As a young adult first viewing The Silence of the Lambs, I was stricken by how the bad guy could do some good and still be a bad guy. This is one of the things a good writer knows: give the villain human characteristics. No one can be bad all the time. But to kill and eat people…that seemed to be a bit extreme. That he was a medical doctor was even more unfair. He not only had access to many victims, but he could feed his killing side, literally and figuratively, from the masses.
It was my first introduction to Dr. Hannibal Lecter and I was very afraid. I was scared for Clarice Starling during the movie and afraid for the rest of us afterwards. Lecter was the real deal. Yes, there was no surprise that he was the one to be afraid of from his first entrance onto the screen. His icy calm and the ease with which he changed topics and inserted quick stinging barbs into any discussion showed him to be a worthy adversary. Backed with his knowledge of the human psyche, he was doubly dangerous: not only could he manipulate his own responses and body to portray whatever he wanted, but he could also manipulate those around him.
It seemed that Jack Crawford’s sending a lamb, brilliant as she may be, into the lion’s den as bait might be a cruel sort of action. However, one has to wonder if that wasn’t a display of his own genius. A more hardened agent may not have been able to garner Lecter’s confidence, or decipher the cryptic responses he loved to give. Starling’s honesty and underlying innocence were attractive to Lecter, probably as a professional and as a person. He may never have seen anyone so frank and yet tortured by her own demons, as self sacrificing as they were. I think he also responded to Starling’s ability to catch on to the fact that although he did not “take trophies” as other serial killers have been known to do, he did indeed eat them: perhaps in his own way taking their souls or life essences as his trophies. Lecter truly liked Starling. He wanted to see her succeed, even after the failed trick Crawford had her play on Lecter with the trade of information for a transfer. I’m sure the fact that she wasn’t hunting him also helped. And of course, I cheered for Dr. Chilton to get his comeuppance at the end when Lecter followed him at the end of the movie. A monster who had an education, impeccable manners and was capable of actually liking someone and not wishing them harm? Yes, a scary monster, indeed.
Buffalo Bill was not nearly as scary a psycho. Dr. Lecter made Bill seem like a garden variety kind of crazy, almost like someone playing at being crazy. Almost, but not quite. The man was crazy. When he first lured Katherine into his van, I wanted to yell to her that that wasn’t a good move. It was dark and she was alone. Besides, it didn’t seem to make sense that someone would be moving a chair at that time of night, broken arm or not. I’m sure I’m just paranoid, living in the big city and all, but I make it a point to try not to be a sitting duck. As for the skin suit, I would never have thought to make anything from human skin, especially something I would wear. I have a hard enough time with leather. And the lotion line was really crazy, even if hiliarious (without regard to the context). I wondered if moisturizing would make any difference after the skin was removed. Would it not dry out anyway?
One thing Buffalo Bill did make me realize is that people could be watching you and you never know it. Mama always told us that, and she added, “Someone is always watching.” This was ingrained into us, but only in the context of making us behave as ladies all the time. Viewing the warning in the light of someone meaning harm to you is frightening. It’s even more easily done with the advent of technological means. To think that I may consider myself ordinary but to someone else represent That which he/she wants to obtain/harm/drain/skin…pretty scary. I’ve also discovered a fear of night vision goggles, after this movie and The Sculptor. Feeds back into being afraid of someone watching me without my knowing. Without seeing or reading about this type of insanity, could we truly know what the possibilities for danger are? Movies like The Silence of the Lambs are based on an extension of that: the idea that someone can be directly in front of you, hidden by a darkness that cannot be seen through, even as they can see all, your actions and their own internal ones.
With this insight, and having seen the movie after reading Red Dragon, where Lecter is first introduced, I’m glad Lecter’s character still did not have much explanation for his actions or his thoughts. Sometimes, people just…are. Not everyone can be placed into a box and dissected with complete understanding. And when the mask slips and a meek little lamb is able to see underneath the lion’s mane and get a rise out of him by telling him he’s afraid to turn his keen insight onto himself, then we get a well paced, detailed thriller.