Great to hear and appreciate your comments during the week.
Re ‘masks’: This is yet another reason why working with character archetypes can be so helpful in both character development and page-writing. Any character can wear any archetype ‘mask’ in any situation. Obviously, it depends on the nature of each character’s psyche and personality — some may be prone to don a, let’s say, Mentor mask while uncomfortable taking on the role of Nemesis — but the potential for characters to slip in and out of character modes allows them to become multidimensional individuals on the page.
Here’s my big takeaway: I coined a phrase years ago — Narrative Imperative. Basically, it means THIS journey the Protagonist goes on is precisely the journey they NEED to take. It’s not arbitrary, rather it derives from the Protagonist’s opening state of Disunity, what those disparate dynamics at work within their psyche are, and what the arc is toward Unity. Looked at this way, every character and scene in the story in some way supports and services the Protagonist’s journey.
Consider Clarice. Disunity elements: (1) Orphan. (2) Confound confusion about how / why her father, a complete innocent, could die in such a random fashion. (3) Drive to become an FBI special agent in the field of behavioral science masks guilt she feels, illogical as it is, for the ‘allowing’ her father to die (children often assume some measure of responsibility for the death of a loved one). (4) Recurring nightmares involving the spring slaughter of the lambs on her uncle’s Montana farm.
In order for Clarice to move from Disunity toward Unity, she needs to confront these tectonic plates grinding away against each other deep within her psyche. If she ignores them, she’ll never move forward, indeed, will likely have some sort of psychological breakdown / crack-up.
Who does she need to go on this psychological journey into her Self to confront things she has been refusing to engage?
She needs a Mentor, someone who can compel her to look within and steer her through the morass of her defense mechanism and coping skills. This person needs to be expert at understanding human nature and especially the ‘shadow’ aspects of a person’s psyche, the dark, repressed dynamics.
Enter Hannibal Lecter and the ‘quid pro quo’ agreement between he and Clarice: He tells her clues about the Buffalo Bill case in exchange for her sharing the truth about her inner life.
How could Clarice possibly intersect with Lecter? She’s a lowly agent-in-training. He’s locked in the bowels of a psychiatric hospital prison.
Enter Jack Crawford, the Trickster. He uses her as bait to get Lecter talking arranging for Clarice to meet the psychopath in prison.
However, Clarice does not WANT to go on a journey into her psyche, she is AFRAID of it, and fears most of all the emotional attachments she has with that harrowing experience of watching the slaughter of the lambs. It will take more than just a clever expert in psychology (Lecter) to motivate her to open up to him.
Enter Catherine Martin, the Attractor. Catherine in effect is a projection of Clarice’se self to Clarice: Catherine is a young single woman, like Clarice. She is from the South, like Clarice. She is about the same age as Clarice. And most important, once she is kidnapped by Buffalo Bill, she becomes a victim like Clarice, who herself was victimized when two robbers shot and killed her father. When Lecter says, “You believe by saving Catherine Martin, you can stop the awful crying of the lambs,” it means by saving Catherine, she could do what she couldn’t do with the lamb she carried away, but could not save. Clarice is desperate to save Catherine because of the emotional identification she has made with the young victim and in a sense save herself.
That desire to save Catherine Martin provides a significant measure of motivation for Clarice to allow Lecter to “get inside” her head. There is a deeper motivation: to gain a sense of redemption related to her father’s death. She could not stop the two men who murdered her father. Logically, she could do nothing, she was an eleven year-old child who wasn’t even present when her father was killed. But emotions are not logical and so she carries with her some guilt about her father’s death. How can she gain an experience of redemption?
Enter Buffalo Bill. He represents The Boogeyman, if you will, the same function those two unknown robbers have with regard to her father’s death. The uncertain and threatening nature of Violence and Evil. Surely she is drawn to try to understand Evil. Why else would she go into behavioral science? She could have just become a cop. No, she wants to work with criminals who are murderers. She NEEDS to confront evil face-to-face, which she could not do with her father’s killers… and she NEEDS to vanquish Evil.
That’s Buffalo Bill. When she slays him, sheds his blood, we are in Old Testament territory where his blood is the expiation of her ‘sins’. She could not save her father, but she could slay Evil. An act of redemption.
In a way, each of these characters along with all of the secondary characters, support and service Clarice’s psychological journey. It is her Narrative Imperative, she HAS to go on THIS specific journey with THESE specific characters and THOSE specific events in order to address her inherent Disunity dynamics and move toward Unity.
That’s my takeaway: The Narrative Imperative of the Protagonist’s Journey. It’s at work not only in The Silence of the Lambs, it’s present in perhaps all Protagonist stories.