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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. He goes on to say that the reason there are heroes and villains at all is because of a refusal to understand or compromise. The extreme threat that Tomura has become was an eventuality, he's simply the product of society that turns a blind eye to the suffering of someone whose situation doesn't fit squarely into a neat and normal box. 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.

  • 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. Or anyway, that's what he wants her to think, note the endpoint of the interrogation, the Hulk being identified as Loki's intended weapon, is what Loki wanted Natasha to figure out, since stressing out Bruce Banner by making him the object of suspicion makes him more likely to hulk out.
    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.

  • 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?

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Main / HannibalLecture

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