Responding to Silence of the Lambs

My latest foray into the criminal/psychotic mind is a follow-up to Red Dragon by Thomas Harris.  I haven’t read the novel Silence of the Lambs but I was pleased to see that what I was wanting from the novel Red Dragon was present in Silence of the Lambs.  That being Hannibal Lector.  I am aware of his cultural significance as the modern Dracula.  I was therefore intrigued to literally see him in action.  Wow, I knew Anthony Hopkin is a very talented actor but his portrayal of Hannibal Lector, in my opinion, is stunning. Truly creepy.

There were some questions that I still have about the character.  Much of my focus in this Readings in the Genre course is on motivation in the killer.  I got the impression between Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs that Hannibal is an elitist without any sympathy for others.  But, Anthony Hopkins shows some emotions for Lector that I hadn’t expected.  When he’s questioning Clarice Starling about her past, he turns away from her and as she tells him about a painful experience his expression appears to be one of compassion.  Not lust and hunger for pain as I expected.  I think it’s compassion because when Lector finds out that Starling had made up the deal with the Senator without the Senator knowing he doesn’t get angry with Starling.  Instead, by the end of the movie, he “wants to keep her in the world” and goes after Dr. Chilton.  That boggles my mind.  How can someone be so disturbed as Hannibal Lector but then apparently show compassion to Starling? I guess it is similar to Dolarhyde trying to protect his new love instead of satisfying the Dragon.

The effect on the audience is clear.  Give the villains something that we can relate to and our hatred for them declines.  We may even get to the point of sympathy.  You could actually see something like remorse in Buffalo Bill at one point.  If not remorse then at least discomfort.  Did he only feel it with the senator’s daughter or did it feel it with any of the others?  It’s like what has been discussed by my classmates regarding the Red Dragon.  Who among hasn’t, at least once, struggled with our own body and appearance.  Both Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs have individuals who struggle so much with what they were given at birth that it drives them to drastic measures.  I don’t  think Thomas Harris was trying to say that everyone struggling with their body has the potential to kill.  But, it is food for thought that there are so many commonalities with killers and their past.

5 thoughts on “Responding to Silence of the Lambs”

  1. The Hannibal series is actually a retelling of Romeo and Juliet–who knew?! Will those star-crossed lovers ever find happiness?

    Seriously, though, I think the incorporation of love into these psychopaths makes them a bit more human and much more interesting to see the inner conflict they’re forced to deal with. As an audience, we want to see their human sides win, which doesn’t seem to ever happen.

  2. I really liked Anthony Hopkins portrayal of Lecter as well. I think he hit everything right on the nose. Then again, I saw Silence of the Lambs before I read Red Dragon, so maybe it biased my reading of that story because I always saw Hopkins when I read anything about Lecter. In either case, I think the fact that he let Starling live adds a lot of depth to his character and shows that he weighs all his options.

  3. I hadn’t caught the compassion. I just felt that Lecter had found a new and interesting species of human that warranted further study. Interesting how everyone can catch something different in the same thing. As you said, “food for thought.”

  4. Nicely done. Lecter’s background is revealed in the novel Hannibal. You learn more about his childhood and why he is the way he is. I have to say I didn’t care for Hannibal very much. The mystery of Lecter is the hook for me. Like Dracula, he’s this thing that always was. That’s enough for me. I don’t want to relate to him or be pen pals. He’s the reason we have prisons.

Leave a Reply