The Silence of the Lambs–“You still wake up sometimes, don’t you? You wake up in the dark and hear the screaming of the lambs.”

936full-the-silence-of-the-lambs-posterThe Silence of the Lambs is certainly an unforgettable movie. Anthony Hopkins’s performance as Hannibal Lecter is terrific and, for many people, terrifying. Although the movie may not be as scary anymore with the influx of torture-porn films, it still holds power because of how well acted it is. This in conjunction with a story about a serial killer skinning women makes the film memorable.

Buffalo Bill is an interesting character to study. He skins women and sows what he takes into what is, essentially, a suit. His psychology is complex, and goes beyond just an addiction to kill women. He’s a person who wants to be a transsexual, as Hannibal Lecter says, but he’s not in actuality a transsexual. This is because although he wants to change himself, he doesn’t have a sexual identity different from his biological genitalia. His want for change stems from hating his current identity. This is also seen in his fondness for the Death’s-head Hawkmoth. The moth progresses through several stages of development, many of which involve a physical transformation. This is what Buffalo Bill wishes he could do. This makes me feel like the suit he is constructing is more than a suit. It could be a chrysalis, of sorts, one in which he may feel he would be able to transform into something else once it is complete. Even just wearing it would produce some sort of transformation, even if it is only psychological. He desires change to the point that he is willing to do whatever it takes to become something else, even if it means skinning women.

What I find particularly interesting is how Buffalo Bill wasn’t born psychotic, but was rather turned into one through the constant and systematic abuse he received as a child. This is consistent with how people become bullies. Children who are constantly abused will have a higher chance of becoming a bully, just like those that abuse them. Buffalo Bill is a bully because of the circumstances in which he was raised. Not all abused children go on to be bullies, and not all bullies go on to be serial killers, obviously. However, just like many people, how much can a single person take before his or her mentality just can’t take the abuse any further and breaks like Buffalo Bill? Some people would probably have to die before they wind up killing, but for others, once the mind can’t take it anymore, who knows? This seems to be the case for Buffalo Bill. But this doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel anything, and he shows a hint of empathy in the film.

When Buffalo Bill tells Catherine, the woman he’s kidnapped, to put the lotion on the skin, she cries and pleads for her life. Buffalo Bill becomes visibly emotionally distraught and cries as well. He quickly rids himself of the emotions, but for several seconds, you can see how he isn’t entirely emotionless. In fact, he has too much. He has empathy for the kidnapped woman, but not enough to overcome his own self-hatred, which means he will never let any of his captives go free. I found it interesting how Buffalo Bill had this in his character, especially when you consider how cold and evil killers were in the films preceding Silence of the Lambs, such as in the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street films.

Overall, despite having aged a bit, Silence of the Lambs still holds power over the audience. The film is outstanding and memorable, full of characters with complex psychologies.

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4 thoughts on “The Silence of the Lambs–“You still wake up sometimes, don’t you? You wake up in the dark and hear the screaming of the lambs.””

  1. You said: “Although the movie may not be as scary anymore with the influx of torture-porn films, it still holds power because of how well acted it is.”

    I have to disagree with you. I think Silence of the Lambs is far scarier than any torture-porn, mostly because it is about manipulation and working through our own inner-demons. The way that Lecter can get inside a person’s mind and manipulate them is terrifying, but so is Clarice’s struggle to be accepted and treated with respect in the ultimate “boy’s club” (although, to be fair, maybe that’s something that women can relate to better than men). I love extreme cinema, especially extreme art cinema, but I don’t need the on-screen gore to find this movie chilling… and that is itself part of why it’s so chilling.

  2. I never realized until reading about the movie for this class that Gumb’s sexuality was a bit of a controversy when it came out. There were complaints that the portrayal linked insanity to transgendered individuals. He’s a more complex character than I think he gets credit for – Lecter stole the show.

  3. I agree about Jame Gumb. He has lots of emotional issues. I think he uses the phrase “IT puts the lotion…” as a way of dehumanizing his victims. But he does have a soft spot. We can see it in the love of his dog which is ultimately part of his downfall. Also I think it’s interesting to note that in the book he watches a video clip of his mother at a beauty pageant over and over. We can see that he’s totally obsessed with beauty too. And I think this ties into what you said about the moth metaphor. He’s trying to become something else which is over the moon in terms of other character development we’ve seen in serial killers.

  4. The skin suit as his own chrysalis was great. Gumb is truly a complex character. Seeing him choke up before screaming at Catherine was a great little character moment. It showed that he wasn’t soulless, yet he was still cruel. Addressing Catherine as “It” seems to help him disconnect from his victims.

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