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“The Silence of the Lambs” by Jonathan Demme Report (Assessment)

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Updated: Nov 4th, 2021

The film which I have selected for this paper is ‘The Silence of the Lambs,’ which was released in the year 1991, and won five Oscar awards. The basic reason for the selection is it offers different perspectives on the subject of psychology and compels the viewers to think on different levels. For one thing, the FBI relies on a person believed to be a cannibal to obtain information about a serial killer, which in itself is intriguing and the film also uses another interesting angle where the one with psychological problem is treating the others. The film, directed by Jonathan Demme, is about an investigation of a series of murders by ‘Buffalo Bill,’ and a psychopath turned psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter, whose information, the FBI investigator Clarence Starling is forced to rely for tracking the serial killer.

The unknown serial killer Buffalo Bill is a person with psychological abnormality. He kills women and skins them to make a woman suit with their skin. He considers himself to be transsexual, and in order to change his sex, he kills over-weight, plump women who have smooth skin. Another person with psychological abnormality is Dr. Hannibal Lecter. He is a brilliant and highly talented psychiatrist. He is known as Hannibal the Cannibal, because he killed many of his patients and ate them. He is as frightening as Buffalo Bill, though the film uses Lecter to track down Bill. The presence of two significant characters with peculiar types of abnormal behavior makes the movie all the more interesting and intriguing.

The history of Bill and Lecter prove that they turned psychopaths due to completely different reasons. Bill thought himself to be transsexual and so wanted to change his sex. He derives a sort of perverse pleasure in killing the women, skinning them, stitching women’s garments out of them and sensing their touch against his groin. His first victims of murder were his grandparents who looked after him since the death of his parents. His relationships after he joined the army proved that he was bisexual. The portrayal of Bill can be viewed from the context of culture. The film presents the villain as a transsexual and bisexual. Gay men have raised voices against the characterization of Bill. In the film, politics comes in when Bill kidnaps the Senator’s daughter. The senator makes offers to Lecter in order to trace Bill, using her political powers. A politician supporting a cannibal for personal gains is explicitly presented in the film. Even the FBI promises Lecter a better cell with more comfort and facilities if he helps them with more information to track Buffalo Bill. This shows how politicians and authorities use power in order to achieve their objectives.

The murders in the movie create a terror in the minds of the audience. Though the crimes are realistic, the movie cannot be categorized among the best because it has been sensationalized with a few other issues irrelevant to the crimes. However, the fear that the movie creates in the audience is obvious. The success of the film lies in the fact that the film makers do not show any details of the murder as such, but viewers are only allowed to see the dead bodies and the mutilation inflicted on them. In most cases the bodies are found in wetlands, swollen. When the camera focuses on the human parts where skin is removed the audience gets the real impact of the abnormality of Bill. Even his looks provide the viewers a feel of his character. The movie generates real horror from the villains. It is shocking to see that psychological abnormalities make a person kill others for such peculiar reasons in such ways that completely demonstrate the state of mind of the killers.

Bill finds pleasure in making a suit for himself out of the skin of his poor victims. Lecter is mad enough to eat the body parts of his victims, because of his traumatized childhood. It is in Lecter’s characterization that the audience will find the most chilling aspects of the human psyche and its diverse possibilities. The movie portrays Lecter as a very sophisticated individual who cherishes great taste for good food, good music and good wine. He becomes intolerable of the manner in which Miggs, a convict in the prison where he is housed, treats Clarence. This shows that on one part of his psyche, Lector is an extremely gentle and decent character and underneath lies a brute who is capable of unleashing such violence as beating to death two police officers, chewing off the cheek of one of them, and then calmly listening to a soft music chore, acting out the role of a conductor. The movie’s success lies in revealing such diverse psychological traits and abnormalities in a single person. Though there are real cases of cannibals and people with similar psychological abnormalities, there is reason enough to believe that the movie has been sensationalized with the mixing politics and cultural issues in it.

However, in spite of all that, the movie is effective enough in creating awareness about the strange abnormalities which make people behave most peculiarly. The movie creates real fear about the villains and the crimes. It helps in understanding that the crimes are not done by a conscious mind, but by the inner mind which cannot be controlled. Lecter developed the abnormality because he witnessed a similar incident in his childhood. The murderers are all insane people with no special motif other than pleasure. The movie further offers the audience to have insights into the reasons why a person behaves abnormally, and to an extent, even leads the viewers to sympathize with such people. Though an abnormal person with very violent criminal behavior, the audience will not hate Lecter for being what he is. As the movie progresses, revealing many of Lecter’s characteristic traits, the viewer will definitely feel a peculiar kind of awe and respect grow in them for Lecter. This is proof that the movie has been effective in its portrayal of psychological disorders and providing insight to its audience about the good and bad side of human psyche.

The movie gives the message that inside every individual lies the other, which is suppressed by the conscious mind and the different cultural and social values that are imbibed in individual humans. It further reveals that a traumatic experience, especially during childhood can cause extensive damage to the human psyche. As a result of this, once the traumatic subconscious mind becomes uncontrollable, people tend to behave in the strangest fashions and end up doing weird things that a normal human mind cannot accept. While the society ridicules and condemns them for their wrong-doings, the real fact that these crimes are done by the other in them mostly not understood by their conscious minds.

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