(**I know this is my third post on this movie, but this was the first time watching the film, and the more I think about it, the more I find it interesting!)
The gender politics in this film is really interesting to me, and because I haven’t fully been able to make sense of it all, I don’t want to make any definitive claims. But something that I would be interested to discuss is the role of transvestism (I think this is the right term) in this film in particular. In this film about female empowerment in a patriarchal society, one of the main villains is a man who is trying to become a woman. Hannibal says that Buffalo Bill “is not a real transsexual”; rather he only “thinks” he is, but I’m not sure what that means, and I feel like that was just a way for the filmmakers to make sure no one watched this movie and thought all “transsexuals” were mentally unstable. And while I applaud that awareness and sensitivity, it makes the film’s message on gender confusing to fully grasp, at least for me.
Obviously, Buffalo Bill needs to, in some way, pay for the murders of the women, but it seems that an argument can be made that, through his death, he is ultimately punished for attempting to become a woman and accordingly, for breaking away from patriarchal standards of society, which is what Clarice is praised for. I don’t want to suggest that there is anything parallel between Buffalo Bill and Clarice; the former is a murderer, and the latter is not. However, there seems to be an easier acceptance in transcending patriarchal standards of gender in a mental/psychological sense (Clarice) rather than through a physical transformation (Buffalo Bill). I think there is something to be said for that, but I’m not sure exactly what as of right now.
This is my first time seeing this film, and I think watching it a few more times would be beneficial before making any real claims. Thoughts?
Hi Lizzie, I agree with you that the transgender issue in this movie gets slightly complicated. The movie does not seem to demonize transgenders, yet the scene in which we see Buffalo Bill dressed as a female, juxtaposed by Katherine screaming in the well is chilling. By emphasizing the transgender element, here it seems to tie together transgenders and mental instability. However, I do not think this was the intention of the movie due to the fact that, as you mentioned, Hannibal says he is “not a real transsexual”. I think instead the movie is possibly just emphasizing the fluidity of gender roles, where Clarice, the hero, and Buffalo Bill, the villain, both struggle with issues of gender boundaries. I think therefore these characters slightly parallel, yet at the same time greatly diverge from one another in terms of how they challenge these gender norms.
I think that you have an interesting take on the idea of transsexuals in the film. Your claim that Buffalo Bill’s death in the end represents his punishment for trying to become a woman definitely made me think about how I viewed the film. While I don’t necessarily disagree with you, I think that I had a different reaction to this issue. When Lector explained that Buffalo Bill is not a real transsexual, I took it more literally than you did. After Lector made that point, I viewed Bill as someone who was severely struggling with his identity and mental health, and being a transgender was the only thing that he was able to “diagnose” himself with. However, I do really like the ideas that you had toward this issue, and I can absolutely see these issues from a similar perspective as you did.
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