The True Villain in Silence of the Lambs?
April 19, 2017 at 10:01 pm #1020Lizzie MessanaParticipant
This didn’t really fit with my post about female heroism, so I decided to make another post because I was curious about everyone’s opinions. Like I mentioned in my first post, Clarice is #6 hero on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains. Hannibal Lector is #1 villain, and he is often described as the epitome of the anti-hero. I think, then, it is very interesting that the anti-hero is the only person in the film to seemingly have an equitable view of gender. Hannibal was the only man in the film who did not discriminate against Clarice because of her gender. He makes her uncomfortable and seeks to get inside her mind, but he does that to everyone. Further, he is the one who semi-inspires Clarice to work harder, by mentioning that she has the capability to solve the case of Buffalo Bill and that she just needs to dig further. Hannibal Lector is surely a villainous character, but personally, I did not see him as the villain of the film. Rather that role was filled by misogyny (mainly in the FBI and the police force). Another villain comes in the form of Dr. Chilton – a true slimeball. His first meeting with Clarice is so unprofessional, and he is extremely jealous of Clarice’s success, so much so that he would risk Catherine’s life simply to have 15 minutes of fame for a plan he didn’t come up with. At the end of the film, when it is implied that Chilton will be Hannibal’s next victim, I found myself feeling no remorse for him; it’s about time he got his comeuppance for being ignorant and pompous.
Thoughts? Can a villain be someone who commits crimes as well as someone who builds the hero up? Who, in your opinion, was the villain of the film? And, if you shared my reaction of quasi-vindication for Hannibal (he’s a serial cannibal, so he does deserve to remain behind bars, but Chilton is corrupt in ways that Hannibal doesn’t seem to be), how and why did you feel this way? What might be the point of making a villain someone to sympathize with?April 21, 2017 at 10:26 am #1021Megan NormannParticipant
I watched Silence of the Lambs in a literature class last semester, and the point you pulled out here was one of the things we spoke the most about. The film structures the characters in such a way that it somehow brainwashes the audience into rejoicing or at least laughing at the end of the film when Hannibal says that he’s having an old friend for dinner – however, upon closer reflection, we realize that no matter how you slice it, Hannibal’s crimes of killing and quite literally eating people are much worse than Chilton’s crimes of just being arrogant and misogynistic. It would probably take more of a psychoanalyst than I am to figure out how we all fall prey to such twisted scopophilia – so this is less of an answer to your questions than support for them being valid!April 21, 2017 at 7:38 pm #1023Kate SchulzParticipant
I think this is a really good point, too. As I was watching the film, I was surprised to find I actually liked Hannibal Lecter as a character. I kept asking myself why I liked this person who was a violent, psychopathic prisoner, and I found at least part of it was because he was treating Clarice as a person with potential, rather than objectifying her. Yes Hannibal is a cannibal and deserves to be in prison for the crimes he committed, but I too was not upset that he was planning on going after Chilton. In looking at the main goal of the film being to catch Buffalo Bill, then I think the sexism/Chilton were the real villains and not Hannibal, as he does seem to help Clarice with this endeavor. It is impossible to overlook the fact that Hannibal is a serial killer, and kills innocent people in the film; however, I do have a hard time labeling him as the villain, (or at least the only villain), in the film. It’s interesting that this character who has done so many horrible things was actually a character I liked better than the other male characters the film.April 22, 2017 at 1:41 pm #1024Emily McClemontParticipant
As Kate stated in her response to your post, I, too, “was surprised to find I actually liked Hannibal Lector as a character.” As both you and Kate address in your posts, Lector is one of the only male characters to refrain from sexism within the film; he psychoanalyzes Clarice, and causes her discomfort through his analysis of her childhood, but, as you argue, Lector encourages Clarice to work harder and “semi-inspires” her. I think that our class’ general consensus, in which we seem to be addressing a surprising reluctance to identify Lector as the film’s main villain, comes from his belief in Clarice’s potential. Lector’s willingness to “build the hero up,” allows me to believe that he is perhaps, a mentor figure to Clarice, as opposed to the film’s central villain. I am ultimately arguing my belief that, Lector provides Clarice, the film’s driven and powerful female hero, with support, and although he is cannibalism is criminal, his belief in and support for the likeable Clarice creates our reluctance to classify him as the villain.April 22, 2017 at 3:16 pm #1025Lizzie MessanaParticipant
Emily, I agree with you that Hannibal’s support for Claire makes him likeable to the audience. What I find more interesting, however, is your point about Hannibal as a mentor figure, especially because I had been thinking about this in tandem with Alison Lurie’s observation of mentorship in The Classic Fairy Tales. Lurie observes that female heroes are often mentored by older, wiser women (sages, fairy godmothers, etc.). It was a challenge, then, to juxtapose this concept of a system of female empowerment with Hannibal’s position as a possible mentor to Clarice. Several thoughts occurred to me as I considered if Hannibal could truly be considered Clarice’s “fairy godmother” (a funny image in itself). We are intended to perceive Clarice as a strong, independent, brave, and intelligent woman who is capable and willing to solve the case on her own. However, would she have been able to solve it without the help and “encouragement” of Hannibal, who is arguably her (male) mentor? Without Hannibal telling Clarice how close she was to solving the case, would she have pursued it and/or been successful? Without Hannibal, would Clarice have recognized and faced her fears stemming from the screaming of the lambs? And of equal importance, if we were to argue for this interpretation, does it/could it take away from the feminist message of the film? You don’t have to answer those questions; they’re just thoughts I had when watching the film. Thanks for the response!April 23, 2017 at 2:00 pm #1029Natalie LaCourtParticipant
I agree with almost everyone who has posted so far regarding Hannibal Lecter’s role in the movie. It was almost a shocking realization that I could watch him bite into someone’s face in the middle of the movie, and somehow still like him in the end. I think this stems from the identification of the audience with Clarice, and as Clarice comes to somewhat respect Lecter, the audience begins to develop a strange sort of affection for him also. When analyzing him as a mentor, I think it is important to recognize that he in a sense did lead Clarice to success, however his position locked in prison almost the whole time, forces us to recognize Clarice’s capability to succeed without his direct help. I think instead of recognizing him as a mentor who specifically taught Clarice something, he instead should be seen as one who forced Clarice to look inside herself and realize her potential. When looking at it in this way, it does not seem that his role would take away from the feminine message of the film.
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