The Silence of the Lambs

Updated: Sep 8, 2021


My favourite film. Oh yes. I've watched it many times. I even remember the first time I watched it. I walked a short distance from my home in Acton to a cinema in Ealing Broadway on an unusually warm, week-day afternoon in the spring. I had just finished sitting for my A'level exams and I was so excited to watch it. After months of revision, I was looking forward to a large hot dog, a large side of sweet and salty popcorn, and an even larger coke with ice. I watched a review of the film on the BBC's iconic Film Review with Barry Norman. Barry was a great journalist. I enjoyed his no-nonsense style of journalism, relaxed interviewing style and critical appraisal approach which was always fair and balanced. His review of the Silence of the Lambs intrigued me so much. I watched the trailer with peaked interest and made plans to watch the film as soon as it opened in UK cinemas.


Anthony Hopkins who plays one of the main characters in the film, Dr Hannibal Lector, won his first 'Best Actor' Oscar for his portrayal of the gruesome psychiatrist. Jodie Foster, the other main character, also won an Oscar for best actress in her role as FBI Agent Clarice Starling. I loved the film so much I even read the book. So why am I telling you this? Yesterday, I was prompted by someone asking a question to a network of counsellors 'Continuing with the Oscars hype, which movie do you think every aspiring counsellor should watch? I thought it was a great question. My response was 'The Silence of the Lambs. An Oscar winning film. A seemingly horrific film but it shows interesting dynamics between a psychiatrist who despite their monstrous character opens up the Feeling Function for an individual traumatised by her childhood and leads her on a journey to heal from the trauma and to emerge from the process as a heroine! Great film-material for a psychoanalysis class. By coincidence, Anthony Hopkins has just won his second 'Best Actor' Oscar for The Father.


Films can be a great way to understand the psyche and its dynamics between individuals and the workplace. Clarice Starling is an ambitious FBI trainee but unbeknown to her, she is unconsciously carving out a career for herself to resolve a childhood trauma and within an organisation who mission is to 'Protect the American People and uphold the constitution of the United States'. Her seemingly brave and impressive career choice masks her true intentions, or rather her 'unconscious' intentions, to protect and save the lambs as we see much later in the film.


Dr Hannibal Lector is a gruesome character. The novelist, Thomas Harris, who wrote The Silence of the Lambs, chose Hannibal's occupation as a psychiatrist, quite an inspired idea, and an extreme way to show the dynamics between shadow and the Feeling Function. Hannibal represents what we consider evil, perhaps the dark side of the personality, the 'shadow' in Jungian Psychology. The shadow represents everything we don't like about ourselves and others. It contains good and bad attributes of the personality. Hannibal lives out his shadow, the sheer terror, inhumanity and cruelty is shocking to read in the book. If you have watched 'Breaking Bad' you'll see a similar dynamic emerge from the main character in the first series, he is diagnosed with inoperable cancer which triggers a depression but it also 'activates' the dark side of his personality. The gruesome details described in the Silence of the Lambs novel are pared down for the film but nevertheless you get a sense of Hannibal's murderous character, expertly played by Anthony Hopkins.


Clarice Starling is pulled from her FBI training by Jack Crawford of the Bureau's Behavioral Science Unit. He assigns her to interview Hannibal Lecter, who is now a former psychiatrist and incarcerated cannibalistic serial killer. Jack Crawford thinks that Lecter's insight could prove useful in the pursuit of a serial killer nicknamed "Buffalo Bill", who kills young women and removes their skin from their bodies. A young woman goes missing soon after Clarice is assigned to the case.

Clarice heads to a maximum security prison where Hannibal is being held. It is a tense meeting but something interesting happens in the film. Hannibal initially plays with Clarice in a sort of cat and mouse game of wit, intelligence and dry humour. As a psychiatrist, he instinctly smells a rat about Clarice's personality and why not, he is after all a world renowned psychiatrist, highly trained and intelligent. He mocks her for her 'good bag' and 'cheap shoes' and when he realises she is attempting to gain some information from him to assist with an FBI investigation into a serial killer on the loose, he gets angry with her. But her perseverance and vulnerability touches him, unbeknown to him, she unlocks the Feeling Function in him. He offers to 'mentor' her as she analyses the behaviour of the serial killer in an attempt to locate him and prevent further killings. During their time together, Hannibal begins to show a great deal of respect for Clarice, he values her as a fellow human being and leads her on a journey to heal her childhood trauma avoiding what would be a future in a job in which she is endlessly, and unconsciously, looking to protect and rescue others. She becomes a true heroine and is able to see the world for what it is, having saved one of the serial killer's captives from near death, including the serial killer's own pet dog.


In her childhood, Clarice witnessed a slaughter of lambs. She woke up one morning and heard their cries as they were slaughted. Spring lambs, I'm sure a horrific sound. She follows their cries and finds herself in the slaughter house where she witnesses the gruesome slaughter. She manages to grab one lamb and runs off with it but she is found by a family member, and the lamb is taken back to the slaughter house. Hannibal offers to redeem her. He becomes highly empathetic and self-sacrificing to Clarice, a total switch of his menacing personality. He offers Clarice some tips which will save the kidnapped woman. He becomes highly related yet his dark side remains. Clarice becomes a witness to his fleeting humanity which is hidden deep in the shadow and for the most part, unconscious.


The Silence of the Lambs is a great psychological film showing certain aspects of the psyche; the shadow, the negative side of the personality, its unpleasant qualities, the dark side of human nature. Hannibal lives out his dark side, an extreme personification of evil, but he also shows another side, the Feeling Function. The Feeling Function is one of the four functions of the personality alongside sensation, intuiton and thinking. The Feeling Function is not about emotions. When it is expressed in an extraverted way, Extraverted Feeling, it is a function which appraises the value of others, it is a function which validates, affirms and relates to others. Individuals with a propensity toward the Feeling Function tend to see view the world in terms of how it affects others, they seek to harmonise with others, the other functions are secondary or even unused, thinking, intuition and sensation are relegated to lesser roles in their personality. They extend bountiful empathy to people and groups, weaving the social fabric of cohesive social harmony. They make sacrifices for their well-being, for the benefit of the family, the group, organisation or the nation. What is thought, must first be felt is an apt term for a Feeling type.


The Feeling Function is a necessary ingredient in the personality of a counsellor, therapist, mentor, coach and even line manager. The behavioural characteristics associated with the Feeling Function are often associated with emotion - but that is not an accurate description of the function. The Feeling Function is an expression of value, placing value on others. It orients to social conditions. As people, groups or organisations change, extraverted feeling adjusts to the norms or values discerned in the new situation.


So somehow, Clarice becomes an object of value to Hannibal. He emphathizes with her feeling-values. Empathy guides the action of extraverted feeling. In a strange way, he counsels her to confront her childhood trauma by putting her in direct danger with the serial killer, knowing that she would be brave enough to survive the encounter and rescue the woman held captive by the serial killer. She saved the 'lambs' by saving the captive woman and by doing so as an adult, she is released from her childhood trauma, and all of this happened in the workplace!


The Silence of the Lambs is a complex psychological film. In fact, much more can be said about the personality of Clarice Starling and its collaboration with Hannibal Lector but I thought I would focus on the Jungian concepts of Shadow and the Feeling Function. Film is a great medium to understand the psychology of the psyche. I'll definitely make some more film recommendations in a future blog where you can see extraversion, introversion, sensation, intuition, thinking, and feeling at play, and also the persona, shadow, and personal and collective unconscious. Check out my 'What is Jungian Psychology?' page for more information about these classic Jungian concepts and ideas at https://www.nicholastoko.com/what-is-jungian-psychology




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