The Silence of the Lambs (first half)–Group 3

Frederick Chilton and Hannibal Lecter offer different portraits of the professionally trained therapist. In the clips from Titicut Follies posted in the slideshow, you’ll see a third doctor speaking with colleagues and patients (“Psychiatrist and Patient”). How would you quickly compare 2 or all 3 of these doctors? You could think about them in light of the anti-psychiatry movement of the 1960s and 70s outlined in the slide presentation.

6 thoughts on “The Silence of the Lambs (first half)–Group 3

  1. William Koch

    It is rather jarring the seeming juxtaposition between Chilton and Lecter. Michael’s characterization of Chilton as repugnant is apt. Let’s consider just his introduction, how he immediately sexualizes Clarice as she tries to perform her work, mispronounces her last name (and then makes a point of over emphasizing the correct pronunciation for the remainder of their interactions), and then continues to further his misogynistic tendencies by making disparaging comments about women working for the FBI (8). I might argue that, if we didn’t know Hannibal to be a convicted serial killer and cannibal, he would be a much more likable character than Chilton and, even despite his criminality, STILL might be a more likable character than Chilton. I don’t want to discredit his behavior and his own demonstrations of sociopathic tendencies, but he seems able to have legitimate and not disparaging conversations with Clarice (although he does demonstrate a superiority complex, it is more subtle than Chilton’s blatant chauvinism). What I find so interesting about Chilton is the facade that Clarice sees through, revealing himself to be an utterly lonely man (141). There is certainly a cultural bias against being alone, being solitary, but I think his attempted nonchalance and borderline flirtation with Clarice only to be followed with this somewhat pathetic reveal almost discredits him. For a man who displays so much pride and advanced knowledge of the human psyche, he is broken down rather quickly.

  2. Joseph Levine

    In the doctor presented in “Titicut Follies”, we see a combination of some of the worst personality traits presented in Lecter and Chilton. On one hand, we see him speak condescendingly to the patient who pleads his release in what sounds to be a reasonably articulate, controlled manner. The doctor regards him like he is lecturing a child, but his replies are devoid of sympathy. Both Chilton and Lecter employ similar abuse when speaking to Starling. Chilton disregards any acknowledgement of Starling’s authority and belittles her with sexist remarks. Lecter also uses masculinity to try to intimidate Starling, and his nefarious manipulation of her childhood trauma reinforces his power over her. The doctor in Titicut Follies possesses all of ego of the two fictional characters in condescension and posture. Like Lecter, he brings up the patient’s prior trauma and attempts to use to manipulate him into relinquishing his argument. The patient struggles to speak confidently through his distress (and possibly medication he is on), which reminds me of how Clarice is unable to converse with Lecter with the same intellect and vocabulary, which allows Lecter to dominate conversation. Obviously, the doctor here lacks any apparent intellect, but his position across the table as well as his status as a doctor imbues him with a power similar to Lecter’s. When the doctor speaks with his colleagues, he speaks with the same air of conceit of as Chilton does. His remarks about the patient are vague and facile, and echoes a similar incompetence as one would expect of Chilton. It is interesting how the two doctors in the novel are meant to represent two extremes of the psychological professional spectrum, yet it is only Lecter’s impossible intelligence which seems unrealistic.

  3. Alexandra Lawson

    While the portrayal of Dr. Chilton and Dr. Lecter differ, both seem to fit with the anti-psychiatry movement of the 1960s and 70s. Dr. Chilton appears largely clueless and uninterested in actual human development and relationships. Before Starling’s first meeting with Lecter, he appears woefully underprepared. It is Starling who ultimately suggests that they “might have more luck if [she] approached him by [herself]” (13). Again, later it is Starling who must explain to Dr. Chilton why she will not be wearing a wire when meeting with Dr. Lecter. Harris portrays these two suggestions as ones that should have appeared obvious to Dr. Chilton, causing him to appear clueless. Rather than assuming his oversight, Dr. Chilton is instead annoyed and brushes Starling off. This incompetence is in line with Rosehan’s report from the 1960s, suggesting the lack of knowledge in psychiatry, as doctors appeared unable to distinguish sanity from insanity. Chilton, while not outwardly villainous, is presented utterly clueless and the reader is hard pressed to find any sympathy for him. Dr. Lecter on the other hand, sits in contrast, appearing quite perceptive. However, he uses this perception in a villainous and manipulative way. Here rather than representing the ‘incompetence’ of psychiatry he instead illustrates its villainous side. While he is not in a place of power in the book, Lecter still manages to psychologically abuse Starling. Despite her being in a place of power, he is still able to persuade her to speak about her worst childhood memory, and time and time again it seems that he is the one interviewing her rather than the other way around. One can only imagine the power he would have over patients when not locked up in high security. In this sense, he represents the other side of the anti-psychiatry movement mirroring the malicious tendencies of the doctors in the Titicut movie.

  4. Haley Glover

    Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs” acts as the antithesis to the then modern day psychiatrists and asylums. As Erving Goffman suggests in his “total institution” theory, the hierarchy between patient and psychiatrist/ staff in the asylum perpetuates cycles of reliance and submission to the institution. This cycle is highlighted by the patient in “Titicut” who claims his medication and “treatment” are causing him further harm. The psychiatrist this patient speaks to embodies the normalized depiction of the calm, orderly, and contained doctor. Instead of hearing his patient’s logic out, he, along with his staff, turn the patient away and refuse to listen to anything further; in fact, they don’t even consider that their treatments could incite further harm. Instead, the psychiatrist orders more tranquilizer for the patient and attributes his deviance from treatment to paranoia. Apart from this psychiatrist’s dismissal of his patient’s concerns, he appears to have little interest in his patient, only asking several questions of the facility, not of his mental health. As if to distinguish himself as far from his patients as possible, the psychiatrist adopts a monotone tone and dress, lacking any excitement or interest. This actively isolates his animated patient, effectively painting the patient as crazed or feverish; when in reality, the patient is simply trying to explain his pain.
    Directly contrasting this dynamic, Dr. Lecter as both the psychiatrist and the patient breaks the mold of the self-contained doctor. While his crimes underscore his observations and diagnoses of Clarice, they also inform his perspective as the psychiatrist/ patient. Dr. Lecter tells Clarice, “Most psychology is puerile, Officer Starling, and that practiced in Behavioral Science is on a level with phrenology” (11). Because Dr. Lecter has experienced first hand the inability of psychiatrists to diagnose, let alone treat him, he offers a clearer perspective of psychology. Dr. Lecter dismisses the institutionalized psychology of Behavioral Science, claiming it is more interested in the archaic study of cranium size to denote mental ability, rather than true mental illness diagnosis and treatment. In light of R D Laing’s “The Divided Self” that suggests “mental illness” is simply the mind’s healthy response to “the burdens of modernity,” the character of Hannibal Lecter offers an alternative treatment method, one between patients. If insanity is an adaptation to the insane world, could a doctor as a product of this normalized modern insane society ever offer hope to patients? Does Hannibal Lecter not offer a space of confidentiality, mutual understanding, and equal ground for patients to stand on and come to terms with their pain/ trauma?

  5. Michael Frank

    Part of what makes Chilton such a repugnant character is his ego. It seems as though everything he does as a professional is to further his own career or to give the impression of sophistication. When Starling takes a note from Lecter and tears down his facade, he utterly collapses. That said, Lecter is of course not without ego himself, though his is at least ostensibly earned. Perhaps this is why Starling is such a compelling contrast to most of the men in the story– All her successes are hard fought and go unboasted.
    Pride is a stereotype often affixed to doctors and it seems as though Thomas Harris plays into that preconception. Szaz accuses modern psychology of contriving mental illness for the sake of justifying its own existence. Perhaps men like Chilton are the face of this belief. In Titicut Follies, the fact that doctors cannot even recognize that some of their patients could very well live ordinary lives with the proper support may be the extreme spectrum of destructive ego. Today, (American) distrust in medical practice may not only be a matter of the little faith in science and medicine, but also the people who deliver it. Though I personally believe a lot of this distrust to be misplaced, it is always upsetting to see negative stereotypes play out in these harmful ways.

  6. Dan Cielak

    In “The Silence of the Lambs,” Thomas Harris offers a direct criticism of professionally trained therapists through his portrayals of Dr. Chilton and Dr. Lecter. He does this by portraying the moral and authoritative inadequacies of both men. Beginning with Dr. Lecter, Harris depicts a man of incredible wit, knowledge, and a keen ability to pick up on minute details. If Dr. Lecture was not some monstrous, human eating “sociopath,” he would be a very skilled and useful clinician that could provide helpful insights to his patients. However, because he embodies wholly villainous qualities, his character could be read as someone who upholds the anti-psychiatry movement of the 1960s and 70s. Much in the same way Nurse Ratched seeks to assume utter control over the members of her ward because she likes to be the center of attention, Dr. Lecter tries to control the characters he interacts with. For example, when dealing with Starling, he knows that she is desperate to obtain information that would save Catherine Matin’s life (A supposed Middlebury Alum!), but deliberately stalls their interaction so he can literally feed on Starling’s personal backstory in a series of “quid pro quos.” Likewise, when interacting with Senator Martin, rather than give her any useful information that might help them track down Buffalo Bill, he gives her a fake name (Billy Rubin) simply because it gives him joy to mislead them. In short, Dr. Lecture loves to be in control, and despite having qualities that would make him a really useful therapist, he is utterly evil.
    Dr. Chilton’s portrayal functions similarly to Dr. Lecture’s. For example, Dr. Chilton deliberately sabotages the relationship that Starling and Dr. Lecture formed by revealing to Lecture that the deal he made with the FBI was fake. He does this because he wants the prestige of having been the one who essentially ‘cracked’ Hannibal Lecter open; he cannot fathom the fact that some trainee got farther with Lecture than himself, whose had him locked up for 8 years. Like Lecture, it seems like Dr. Chilton is power hungry and despite being a renowned psychiatrist, does not use his knowledge and expertise for good.

Leave a Reply