The Silence of the Lambs (first half)–Group 4

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.

5 thoughts on “The Silence of the Lambs (first half)–Group 4

  1. Alexander Merrill

    I agree with others here that the doctor in Titicut Follies reminds me of Chilton from Silence of the Lambs. There’s a certain level of condescension and assumed superiority over patients, as well as people in general, that both display, while also simultaneously seeming ignorant and lacking awareness. I think this kind of personality is associated with psychiatrists, which is reflected in the anti-psychiatrist movement discussed in the slides. I think the other most impactful impression the two doctors made on me is that they feel to not take their job seriously. It almost seems like they are being facetious when discussing patients and treatments. Hearing that kind of tone and attitude from people in positions of authority like them is sickening, and Titicut Follies was very hard for me to watch given the reality of the situation.

    I also agree that Hannibal Lector falls on the complete opposite end of the spectrum than Chilton and the doctor from Titicut Follies. Hannibal Lector represents the expertise on the human condition and an incredibly sharpened ability to read people off of very little information, which is often times seen as dangerous or creepy ability. His ability to manipulate and control people through his command over the emotions and thought processes of people represents the ultimate corruption and abuse of power in the practice of psychiatry. These two extremes are clearly represented in negative ways in the material we’ve seen. Might that suggest some sort of middle-ground is necessary for beneficial client/therapist relationships?

  2. Rachel Horowitz-Benoit

    One of the major commonalities between Chilton and the doctor from Titicut Follies is the easy, assumed superiority. Chilton assumes a sort of camaraderie with Starling that is itself a hierarchy; they are positioned similarly as above Lecter, but Chilton still expects her to share his understanding of her as a female agent rather than an agent. He is absolutely assured of her agreement when he bemoans the lack of “office girls” and calls Crawford clever for sending a woman to “turn on” Lecter.

    This was even more apparent in Titicut Follies. While the patient was earnestly trying to explain himself, and was actually very coherent and persuasive in doing so, the doctor never engages with his “paranoid” ideas or communicates with him in any meaningful way. When he smugly says, “Well, that’s some interesting logic,” and chuckles while reaching for a cigarette, the act feels performative for the others in the group and perhaps the camera. Making fun of the patients seems to be a mechanism for control and for reaffirming superior attitudes toward the patients. When one of the orderlies force-feeding the patient says, “save some for the other guy,” his comment is clearly not meant for the patient but for the other workers and possibly the camera.

    The psychiatrist from the documentary also shows a marked lack of curiosity. The patient raises several noteworthy points, both about the way he’s feeling and his environment, but none of them are addressed by his doctor. Similar to the Rosenhan experiments, the doctor has a preconceived notion of the patient’s issues and seems to not be particularly interested in what is happening with the patient now. Lecter is the complete opposite in this regard; he is predatory in his psychiatric mining, even when the “patient” is not willing. I found the divide between two very bad mental health professionals interesting in this regard, as they stand at opposite ends of psychological effort: disinterest and dissection.

  3. Jacob Morton

    It’s funny that I had never compared the two characters as therapists until reading this prompt. Neither stick out to me as exemplars of psychiatric study. In Lecter’s case, his criminal record should speak for itself. With Chilton, however, he is immediately portrayed as a character who doesn’t treat his job with the gravity or care one would hope for. Perhaps more generally than that, Chilton is painted as a detestable character–again, right from the get-go. His instant attempt at seducing Starling eradicates any professionalism one would hope to see in the character. His reputation proceeds to plummet as his selfishness reveals itself–as well as the petty scorn he targets Starling with upon registering her romantic disinterest in him. These characteristics are established well before his therapeutic methods are revealed. He opts to “treat”–or more appropriately, control–Lecter through punishment. He blasts televangelist programming–takes away Lecter’s artwork–refuses to change urine-soiled pants when Lecter is detained in full-body bondage–etc… His interest is not in curing his patients, but keeping them in line, which reflects his status as a warden of sorts–a therapist in an asylum for the criminal insane. Lecter, on the other hand, treated patients, not prisoners. His methods were not punishing, but likely more in line with his treatment of Starling. He knows how to talk people through things–induce them to confess to their demons. He doesn’t tell someone they’re disturbed, like Chilton would–he slickly persuades them to admit it themselves. As we see, though, this power of persuasion can be used to accomplish deeds even more violent than those committed by Chilton. Indeed, Lecter convincing Miggs to kill himself is–at the end of the day–a form of psychological punishment. He’s using therapeutic methods to punish Miggs for what he did to Starling. That’s way worse than being forced to watch a televangelist–no matter what volume it’s at.

  4. Gordon Lewis

    To me, each doctor presented for today’s discussion – two characters from fiction and one real life, unnamed person – represents a scathing criticism of the field of mental health treatment/psychology/psychiatry. Although as characters and people, they are all slightly different, I think that the sheer malice they have towards people (whether intentional and bureaucratic, like Dr. Lecter and the unnamed doctor, or through ignorance, like Dr. Chilton) is what connects them all together.

    The unnamed doctor in “Follies” is particularly striking, as he is not really an intentional and poignant representation of the faults of mental institutions but is instead a real-life example of how cruel and inhumane an actual doctor could possibly be towards other human beings. Listening to the patient plead for the doctor to understand what he was saying, and the doctor’s casual dismissal of his concerns – I don’t think anyone could write something nearly as horrible and twisted as that in a novel. Even Dr. Lecter doesn’t come close, as he is outlandish enough as a character to have millions of fans worldwide who enjoy him and his books and TV shows. If I had to guess, I would say that “sloth” is that doctor’s deadly sin.

    When it comes to Dr. Lecter and Dr. Chilton, though, it is easier to view them as caricatures and symbols of a larger problem. Funny enough, Dr. Lecter’s treatment of the discipline of psychology reminds me a lot of Humbert Humbert’s views from the book “Lolita” – both seem to toy with the idea that all so-called “professionals” in the discipline are really just idiots who couldn’t tell a sane person from an insane one, which ironically we see is not that far from the truth in the slides for today.

  5. Henry Mooers

    Because the discussion at hand is comparing different therapists, I think that it is important to investigate the relationship each has/might have had with their patients.
    Hannibal is clearly someone who considers themself to be very smart. At no point in the novel is it unclear that Hannibal considers himself to be smarter than most human beings. Not only does he view himself as smart; he hates incompetence. He only wants to be studied by individuals he deems to be near to his level.
    I get the sense from Lecter that his self perception does not change based upon those around him; he has a high level of certainty that he is smart. In this way, one could say Hannibal’s self perception is self deterministic.

    I view Chilton’s perception of himself as the opposite; reliant on those around him. I also feel like this is the case with the Doctor’s depicted in the Bridgewater film. I these individuals to have a sort of dependence on his patients. Chilton’s views on women are quite gruesome, and demeaning. I noticed that many of these views were shared to differing extents by many of his patients. In this way, I felt as though Chilton actually was dependent upon his patients to make him feel more normal; their issues and worldviews made him more able to cope with his own.

    A similar, but not identical dynamic was present in the slide clips. I generally speculated that the doctor’s taking such an corrupt and authoritative posture was a sign of underlying insecurity on their part. After my viewing, I questioned why they had chosen their posts; and felt that they may have done so to be able to feel a sense of control by being able to exercise authority on individuals less powerful then they.

Leave a Reply