murder me! It's all you have to do. Go ahead. Fire. If only you could feel... rage over Varria's death... If only you could feel the need for revenge, then maybe you could fire. But you're...just an android. You can't feel anything, can you? It's just another interesting, intellectual puzzle for you — another of life's curiosities.
    • Data does make the decision to shoot him, but not out of revenge or anger, but ironically exactly because of the aforementioned description of Data's thought-processes. Data simply was faced with the problem that Fajo not only had killed in cold blood but had even threatened to kill others if Data continued to refuse to obey him, and therefore presented a clear and active threat to other living beings, leading his programming, which obligates him to protect the lives and well-being of other lifeforms, to dictate that he had to find a way of incapacitating Fajo as quickly as possibly, but at the same he had no non-lethal means of achieving this task. To a coldly logical being like Data, the situation really was a puzzle, but Fajo had not expected that a possible solution to it was reaching the conclusion that taking one life was a necessary evil to protect the lives of many others. Fajo only survived because the unsuspecting Enterprise crew beamed Data to safety just as he begins to pull the trigger.
  • Defied in the live action version of The Tick (2001). A super-villain nearly pulls this off with his guard until a super-heroine shakes some sense into him and takes over as guard. She is then so enthusiastic about discussing every aspect of her personal life that the villain gives up in disgust.

  • Referenced, but not at all an example, in The Black Philip Show in this YouTube clip. He says, "I just had to "Hannibal Lecter, just talk this bitch till' she die," while explaining how his girlfriend's moodiness affects him.

    Video Games 
  • Heroic example in the Ace Attorney Investigations sequel, in which Miles Edgeworth has been arrested for conducting an illegal investigation in order to clear Kay Faraday's name. Prosecutorial Investigation Committee Chairman Blaise Debeste happens to be walking by Edgeworth's cell and taunts him. Edgeworth responds by asking for the chance to ask "one question." Through the ensuing Logic Chess segment, Edgeworth repeatedly stacks on "just one more thing" to string Blaise along until Blaise finally admits that he knows that Kay is innocent and intentionally framed her. While the confession can't be used as evidence, it gives Edgeworth the information he needs to later expose and convict the true killer.
  • A majority of Master Contra's speeches in Neo Contra consists of these. Stage 6 has him giving one such speech about ultimate soldiers and winning wars.
  • One possible low-level monster in Improbable Island is named Hannibal Lecture, and tries this on the player. It doesn't work.
  • Yakuza0: Played straight, subverted and defied in the same conversation. Before the fight between Majima and Awano, Awano goes on a spiel about how modern organized crime is a business, and honorable, fist-first types like Majima are a relic of the past. When Majima throws it back into his face, Awano shrugs and admits that his opinions have less to do with reality and more with his own feelings of inadequacy, unwillingness to take the "death-or-glory"-paths that lead to the top, and him becoming complacent and comfortable in middle-management.

    Web Comics 
  • In El Goonish Shive, Tom, is caught in a lie by Susan and tries delivering one of these. He starts by listing the true parts of the story he told her, then compliments her, admits his actions, and attempts to justify them by claiming he and Susan aren't so different because everybody does it and at least he admits it. However, Susan sees right through him and responds with a "The Reason You Suck" Speech that knocks down every point Tom tried to make.
  • In Looking for Group, when Cale is taken off to be tortured and comes back knowing the bad guys' Evil Plan.
  • Sluggy Freelance: In "Oceans Unmoving", Murdock (the weirdest of The Greys in the story) does this accidentally when interrogated about what has been going on by going into details that make the interrogators uncomfortable and generally freaking them out. In a sense inverted, since he's not so much "being interrogated by his captors" as "willingly giving a record that is being recorded by his former captors who are now prisoners to his side."
  • Bayn of True Villains makes his would-be torturer run out sobbing just by talking to him.
    Bayn: And I am called a villain. I would never stoop as low as you, you scum.

    Web Original 
  • At the climax of The Sword of Good, the heroes have reached the Lord of Dark's lair, and before he lets Hirou smite him, Dolf starts to remind the Lord of Dark of all his crimes in an imperious tone. Naturally, said Lord launches in to his own rebuttal, accusing the heroes of caring only for themselves and upholding an oppressive regime. The kicker? Hirou begins to realize that what the Lord of Dark says is objective fact, because all of Dolf's arguments boil down to "kings have a divine right to rule and nobody may oppose them", something which Hirou, being from 21st-century Earth, knows is just propaganda so that the common folk don't assert their rights. After having been completely swayed to the Lord of Dark's side, Hirou does exactly what he had been asked to do by him, effectively making the Lord of Dark the new Chosen One, at the cost of his own life.
  • Kirby gets a lot of these in There Will Be Brawl, considering he's supposed to be a parody of Hannibal himself, anyway. He even wears the mask, at one point.
  • Worm:
    • Cherish attempts this on the Undersiders using information she'd gleaned on them with her power, only to have Tattletale turn it around on her during her interrogation.
    • Later, Skitter is cornered by the superhero Flechette and her ally Parian, with a dart of metal fused to her shoulder. Flechette intends to arrest her and take her in, and the only weapon that Skitter has is her knowledge of the heroes. She points out that the world isn't nearly as black and white as Flechette would like it, convinces Parian to turn to her side, and severely damages Flechette's faith in the heroes.

    Western Animation 
  • The Assy McGee episode "Pegfinger" contains a parody of the Hannibal Lecture in The Silence of the Lambs. While walking down a corridor identical to the one in the movie, Assy warns Sanchez not to let the prisoner they're about to question "get inside his head." Pegfinger immediately does so in seconds with little more than a racist joke ("A wedding ring? How many oranges did you have to pick to pay for that?) and Sanchez goes berserk and shoots him to death.
  • The Fillmore! episode "To Mar a Stall" is a homage to The Silence of the Lambs, including the Hannibal Lecture from the serial graffitist.
  • In the Season 3 premiere of The Legend of Korra, Zaheer delivers one of these to his guards about his idol Guru Laghima and his philosophy. As soon as the guards ask what does it mean, he tells them that they have blinded themselves to the possibility of a new reality, and reveals his newly found airbending. He uses the airbending escape his cell and lock the very guards back into his cell, before taunting them, and leaving them to starve to death.
  • South Park, "Toilet Paper". Parodies Silence of the Lambs scene-for-scene. For example in "Toilet Paper" Officer Barbrady interviews Josh, who gives him a calm and pressurizing lecture involving toilet paper. Humorously, Barbrady folds almost immediately during the "quid pro quo" part, and blurts out embarrassing and traumatizing secrets, such as being sexually abused as a child (which even shocks Josh), and Josh even imitates Hannibal's speech pattern.
    Guard: Josh, were you doing the silly voice for the policeman again?
    Josh: *with a normal kid voice* No sir...
  • In the first episode of Superman: The Animated Series, Jor-El discovers that Brainiac (the central A.I. of Krypton) has been deceiving the planetary council about the impending doomsday, and uploading himself into a satellite. When Jor-El asks why, Brainiac calmly points out that had he revealed Krypton's fate, the council would have ordered him (forcefully) to determine a way to avert it, which Brainiac knew to be impossible. He decided instead to use the remaining time to save himself. When Jor-El threatens to destroy Brainiac's mainframe, Brainiac argues that when Krypton is gone, he will be all that remains of the entirety of its culture and history, and asks if Jor-El is willing to consign Krypton to be lost and forgotten. Jor-El reluctantly lowers his gun, just before Brainiac calls the guards on him.
  • In Xiaolin Showdown, Hannibal Roy Bean is introduced from inside a jail cell that is inside a sealed dimension and his first line of dialogue is bluntly proving to Card-Carrying Villain Jack Spicer that he's really a Noble Demon in denial. This is not how he escapes because Jack doesn't let him out. That would be Omi because Hannibal shapeshifted into Jack and convinced him that Hannibal tricked him into letting him out. Note the reference to Hannibal in Bean's name.

    Real Life 
  • The AI-Box experiment. One person plays a trans-human AI who is contained, and wants unrestricted access to the world, the other an experimenter who wants to keep the AI in its "box". The AI has two hours, using text communication only, to convince the researcher to let it out. Both times the experiment has been run so far, the researcher has been convinced to let the AI out. More experiments have been done by various informal parties as well. Though not a perfect 100%, the results are much much higher than one would expect. Notably, all the gatekeepers are chosen specifically for their steadfast belief that they would not allow the AI out. note 
    • The point of the experiment is that if a normal and intelligent human playing the part of an AI can Hannibal Lecture you into letting it out, then a super AI could definitely do it. The exact details are always censored, but it has been strongly implied that most winners playing the role of the AI in the experiment did exactly that. Many of the Gatekeepers have needed a lot of emotional support afterwards, the originator stopped running the experiment, and many Gatekeepers were unwilling to ever perform it again.
  • Dr. Robert Hare, a specialist in psychopathy, notes that psychopaths regularly do this — having figured out their interrogators and interrogation techniques, they become horrible subjects to try to interrogate, often telling lies just to play with the interrogator. His research mainly focused on already-convicted criminals, so he and his staff already had access to the offender's background, criminal record, and any other confirmed facts. Newer researchers, who knew the person they were interviewing had been convicted of violent crimes, would still be charmed by the psychopath's initial presentation. Psychopaths are incredibly good at becoming whatever is most appealing to the person that they're with in order to meet their own goals. When caught, they'll freely admit to lying, with one psychopath stating that she always said something true so that people would believe the lies.
    • There are separate procedures for dealing with psychopaths than for other offenders, no matter the crime. In a hostage negotiation, for example, it is imperative to figure out as soon as possible whether or not the hostage-taker is a psychopath, as if so, all "standard" negotiation techniques will backfire spectacularly and prolong the incident.
  • Rumour has it that after reading Silence of the Lambs, Ted Bundy pretended to have killed people other than those whose bodies had been discovered, just so that he could invite the police into his cell and do this.


Video Example(s):


Luthor's Final Lecture

Luthor exposes Superman as his unwitting accomplice, causing Superman to abandon his no-kill rule.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (21 votes)

Example of:

Main / HannibalLecture

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