The Silence of the Lambs, is a terrifying masterpiece that shares a very unique intertextual relationship with two other films, Psycho and Manhunter. The key element that these films share is there use of characters. Buffalo Bill, in The Silence of the Lambs has many of the same traits as, Norman Bates in the classic film from Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho. As well as, in Manhunter it’s the first appearance of the now iconic Hannibal Lecter, who became iconic when Anthony Hopkins took on the role in The Silence of the Lambs. This analysis will go beyond the similarities on the surface, that these films are about serial killers. It’s that in The Silence of the Lambs one of the major themes that flows throughout the film is the characters desire for change and its relationship with the two other films.
One key thematic similarity that The Silence of the Lambs shares with Psycho is that both killers want to transform themselves into something different. Buffalo Bill longs for a woman’s body of his own, and Norman Bates guilt from killing his mother drives him insane. So, he begins to assume his mother personally, repressing her death as a way of dealing with the guilt. Norman Bates desires change from his life, and he wants his mother back even if that means acting as if he was her. After you experience Norman Bates metamorphoses into his mother at the end of the Psycho, the experience you get while witnessing Buffalo Bill’s scene when he dresses like a woman is strikingly eye opening.(The Silence of the Lambs, Psycho) We are witnessing the psychopath lose any last bit of sanity, as he changes his appearance to look more like a woman and says, “I fuck me. I fuck me so hard.” Both of these psychopaths try to become the other person they so desperately want.(Boyd 33) The intertextual relationship between these two characters don’t stop there. They both originate from the actual serial killer Edward Gein, whose ghastly crimes were the basis of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Gein dug up his own mother from the grave and kept her head, much like when Bates keeps his mothers dead body in the basement. Then, Buffalo Bill is shown putting on flesh, and Gein was also known for skinning his victims.(Norris) They both try so hard to change themselves and will kill to gain that void in their souls.
The first appearance of Hannibal Lecter was not in The Silence of the Lambs it was in the film, Manhunter where we first meet Hannibal. This is where the intertextual relationship between Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs originates. Hannibal Lecter is first introduced in the film Manhunter which came out five years before The Silence of the Lambs where he is a psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer. Some of the major changes between the two films are the actors who play Hannibal and the way they spell their last names. Brain Cox takes on the role of Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter, then Anthony Hopkins does his take on Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. Also in Manhunter, they spelled his last name “Lecter,” while in The Silence of the Lambs it’s spelled “Lecter.” In Manhunter, Hannibal Lecter is only used as a consultant briefly to find the “Tooth Fairy” serial killer, while he’s still in prison.(Manhunter) This is also where we find Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, where he is asked by a young woman F.B.I. agent named Clarice Starling to help find another serial killer. He has a much larger role in this film over the first. While they changed a few of the details between the two characters, they are still the same person in both films. The theme of change is still present with the character Hannibal as well. He is imprisoned throughout both films, looking for a way to be free once again. Hannibal seeks for his release from the prison, this is why he even goes along with helping the F.B.I. agents. The change from life in prison, to being a freed man is what drives Hannibal in both of these films.(Manhunter, The Silence of the Lambs) To further the point that the intertextual relationship between the two films is that The Silence of the Lambs knowingly used the character Hannibal Lecter from the earlier film Manhunter.
The theme of change, the needing to transform into something else is key in The Silence of the Lambs and can be found in many of the characters in the film most notably Buffalo Bill and Hannibal Lecter. Where one wants to change himself into a woman, and the other wants to change his life, to be release from prison. This theme only gets stronger and more noticeable once you notice the intertextual relationship that The Silence of the Lambs has with the two films, Psycho and Manhunter. Where in Psycho, Norman Bates is a character very similar to The Silence of the Lambs Buffalo Bill, and the character Hannibal Lecter is in both The Silence of the Lambs and Manhunter.
Boyd. Palmer, Barton. 2006. After Hitchcock: Influence, Imitation, and Intertextuality. Austin, Texas. University of Texas Press. Page 33.
Norris. “Serial Killers and Mass Murderers.” 2001. Encyclopedia.com. April 28, 2010. <http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3468303096.html>
The Silence of the Lambs. Dir. Jonathan Demme. Perfs. Jodie Foster, Scott Glenn, Anthony Hopkins, and Ted Levine. 1991. Orion Pictures. 1997.