Dr. Hannibal The Cannibal Cordially Invites You For Dinner ... RSVP ...

The power of literature is such that it can change the course of history, like the novels Noli Me Tangere and Uncle Tom’s Cabin. There is an indefinable something in books that even their authors couldn’t have created. I learned this firsthand when I read Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs. It was spooky, sinister and thoroughly enjoyable at the same time.

The plot alone will perk all your senses: a young woman is tasked to obtain information about a serial killer from the most intelligent and brilliantly incisive sociopath that ever lived.

Here are the dramatis personae:

Clarice Starling is an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but she’s young and inexperienced. Buffalo Bill abducts women, and he kills them and takes their skins. Dr. Hannibal Lecter is a psychiatrist with an intelligence that is immeasurable by any standards known to man, but he eats flesh – hence the media-dubbed “Hannibal the Cannibal” – and he’s confined in the maximum security prison for the criminally insane. Now their paths will cross, and nothing will ever be the same again.

It would be misleading to think of The Silence of the Lambs as your common garden-variety psychological thriller. You’ll get thrilled – but ponderous as well. It is so thought-provoking to the point of enabling the reader to see the situation from a deranged person’s point of view. It doesn’t mean you’ll go crazy, mind you. I wouldn’t call it The World According to Psycho, but it’s alarmingly near the area.

Who, after all, is really insane? The people who are overpowered by their desires, or those in power who manipulate others like puppets in a string?

The psychological highlights are the encounters of Clarice and Hannibal deep inside the prison, giving you claustrophobia and reminding of dungeons where monsters reign.

Paradoxically, the reason why it’s so hard to catch psychotic criminals, according to Lecter, it’s that there are too many psychiatrists giving conflicting interpretations of behavior. A person’s every action and motivation have been labeled and compartmentalized that even the line between right and wrong has become just a matter of one’s perspective – or prejudice.

Is insanity a crime? That is one of the many questions the book asks by inference. Is an insane person absolutely evil and a threat to society? Let’s take Hannibal: he has committed murders – not to mention eating his victims -- but he was instrumental in the capture of the serial killer Buffalo Bill. Buffalo Bill, on the other hand, is not necessarily the devil incarnate because he loves his dog.

There is enough ambiguity in The Silence of the Lambs that even if you already know who the good guys are supposed to be, you find yourself hesitating to take sides unconditionally. There is, for example, the vengeful prison director who cares only for publicity, and the lady Senator who bent the rules and betrayed Lecter. Then again, you really can’t blame her because her daughter – the latest victim of Buffalo Bill – is in mortal danger.

The cast of characters in The Silence of the Lambs is a microcosm of human nature. There are heroes and villains but they are all flawed. Nothing is black and white. Everybody has a dark side, but everybody is also potentially good, even the criminally insane.

Watch The Silence of the Lambs trailer. Photo courtesy of Yahoo!Movies

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