Buffalo Bill's Story Explained

By RodneyHatfieldJr for Movies

Every so often does a film come along that crosses genres. The Silence of the Lambs is such a movie. People who hate horror films will watch and enjoy this movie. Naturally, the focus falls on Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), but the most unnerving moments feature the serial killer, Jame Gumb (Ted Levine). Of course, audiences wonder if Buffalo Bill is indeed a real person. The truth is he's a warped amalgamation of various American serial killers.


The Silence of the Lambs revolves around the bizarrely fascinating relationship between Hannibal Lecter and FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster). The film is a journey from the investigator's willingness to put aside her fears in favor of the truth. This impresses Lecter and leads to him providing valuable leads. In The Silence of the Lambs, audiences learn about Buffalo Bill's lure methods, and also how he starves and skins his victims. The collective visuals are shocking, but it's the character psychology that makes Buffalo Bill so disturbing.


This leads to what Buffalo Bill really wants, and why. And we are given these answers. As the character fundamentally wants to transform into a woman. The conflict to overcome is the difficulties faced while pursuing a gender reassignment surgery. Due to mental health issues, Buffalo Bill can't quite get the proper medical assistance that he desires. Therefore he kills women as a coping mechanism, in order to literally wear the skin of his female victims. For dramatic purposes, the character was inspired by a variety of serial killers. The most obvious influence is Ted Bundy. He like Buffalo Bill lured female victims into his vehicle. Remember Bundy was executed at age 42 in January 1989. Just a few months before The Silence of the Lambs began production. 


The easiest inspirations for the Buffalo Bill character were serial killers Ed Gein and Jerry Brudos. Gein is notorious for making skin suits out of his victims, while Brudos is known for wearing the clothes of his female victims. Both men share personality traits with Buffalo Bill. To place these men in historical context: Gein killed in the '50s, Brudos killed in the '60s, and Bundy began his killing spree in the '70s. Other serial killers like Edmund Kemper and Gary Ridgway have also been linked to Buffalo Bill, due to emotional trauma that stems from childhood experiences that affected their adult views.


Buffalo Bill's tortures method was the same as Gary Heidnik, a Philadelphia native who lured women to his residence in the '80s and subsequently kept them in a hole. In the film, Buffalo Bill kidnaps Catherine Martin - the daughter of a U.S. Senator, and keeps her in a pit in his home. But whereas Heidnik wanted to psychologically control his victims, Buffalo Bill goes a step further by terrorizing his victims and then physically wearing their skin. 

The Silence of the Lambs doesn't glamorize Buffalo Bill but rather captures various personality traits from real-life killers who struggled to understand their place in the world.

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