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The Silence Of The Lambs Theory That Changes Everything

In 1988, Thomas Harris unleashed his novel The Silence of the Lambs onto the world. Three years later, Jonathan Demme directed the film adaptation, which perfectly brought Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) and Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Sir Anthony Hopkins) to life. The film's depiction of procedural investigation helped inspire the glut of cop and lawyer shows we've been collectively watching for decades since.

Ever since the Criterion Collection released a pristine restoration of The Silence of the Lambs back in February 2018, it feels like we've been thinking and talking about this classic crime thriller more and more. While we usually hear analyses about the relationship between Starling and Lecter, people do spend some time talking about the primary killer in The Silence of the Lambs – Buffalo Bill, one of the most terrifying horror movie villains of all time.

Recently, a theory appeared on Reddit concerning the relationship between Lecter and Bill that could easily change a viewer's entire read on The Silence of the Lambs.

The Silence of the Lambs' Buffalo Bill defined

To quickly sum things up in case you haven't watched or thought about The Silence of the Lambs recently, Clarice Starling is an FBI trainee tasked with questioning a captured, homicidal cannibal and ex-psychiatrist named Hannibal Lecter. What she doesn't know is that she's actually building a relationship so that she can coax Lecter into helping the FBI capture a former patient of his: the at-large serial killer named Jame "Buffalo Bill" Gumb (Ted Levine).

Readers learn through Harris' novel that Gumb had a traumatic childhood and was placed in a foster home after his aspiring actress mother spiraled into alcoholism and could no longer properly care for him. When his grandparents finally adopt him at age 10, Gumb kills them two years later, and his murderous tendencies never stop. 

In the film, however, Gumb's backstory is glossed over, though his difficult past is hinted at. It's detailed that Gumb skins his victims, all women, because he's trying to make a skin suit for himself to wear so that he can become a woman. The novel and the movie both depict Gumb as wanting to be a woman, or at least believing he wants to be a woman, but being psychologically unfit to qualify for gender reassignment surgery. In the Silence of the Lambs film, Lecter explains Gumb's predilections, saying, "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. But his pathology is a thousand times more savage and more terrifying."

Despite the way Buffalo Bill is sometimes thought of by audiences, he isn't, in fact, a transgender woman. The Silence of the Lambs novel especially makes it clear that Jame Gumb doesn't fit the profile of a trans person suffering with gender dysphoria. Thus, question is this: How did Jame Gumb become Buffalo Bill? The Reddit theory we're about to discuss suggests that the root cause is actually Lecter himself.

Did Hannibal Lecter "make" Buffalo Bill?

In essence, the theory claims that while "treating" Gumb, Lecter was actually harming him instead of helping him — placing the seeds of homicidal discord in Gumb's mind in case Lecter was ever captured. The theory-crafter, Reddit user u/needkneadneed, suggests that if Lecter ever needed some kind of trump card, a bargaining chip to obtain his freedom, his promise to help aid in the capture of Gumb would be it. Basically, the idea is that in the Silence of the Lambs movie, Lecter "made" Gumb into Buffalo Bill on purpose for his own gain.

"Lecter saw psychological indications of psychopathy in Buffalo Bill and instead of trying to cure him, he pushed him further towards becoming a serial killer. We know that Lecter is very clever and intelligent based on his meetings with Clarice. He knew that the authorities would need his help catching Buffalo Bill. He knew that would give him leverage to get out of his maximum security cell," wrote the Redditor. "Buffalo Bill was never anything more than an insurance policy for Hannibal Lecter."

Now, the theory also claims that Lecter "knew exactly how to play his cards and manipulate Clarice enough to send him to a less-fortified cell with meals of his choice, where he ordered lamb chops because he knew they would be perfect for making a lock pick." Those points don't quite hold up, as Lecter's psychologist and the FBI rather than Starling herself arranged for Lecter to move to a less-secure facility in exchange for his cooperation during the Buffalo Bill case. Still, it can be argued that Lecter was indeed manipulating people. On the flip side, Lecter didn't use a lamb bone to pick a lock — he used a pen. Maybe Lecter just loves lamb chops.

Now, just how possible is it that a therapist could push someone to madness? Well, we know that it's possible for psychiatrists and therapists who are attempting to seek out repressed memories have instead inadvertently implanted false memories, thus convincing their patients of traumas that never actually happened. So, yes, it's certainly possible Lecter could have pushed an already-unwell man towards where he might have been headed on his own. 

But, as other Redditors noted, Lecter isn't psychic. Perhaps he simply toyed with Gumb for "curiosity and entertainment" and wasn't trying to set him up to later "use as a negotiating chip." The theory is pretty elaborate, but so is Lecter. Who knows? Maybe Lecter left a host of killers in his wake, each more dangerous than the last, for Clarice Starling and the FBI to find.