In some movies, you have to figure out the identity of the characters. Who is Keyser Soze? What's Rosebud? Who is afraid of Virginia Woolf? In The Silence of the Lambs the identity of the characters is established almost right away. We're told Hannibal Lecter is a cannibal, Buffalo Bill skins women, and Clarice Starling has a badge with her name on it. But this movie isn't about figuring out identities as much as it is defying our expectations of what these identities mean. Who knew cannibals could be almost loveable?
FBI profiling is all about figuring out identities, but as we'll see, identity is a slippery concept in this film.
Questions About Identity
How does the film create an image of Hannibal Lecter before you meet him? Does he match your image when he's revealed? (Pretend you don't know what he looks like, even though everyone does, whether they've seen the movie or not.)
What do you think made Hannibal Lecter the way he is? Does it matter how he got to be this way?
What does Buffalo Bill hope to accomplish by changing his identity?
How does learning more about the victims' identities help lead Clarice to the killer?
Chew on This
Clarice's identity is heavily shaped by her past as an orphan, which Hannibal Lecter conveniently points out to us.
Buffalo Bill's identity crisis is about him hating himself for unexplained reasons. His gender has very little, if anything, to do with it.