The Silence of the Lambs, directed by Jonathan Demme

There is so much going on in this movie, so many conflicting sensations. It’s like standing in the surf up to your waist in the middle of August – you have the light and heat of the sun beating down on you, the chilly water sluicing around your body as the waves rise and fall, the soft sand between your toes, and the knowledge that most shark attacks occur near shore in two to three feet of water.

Part of the fun of this movie is having not one, but two, serial killers to play with, er, worry about. The first one we’re supposed to worry about, Buffalo Bill (played by the always delightful, and always surprising, Ted Levine).  Bill is running around killing and then skinning women (thank God it’s not the other way around), and making the FBI crazy. And the second one who is “safely” behind bars, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (played by a chillingly urbane Anthony Hopkins). Lector is a brilliant psychiatrist and a bloodthirsty cannibal.

When the calculating head of the Behavioral Science Unit, Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn), sends little FBI trainee, Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), to go see Dr. Lecter on a fake “mission” to get his serial killer profile it made me cringe. Talk about sending a lamb to the slaughter! However, as is often the case, by the end of the movie everyone in this little threesome gets more than they bargained for.

I have to admit I felt sorry for Buffalo Bill. He was all kinds of messed up and it looked like he had experienced a bad childhood along with mental illness. He was horribly alienated from himself (suffering from gender dysphoria), and other human beings as well. His classic line, “It uses the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose” when speaking to one of his captives pretty much says it all.

The U.S. Senator’s attempt to humanize her captive daughter on TV definitely fell on deaf ears in his case. Besides, I don’t think Bill even owned a television.

On the other hand, Dr. Hannibal Lecter is a whole different kind of serial killer. Unlike Buffalo Bill, Lecter finds it easy, maybe insultingly so, to hide what he is. He’s smart, wealthy, accomplished … he could easily be living a great life, but instead he’s driven by dark desires to do unbelievable things.

At least, we hope he’s “driven” by those desires, and not the other way around. Unlike Buffalo Bill, Lecter seems more “driver” than “driven” when it comes to his murderous impulses. Then there are those creepily heightened senses he possesses – smell definitely, hearing yep, taste probably (ick). Lecter the psychopath is the kind of over-endowed human being who makes me wonder just where humanity is heading, evolutionarily speaking – smarter and kinder? Or smarter and crueler?

But let’s leave these two losers behind, and talk about Clarice Starling. Smart, driven, unbelievably tough – I want to be just like her when I grow up. It is Starling, with her “good bag and cheap shoes” who pierces through Dr. Lecter’s egotism and boredom, causing him to recognize her for that rare bird, an authentic human being. Dr. Lecter, to his credit, returns the favor and acknowledges Starling’s worth and professionalism. (Something it takes her boss, Jack Crawford, an entire movie to do, by the way.)

So it’s no surprise at the end when she could conceivably shout at Crawford (who is slowly going upstairs), and tell him Lecter is on the phone right now, but she doesn’t. You could take the cynical approach and say Lecter was playing Starling (and who would know how to better than him?), but I think at the end they were just two outsiders who’d grown to respect, and maybe just a little bit, like each other.

6 thoughts on “The Silence of the Lambs, directed by Jonathan Demme”

  1. Gwen,
    I felt the same for Buffalo Bill, I pitied him. When Catherine is in the well crying that she wants her mom and he was struggling so badly not to get emotional. When he yells his most famous line “it puts the lotion on its skin” I felt as if it was more for him than her. He was trying so hard to dehumanize her. Not to torment her but to convince himself that he didn’t care.

    As for Clarice, yes I want to be her too. She is the most realistic protagonist I have ever seen. She is strong because she has to be, but you can see she is scared to death, she is intimidated, she is self-conscious and yet she perseveres, because it’s the right thing to do. I love her and I think it is her weakness showing through behind her veil of strength that Lecter falls for.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. Poor Buffalo Bill was a tortured bastard. I think Harris was almost asking us — Here’s two horrible serial killers. Which one is the evil bastard, and which one is to be pitied?
      Yes, I think it was Clarice’s weakness that drew Lecter to her (perhaps in an instinctual predatory way?), but it was her determined strength despite the weakness that made him respect her.


  2. The terrifying thing about Lecter is that he never really seems crazy. He comes off as calm and polite. But, oh yeah, he’ll also have your liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.

    Unlike Buffalo Bill, who is crazy as a loon and shows it.


  3. I agree that Lecter and Starling ended up with a certain level of respect for each other. Their conversations were some of the best parts of the movie for me as they felt authentic while being so strange. I also agree that Starling didn’t flag down Crawford in the end because she respected him. when he said he wouldn’t be on long enough to trace, she believed him. Plus, she was honest with him and told him she couldn’t promise to not pursue him, which I’m sure Lecter admired. Anyone else would have lied to him to try to play him. They had an amazing dynamic.


  4. Hi Gwendalyn, awesome post as always! I love how you give us that taste of your voice and personality in your blog, so much so that I find myself reading it in your voice in my head. You also do a great job with the puns and pictures. It gives my mind a break from large paragraphs and text and makes these posts much more enjoyable to read.

    I found your point on Buffalo Bill’s line, “It uses the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose” to be particularly insightful. I remember that scene very vividly, but I think it took me a minute to really absorb to whom he was referring and what it all meant. You’re right: that line sums up Buffalo Bill and makes readers afraid of him and feel sorry for him at the same time.


    1. Katie, the initial idea to fill up a blog post with pictures and humor actually came from another author’s blog, Kristen Lamb. She’s a social media guru for writers, and she practices what she preaches — I always end up flying through all her blog posts because she puts all these funny pictures in them. The reason? As you realized — it breaks up those large blocks of texts that often drive overwhelmed readers away!


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