The Silence of the Lambs: Buffalo Bill’s Moths, Explained

The deaths-head hawk moth is a famous symbol from The Silence of the Lambs, but theres more to Buffalo Bills insect of choice than mere coincidence. This dark psychological thriller from 1991 followed FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) as she tracked down Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), a killer who hunted and skinned women. Since Bills killing spree has even seasoned FBI agents and profilers scratching their heads, Clarice seeks help from cannibal-murderer Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) for help in understanding Bills psyche so she can catch him. Despite Hannibals somewhat overpowering presence throughout the film, the character himself only appears onscreen for around sixteen minutes.

One of Buffalo Bills MOs in The Silence of the Lambs is leaving a peculiar staple behind within the throats of his victims; a deaths-head hawk moth. This is first discovered during an unnerving autopsy scene, and the symbolism behind the moth becomes a key part of understanding Bills motivations. As Lecter himself later imparts to Clarice, the signification of the moth itself is change. “Caterpillar into chrysalis, or pupa, and from thence into beauty.” Lecter is referring to the process of metamorphosis, and this concept runs deep throughout Clarices journey too.

Of course, in relation to this, theres the problematic depiction of Bills seeming gender dysphoria and how he deals with it. In The Silence Of The Lambs, he wishes to transition and take on a gender identity that matches his inner, authentic self. Unfortunately, though the metamorphosis symbolism makes logical sense, boiling down a three-dimensional character to a harmful stereotype isnt only unfair, its proven painful for the trans community too. In a time where there wasnt a great deal of representation for LGBTQ+ people, painting a man who wishes to transition as a brutal murderer who hatefully envies women and collects their skins was hurtfully detrimental. The movies poor handling of trans material and Buffalo Bills complicated legacy are addressed in the recently-premiered CBS sequel series Clarice

The moth symbolism extends to Clarices story too, with The Silence of the Lambs opening with her still in training at the FBI academy before she soon undergoes her own transformation and is baptized into a world of darkness. While Clarice begins the narrative as an inexperienced agent who needs help understanding the psychology of killers, the movie ends with her and Lecter being the two people who understand Bill best. Any semblance of innocence has been eroded and under Lecters tutelage, shes grown on both a personal and professional level.

Theres also the glaring symbolism behind the deaths-head hawk moth itself, beyond metamorphosis. The moth derives its foreboding name from the fact it has a design resembling a human skull on its upper body. Even after hes finished with his victims, Bill leaves a symbol of death within them; most likely left in their throats because these moths can squeak, thus mocking the unlucky souls fearful screams. Just like Buffalo Bill and The Silence of the Lambs as a whole, the moth theme is layered in disturbing subtext.

Death’s Head Hawk-moth Acherontia atropos

Silence of the lambs: Insect Scenes

The Silence of the Lambs: Buffalo Bill’s Moths, Explained

Theres also the glaring symbolism behind the deaths-head hawk moth itself, beyond metamorphosis. The moth derives its foreboding name from the fact it has a design resembling a human skull on its upper body. Even after hes finished with his victims, Bill leaves a symbol of death within them; most likely left in their throats because these moths can squeak, thus mocking the unlucky souls fearful screams. Just like Buffalo Bill and The Silence of the Lambs as a whole, the moth theme is layered in disturbing subtext.

One of Buffalo Bills MOs in The Silence of the Lambs is leaving a peculiar staple behind within the throats of his victims; a deaths-head hawk moth. This is first discovered during an unnerving autopsy scene, and the symbolism behind the moth becomes a key part of understanding Bills motivations. As Lecter himself later imparts to Clarice, the signification of the moth itself is change. “Caterpillar into chrysalis, or pupa, and from thence into beauty.” Lecter is referring to the process of metamorphosis, and this concept runs deep throughout Clarices journey too.

The deaths-head hawk moth is a famous symbol from The Silence of the Lambs, but theres more to Buffalo Bills insect of choice than mere coincidence. This dark psychological thriller from 1991 followed FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) as she tracked down Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), a killer who hunted and skinned women. Since Bills killing spree has even seasoned FBI agents and profilers scratching their heads, Clarice seeks help from cannibal-murderer Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) for help in understanding Bills psyche so she can catch him. Despite Hannibals somewhat overpowering presence throughout the film, the character himself only appears onscreen for around sixteen minutes.

The moth symbolism extends to Clarices story too, with The Silence of the Lambs opening with her still in training at the FBI academy before she soon undergoes her own transformation and is baptized into a world of darkness. While Clarice begins the narrative as an inexperienced agent who needs help understanding the psychology of killers, the movie ends with her and Lecter being the two people who understand Bill best. Any semblance of innocence has been eroded and under Lecters tutelage, shes grown on both a personal and professional level.

Of course, in relation to this, theres the problematic depiction of Bills seeming gender dysphoria and how he deals with it. In The Silence Of The Lambs, he wishes to transition and take on a gender identity that matches his inner, authentic self. Unfortunately, though the metamorphosis symbolism makes logical sense, boiling down a three-dimensional character to a harmful stereotype isnt only unfair, its proven painful for the trans community too. In a time where there wasnt a great deal of representation for LGBTQ+ people, painting a man who wishes to transition as a brutal murderer who hatefully envies women and collects their skins was hurtfully detrimental. The movies poor handling of trans material and Buffalo Bills complicated legacy are addressed in the recently-premiered CBS sequel series Clarice

Leave a Comment