The Silence of the Lambs and Its Hero
Is it possible that stories from all around the world follow a certain pattern? According to Joseph Campbell, it is. He is an American scholar who identified and described a pattern of narrative that appears in storytelling, religion, myth, drama, and psychological development called the “Hero’s Journey.” There are around 10-17 stages to the monomyth, depending on the story. It describes the steps that an individual, called the “hero”, takes on their journey. It applies very broadly, to stories from disparate cultures, times, and places. Modern stories still regularly adhere to it. The 1991 film “The Silence of the Lambs” follows the Hero’s Journey pattern.
The ordinary world is where the Hero’s Journey begins. The hero is unaware or uncomfortable with their stance in life. They might be pulled in different directions, unsure of which way to go. In “The Silence of the Lambs”, Clarice Starling is an intelligent young woman training hard to become an FBI agent. She knows that she has what it takes to excel, but she needs to prove herself. She’s out of place, as a petite young woman who is vying for a job that is traditionally performed by men. Clarice is working hard and improving her skills, and all she needs is a chance to prove herself.
The second step of the Hero’s Journey is the call to adventure. This is the point where the situation is shaken up. The call may take form as a challenge, request, or problem. It is the beginning of the adventure, the first sign that things are going to change. In this film, the call to adventure is represented by a challenge. Clarice is assigned by Jack Crawford to interview Hannibal Lecter, a respected psychiatrist turned cannibal. Crawford believes Dr. Lecter can assist them in the case of “Buffalo Bill”, a psychopath murderer who skins his victims. Clarice is intimidated, but she accepts the call to adventure because it could be her chance to show her worth.
The next step is the refusal of the call. This is a warning or uncertainty that accompanies the call to adventure. It can come from the hero, or another character who is warning the hero of what lies ahead. When Clarice is presented with her assignment, Crawford warns her not to reveal anything to the prisoner because, “You don’t want Hannibal Lecter inside your head.” When she meets him, she refuses the call by disregarding Crawford’s warning accompanying it. She is honest and blunt with Hannibal, and because of this she begins to earn his confidence.
Meeting with the mentor is the next step in the journey. The hero of the story comes across a wise person who can help them. The person may provide the hero with advice, information, training, or equipment that can help them on their journey. Clarice meets her mentor when she goes to speak with Hannibal for the first time. He is Clarice’s wise mentor. She is looking for information, and he makes it clear he can provide it, but that it won’t be easy to earn.
Dr. Hannibal Lecter’s intelligence is supreme. He has the knowledge of a physiatrist and the mind of a psychopath. He is very clever and outsmarts law enforcement quite a few times. He even possesses an important trait that seems unfit for a serial killer; charm. He is Clarice’s supernatural aid. This is a component of the journey where the hero receives help or wisdom from a being that is above the laws of nature. Hannibal is the perfect aid for Clarice. She needs information on a psychopath, and who knows psychopaths better than a psychiatrist? Another psychopath, and Hannibal is both.
Crossing the threshold is an important step in the journey. This is when the hero crosses into the field of adventure. The journey may have started, but this is where the adventure truly begins. There are new rules and new limits to adjust to. In the film, Hannibal gives Clarice a cryptic hint, and when she pursues it, she discovers Buffalo Bill’s first victim. Thus, the investigation truly commences. Finding the body takes her over the line between training and a real experience.
Along the road, the hero tends to approach enemies, face tests, and establish allies. These aspects of the journey show how the new world contrasts with the ordinary world. The hero finds out who they can trust. Clarice and Hannibal become allies, making a deal that is she tells him about her life, he will tell her about Buffalo Bill. Dr. Frederick Chilton becomes an enemy, because he refuses to let Clarice speak to Hannibal. She encounters other trials as well. Buffalo Bill captures a new victim, adding a sense of urgency to the case. Hannibal eats a guard’s face off and uses his extreme cleverness to escape, leaving Clarice with only a cryptic clue and a case file. These trials are frustrating for her, but they also push her to pursue the case harder than before.
Everything comes down to the ordeal. This is the stage where the hero faces their greatest fear. It is the central life-or-death crisis of the story, the “slaying of the dragon”, the ultimate test. In an unanticipated turn of events, Clarice ends up in the basement of Buffalo Bill’s home. It is completely dark, and the murderer has the total advantage because he knows the territory and has night-vision goggles. Clarice is terrified, but she stays determined. In one fateful moment, Clarice shoots Buffalo Bill and he dies instantly. She had overcome her biggest fear, and she had saved the young girl who would have been the man’s next victim.
After the ordeal comes the reward. The hero receives what they deserve for having gotten past the ordeal. They might celebrate, but there is still a chance that they could lose their treasure again. For Clarice, the reward comes in the form of the girl she saved, and a title. She finally becomes an official FBI agent, despite her setbacks. At the celebration, Crawford says to Clarice, “Your father would be proud.” Agent Starling gets everything she had wanted and more. The threat to the treasure manifests itself as a call from Dr. Lecter, who makes it clear that although he has no plans to call on her, he is still practicing his demented cannibalism.
The final step would be the return with the elixir. The hero leaves the special world, and returns to the ordinary world with the treasure that they gained on their journey. The moment that Clarice leaves the home of Buffalo Bill is symbolic of her leaving the special world, because it concludes the investigation. The elixir she brings back to the ordinary world is the girl who had been abducted.
The monomyth can easily be identified in “The Silence of the Lambs.” More than 10 of the steps can be found in it. It is a big part of what made the movie so popular and renowned. The Hero’s Journey is important to many cultures, and many people’s lives, because it contains the building blocks of a great adventure. Some of the most epic stories in history adhere to this pattern. Some of the most important people followed the cycle of it. The Hero’s Journey speaks volumes about humanity.
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