Study Guide

The Silence of the Lambs Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine)

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Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine)

Oh, Give Us a Home Where the Buffalo Don't Roam

In a movie with two serial killers, Buffalo Bill manages to be the "bad" one.

Hannibal Lecter has a sense of manners and a moral code, however twisted it may be. But Buffalo Bill, whose real name is Jame Gumb, has no sense of…anything. Dr. Lecter is sure of who he, himself is. Buffalo Bill hates himself and wants to change.

Buffalo Bill decides to change himself by killing women and making himself a woman suit. Because what's more irresistible than a man wearing the skin of another person?
Um, barf. Bill's M.O. is to kidnap a plus-size woman, keep her in a pit for three days, starve her to loosen her skin, skin her, and dump her in a river. While the women are in the pit, he yells at them and taunts them, "It rubs the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again." No self-respecting serial killer would wear dry skin. At least they're well-moisturized.

While Catherine screams from the basement, Bill tucks his man-parts between his legs, strikes a sultry feminine pose, and tells his mirror image what he'd like to do to her if he could.

In one odd moment, Bill almost seems sad when his captive Catherine Martin cries out for her mother. His own mother would have to be Mrs. Norma Bates times a hundred to turn her son into a man as crazy and violent as Buffalo Bill, but what was his upbringing like?

In a conversation with Clarice, Lecter speculates about it. Bill's ex-lover was a patient of Lecter's and Lecter hints that he met with Bill once, so he knew something about him:

LECTER: Billy is not a real transsexual, but he thinks he is. He tries to be. He's tried to be a lot of things I expect. […] There are three major centers for transsexual surgery: Johns Hopkins, the University of Minnesota, and Columbus Medical Center. I wouldn't be surprised if Billy had applied for sex reassignment at one or all of them and been rejected.

CLARICE: On what basis would they reject him?

LECTER: Look for severe childhood disturbances associated with violence. Our Billy wasn't born a criminal, Clarice. He was made one through years of systematic abuse. Billy hates his own identity, you see, and he thinks that makes him a transsexual.

As Officer Krupke would understand, "he's depraved on account of he's deprived." It's impossible to sympathize with him, though. After this one moment where he almost has emotion, he quickly beings to vulgarly mock Catherine. He does have one soft spot remaining: his dog, Precious. Catherine almost kills the dog to get what she wants from Bill. That seems to be the only thing that makes him angry.

Unlike many killers in movies, Buffalo Bill isn't exceptionally crafty. He's not leaving weird clues or sending Clarice on a chase; he's simply lucky to have not been caught yet. When Clarice finally gets on his trail, his luck has run out. Clarice shoots and kills him after a creepy chase through his underground lair.

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