In The Silence of the Lambs (1991), the character of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, played by Anthony Hopkins, is perhaps the most iconic cannibal in history. In the film, his most famous line is when he tells agent Clarice Starling “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” It’s a deeply disturbing moment and one that’s accentuated by Dr. Lecter’s batshit crazy eyes and gesturing of sucking out a man’s liver.
I’ve always taken this scene at its face value, assuming it was a moment used to illustrate the depths of Dr. Hannibal Lecter’s insanity. But, it turns out, there’s a deeper meaning to this liver/fava beans/chianti reference, and it’s something only trained medical professionals (or potential FBI recruits) might pick up on.
Dr. Lecter’s dark joke was explained about a year ago, on Reddit, but for some reason it’s just making the rounds now:
Great line from Silence of the Lambs everyone knows. But most people don’t realise Dr Hannibal Lecter is making a medical joke.
Lecter could be treated with drugs called monoamine oxidase inhibitors – MAOIs. As a psychiatrist, Lecter knows this.
The three things you can’t eat with MAOIs? Liver, beans, wine.
Lecter is a) cracking a joke for his own amusement, and b) saying he’s not taking his meds.
If he was taking his MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors / antidepressants) then eating liver, fava beans, and drinking wine would be the death of him. This is one of those layered jokes that goes to prove that The Silence of the Lambs is one of the greatest films ever produced.
And before any of you trained medical professionals out there hop in the comments with ‘everybody would know this’ let me remind you that the VAST MAJORITY of the population don’t know what MAOIs are OR that they treat depressions OR that they come with dietary restrictions.
If you haven’t seen that scene from The Silence of the Lambs in a while you can watch it here: