The mask, the hiss, the clear bisyllabic enunciation of the word “Clarice,” the fava beans and chianti. Hannibal Lecter is a spectre of fiction that manages to make cannibalism an almost socially acceptable source of nutrition. But I digress. Why do I find this quote from The Silence of the Lambs so interesting?
You see a lot, Doctor. But are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at yourself? What about it? Why don’t you – why don’t you look at yourself and write down what you see? Or maybe you’re afraid to.
(Starts at 5:30)
Clarice’s final accusation is one that resonates personally, and is where I see a connection to Borges. The theme of introspection and fear is one that Borges touches upon in Borges and I. As I read it, Borges an I is about the dichotomy of our public and private personae. It is the public persona that is immortal (“only fleeting moments of myself will be able to live on in the other”), a scary thought, because it is, in some sense, not the real Borges, because of his “perverse tendency to falsify and magnify.” And so Borges fears that he will lose his real, personal self in time, as he expresses in the last portion of the work; “Thus my life is a running away and I lose everything and everything is turned over to oblivion, or to the other.” (Borges, 1998, p. 324)
Why would Hannibal Lecter harbor such fears? If we make the argument that Lecter, too, is a composite of a public and a private persona, the obvious answer is a parallel to Borges’ fears. It may be that the cold, unnerving face we see is simply the public “perverse” facade of Dr. Lecter. Dr. Lecter’s intolerance of rudeness, his peculiar (almost eccentric) sense of politesse could be be fragile tendrils of the inner persona poking through. Most telling of all is director Jonathan Demme’s characterization of Dr. Lecter as being “a good man too. Just trapped in an insane mind,” which I think comes closest to explaining Dr. Lecter at least insofar as Dr. Lecter can be explained.
Utt, K., Saxon, E., Bozman, R. (Producers), & Demme, J. (Director). (1991). The Silence of The Lambs [Motion picture]. United States: Orion Pictures.
Borges, J., & Hurley, A. (1998). Collected fictions. New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Viking.