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The Controversy of The Silence of the Lambs


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November 15, 2017 by blackmonr
Unit 3 Essay
The Controversy of The Silence of the Lambs

Rachel Blackmon

Univ 200

Thursday, 9:30

Serial killers are some of the most fascinating people known to man. The crimes they commit are so gruesome and disturbing, yet for whatever reason, we can’t get enough of them. The United States has turned some of the most dangerous killers into celebrities. Jonathan Demme, the director of The Silence of the Lambs recognized this obsession we have with serial murders and capitalized off of it in 1991. The Silence of the Lambs was one of the most successful films of our time and even won the Big Five Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay. However, ever since the movie came out, it’s been an exceedingly controversial topic. Demme created characters; or should I say monsters, that were blatantly evil for obvious reasons- one character who skins women, and the other who is a cannibal. But the portrayal of these characters and how certain demographics viewed it, is something I don’t think Demme anticipated. The serial killers in The Silence of the Lambs are portrayed as evil because they are homophobic and transphobic, misogynistic/sexist, and narcissistic.

The Silence of the Lambs is a movie directed by Jonathan Demme, about a young [sign in to see URL] cadet, Clarice Starling, trying to capture a serial killer that goes by the name of Buffalo Bill. Buffalo Bill had a troubled childhood, that included his abandonment by his alcoholic mother. Later in his life, Buffalo Bill believed himself to be a transsexual but when he applied to get the operation done, he was rejected from at least three hospitals. Buffalo Bill would kidnap and skin obese women. Later in the movie, we find out Buffalo Bill is trying to make his very own “woman suit” out of the skin of other women to undergo a sex change. However, in order for Clarice to get any type of information on Buffalo Bill, her first assignment is to pick the brains of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a famous psychologist/serial killer, who is known for eating his victims. Hannibal Lecter is already in state custody in a mental institution in Baltimore. Many other agents have been sent to get information from Hannibal before, but, to many’s surprise, Clarice is the only one that succeeds. Hannibal Lecter has an unusual soft spot for Clarice so he decides to help her uncover Buffalo Bill’s true identity, which eventually leads to the death of Buffalo Bill and the promotion of Clarice Starling.

The serial killers in The Silence of the Lambs are portrayed as evil because they are played out to be homophobic and transphobic. The Silence of the Lambs has been an extremely controversial movie since it came out in 1991. The movie sparked several different reactions from many different people due to the fact the movie is thought to give homosexuality and transsexuality negative connotations because of how Buffalo Bill is portrayed. His overall character is just the embodiment of evil. Even Jonathan Demme, the director of The Silence of the Lambs, himself said that Buffalo Bill was only supposed to portray a mentally disturbed character, who was self-loathing and abused as child but as a result, the portrayal of Buffalo Bill looked to be a stereotype of homosexuality, causing the sense of homophobia. (Demme, 1991)

Buffalo Bill, the main antagonist, is an extremely damage character with an immense amount of psychological problems. Before Buffalo Bill was even put on screen, it was explained to the audience that he was a transsexual. He had been rejected from at least three different hospitals when he requested a sex change operation. Buffalo Bill took matters into his own hands by skinning the obese women. The motive of his murder, wanting to become a woman, gave transsexuality pessimistic overtones. It looks as if though the driving factor for his madness is his sexuality/desire to be a woman, rather than just his mental instability. Arthur Almquist (1996), professor at the University of Montana, wrote that only time Buffalo Bill is shown on camera, he is played out as the typical “flamboyant, gay stereotype.” Buffalo Bill’s characteristics were meant to make the audience uncomfortable and invoke a sense of affliction, which lead to the demonization of homosexuality. It was never actually mentioned in the movie whether Buffalo Bill was homosexual or not, the audience was just supposed to assume by the way he was portrayed. According to Kendall Phillips, professor at Central Missouri State, Buffalo Bill seemed to fit some sort of stereotype of how society views gays (Phillips, 2009) and it was not a pleasant view by any means. While Almquist believes The Silence of the Lambs is utterly offensive, Becca Cragin, a journalist for Americana, The Journal of American Popular Culture, disagrees. Cragin does in fact think the movie is homophobic and transphobic, but she believes that Demme, the director, actually meant well. Cragin (2009) said that by portraying Buffalo Bill as weak and damaged as he is, it advocates for individuals who struggle with mental illnesses and that Buffalo Bill displayed the importance of “gender to the experience of violence.” Gender to the experience of violence put simply is that each person’s sexuality should be taken seriously in order to avoid emotional turmoil, that could then possibly lead to further mentally damaging complications. I believe the portrayal of Buffalo Bill is homophobic and transphobic because it does in fact look like the root of his evil comes from wanting to be a woman.

In Silence of the Lambs serial killers are portrayed as evil because they are misogynistic/sexist. Clarice Starling is the only main female character in the entire movie which is dominated by male characters. Throughout the film, Clarice is faced with sexual harassment in almost every scene. She finds it to be quite hard to be taken seriously in her job simply because of her gender. She faces several complications in the actual work place and even when she has her meetings with Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

In the beginning of the movie, as Clarice was on her way to meet Dr. Hannibal Lecter for the first time at his mental institution she is harassed by the hospital director, Dr. Chilton.

Dr. Chilton: You know, we get a lot of detectives here, but I must say, I can’t ever remember one as attractive

Clarice Starling: (no reply)

Dr. Chilton: Would you be in Baltimore overnight? Because this can be quite a fun town if you have the right guide (snickers)

Clarice politely lets him know that she was only there to see to Dr. Lecter, and at that point, Dr. Chilton was uninterested and almost disregards her. When Clarice finally meets Dr. Hannibal Lecter, they did not get off to a good start. Nicholas Barber, a journalist for Culture magazine, wrote how Hannibal taunts Clarice every chance he gets just because she is a woman (Barber, 2017) and even mentioned how Dr. Chilton probably tried advancing on her, trying to shake her off his case. He talks about her boss, Jack Crawford, and how he probably “thinks about her sexually”, even though Jack Crawford is the only man in the movie that does not harass her. Hannibal uses Clarice’s gender in attempts to manipulate her. He acts as if he is superior to her, constantly insulting her and throwing in the fact that she is getting objectified by the men she works with. In the same visit, Clarice was also sexually assaulted physically. Not by Dr. Chilton or Hannibal Lecter, but by the inmate in the neighboring cell, named Miggs. Hannibal had insulted her so much to the point Clarice had to cut their meeting short and basically ran out of the hospital. As Clarice was leaving, Miggs throws his ejaculation in her face because it had been so long since he had seen a woman. Clarice is a strong character that conquers just about anything in her path, but she had reached her breaking point, and immediately started crying as soon as she got out to her car. Clarice had experienced three sexually abusive encounters in just one visit to the hospital for her job.

Clarice Starling isn’t the only person Hannibal harasses. In the movie, Buffalo Bill kidnaps the Senator’s daughter (neither of which are important characters). The Senator flies Hannibal out to Memphis in hopes that Hannibal would help her find her daughter. Hannibal does help her, but not before he uses her sexual orientation against her.

Hannibal Lecter: Tell me, Senator: did you nurse Catherine yourself?

Senator Ruth Martin: What?

Hannibal Lecter: Did you breast-feed her?

Paul Krendler: Now wait a minute…

Senator Ruth Martin: Yes, I did.

Hannibal Lecter: Toughened your nipples, didn’t it?

Paul Krendler: You son of a !@#$!

Hannibal Lecter: Amputate a man’s leg and he can still feel it tickling. Tell me, mum, when your little girl is on the slab, where will it tickle you?

Senator Ruth Martin: Take this… *thing* back to Baltimore!

He does this in order assert his “superiority” over her. Hannibal wanted to upset the Senator before helping her so that she would know that he holds the power, even though he his chained up and muzzled, not her.



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Nov/26/2017, 7:49 am Link to this post  
 
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Re: The Controversy of The Silence of the Lambs


Karen Mann, English Literature Studies, believes that Clarice’s abuse is a result of sexism and how men use their sexuality to try and “overpower” women in the workplace and on a day to day basis (Mann, 2009). However, Becca Cragin, journalist for Americana, believes that The Silence of the Lambs has characteristics of feminism due to the fact she overcame all of the sexual advances and caught Buffalo Bill in the end (Cragin, 2009). Clarice’s experiences (and even the Senator’s) shed light on what it is like to be a woman in a man’s world, especially in the workplace. Clarice was only trying to do her job and got harassed on three different occasions in just one visit. Furthermore, the Senator was just trying to get a little bit of information to help locate her missing daughter, and she was mentally abused because of her gender. Although some of their experiences might have been a little more extreme that others, the movie really is a good representation of what women have to endure on a day to day basis.

           The Silence of the Lambs also portrays serial killers as evil because they are narcissistic. Dr. Sam Vaknin, a psychologist, believes that serial killers are naturally narcissistic. A majority of serial killers believe that killing is “the way of the world” and that everybody would kill if they could. Killers with this mindset have are convinced that because they are “honest” and open about their desires to kill, it makes them morally superior. They view those of us who do not commit serial murders, as “conforming” and “hypocritical”. (Vaknin, 2009). Two of the main characters, Hannibal Lecter and Buffalo Bill, are both narcissistic in their own way. Each have their own psychological view of themselves that makes them act in manners that only they benefit from. Hannibal’s view of himself comes from a more self-loving perspective, whereas Buffalo Bill’s view is leaning towards more self-hating, causing him to be self-obsessed.

Hannibal is an extremely smart character and he knows it. Before he was arrested for the heinous crimes he committed, he was an established and an extremely well known psychologist, with his own practice. He uses his intelligence and sophistication to project his superiority over everybody he interacts with. He is constantly using his brains to make other feel inferior to him, as well as hurting them psychologically. Hannibal thinks so highly of himself that when Clarice compared him to another inmate (Miggs. Hannibal did not like Miggs, because he thought he was “stupid”) he became infuriated that anybody could think that low of him. This was the only time that we actually see Hannibal falter. While Hannibal doesn’t necessarily react, his facial expression becomes frantic which lets us know that Clarice had crossed the line by comparing him to somebody he thinks is so unintelligent. Even in the scene where Hannibal escaped from his cell (a gruesome scene where he kills two security guards and cuts off one of their faces) he remains calm and composed, and even happy. Richard Kocsis, a forensic psychologist, wrote that most serial killers suffer from anti-social disorders. That their illness usually derives from personality problems rather than mind issues. Being that Hannibal is believed to have anti-social disorder, he replied on nobody but himself most of his life, making him only capable of loving himself. (Kocsis, 2008) .

In contrast, there is Buffalo Bill who is self-hating. I do not believe that Buffalo Bill shares as many of the same qualities as the average serial killer other than an abusive childhood. Hannibal disclosed to Clarice in the beginning of the movie that Buffalo Bill had an abusive, alcoholic as a mother, who abandoned him when he was a child. That seemed to be the onset of Buffalo Bill’s madness. Later on in his life he realized he was a transsexual and wanted to undergo the surgery but was rejected each time. Buffalo Bill did not start out as a killer, but through years of systematic abuse he became one. All of his life he has been chewed up and spit out by the world, making him view himself as if he wasn’t good enough. While Buffalo Bill is played off to be self-hating, the very driving factor of killings is his infatuation with himself. He is self-obsessed, constantly trying to make himself better in his eyes. He became a killer in order to make himself and only himself feel better, disregarding the consequences any other person would have to face. One of the most famous scenes in the movie is where Buffalo Bill is video-taping himself put on his woman suit. He is shown applying makeup, putting on jewelry and women’s clothing, and finally, putting on another woman’s scalp that he had cut off of one of his victims, in place of a wig. Once Buffalo Bill is in full “costume”, that is the only time we see him as truly happy. He even talks about how he would have sexual intercourse with himself once his complete suit is revealed. As soon as he finally “becomes” a woman, he starts to view himself from more of a self-loving perspective. In this scene we see him become more confident in himself and not as self-loathing.

In reality, there really is no way of telling what causes a serial killer to perform these mass killings. Psychologists have been studying their behaviors and mind for years and years, and yet the only pieces of evidence we have are just ideas of where to begin. Jonathan Demme tried to display the mind of serial killers in The Silence of the Lambs with the evidence we have today. The use of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the ex-psychologist and current serial killer/ cannibal, helped try to give an idea of what the mind behind killers was like. Dr. Lecter helps Clarice capture Buffalo Bill by teaching her to think like a killer simply by telling her what he would do.

Dr. Hannibal Lecter: Why do you think he removes their skins, Agent Starling? Enthrall me with your acumen.

Clarice Starling: It excites him. Most serial killers keep some sort of trophies from their victims.

Dr. Hannibal Lecter: I didn’t.

Clarice Starling: No. No, you ate yours.



By telling Clarice about his own experiences as a killer, it better allows her to help identify Buffalo Bills true identity and capture him once and for all. Hannibal also tells her in a later conversation, about why he ate people. However, Hannibal’s excuse for killing people wasn’t necessarily a good example for why killers do what they do. Hannibal’s reason for killing the census taker was just because Hannibal thought he was rude. Another attempt at exposing the psychology behind serial killers was the explanation of Buffalo Bill’s past. As stated before, Buffalo Bill was abandoned by his mother who was an abusive, alcoholic, when he was younger. His mother was even believed to be drunk when she birthed him she misspelled his name on his birth certificate. His real name is James Gumb but on his birth certificate it reads “Jame Gumb” with no “s”. He went to live with his grandparents after his mother left, but they eventually died, forcing Buffalo Bill to grow up in several different foster homes. This clearly affected him when he was a child. Once he discovered he was transsexual, he applied to three different hospitals for a sex change surgery but was rejected by every single one. Throughout the years he has playing by the rules, but that did not seem to be working for him. He soon discovered by taking an alternative route, he would finally find his happiness.

The Silence of the Lambs was a phenomenal movie and one of my all-time favorites. While I personally do not believe that Jonathan Demme intended for the characters in the movie to be homophobic or transphobic, I do believe that the movie actually did turn out that way. I am not homosexual or transsexual myself, but I do see how the portrayal of Buffalo Bill could be insensitive to that particular demographic. However, I am a woman and did feel the movie was a bit sexist. While Clarice does overcome all of the obstacles in her path, she experiences copious amount of abuse from every male character in the movie (with the exception of her boss, Jack Crawford). Even though Clarice was just trying to do her job, she was constantly attacked for being a woman. The men at her job did not take her seriously, as shown in a scene where she asked the male police officers to leave the room in order for her to work, but they ignored her and looked to her male boss for confirmation. Although, I do believe Demme intended it that way. Not because he was sexist himself, but to display the complications women face every day. Furthermore, Demme purposefully made his character narcissistic. As mentioned before, most serial killers believe they are “morally superior” because they are brave enough to act how they please (by committing violent crimes). Demme made his character actually seem realistic so that it would inspire more fear in his viewers. Hannibal definitely fit the narcissistic trait because he let everybody know how smart he was every time. Jonathan Demme won the Big Five Academy awards for reason, and that reason being is that he pushed the boundaries further than most directors go, which was why the movie was so controversial.





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Nov/26/2017, 7:51 am Link to this post  
 
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Re: The Controversy of The Silence of the Lambs


Word Count:

3573

 Work Cited:

Almquist, A., (1996) Cultural analysis of Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs.” Thesis, Dissertations, Professional Papers. 20-29. Retrieved from [sign in to see URL] (Scholarly)

Barber, N. (2017, March) Why Silence of the Lambs is a feminist fable. Culture. Retrieved from [sign in to see URL]

Cragin, B.(2009) Noirish inversions: investigation and victimization in The Silence of the Lambs and Basic Instinct. Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture 1900 to Present, emoticon2), Retrieved from [sign in to see URL]

Saxon, E., Bozman, R., Utt, K., (Producers) Demme,J.(Director)(1991) The Silence of the Lambs. USA: Orion Pictures.

Kocsis, R.,(2008). Serial Murder and the Psychology of Violent Crimes. Humana Press. 3-14 (Scholarly)

Mann, K. (1996) The matter with mind: violence and “The Silence of the Lambs”. (depictions of women among male structures) Literature Resource Center. [sign in to see URL]. Retrieved from [sign in to see URL] (Scholarly)

Phillips, K. (2009) Unmasking Buffalo Bill: interpretive controversy and The Silence of the Lambs. Journal of Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 28 (3) 33-47. doi: [sign in to see URL] (Scholarly)

Vaknin, S. (2009) The psychology of serial and mass killers. Healthy Place. Retrieved from [sign in to see URL]


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Buy 16 books and video lectures on 3 DVDs about narcissists, psychopaths, and abusive relationships

http://www.narcissistic-abuse.com/thebook.html
Nov/26/2017, 7:52 am Link to this post  
 


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