Stay Out of the Van

Last week, a convoluted set of circumstances led to my son asking me that fateful question: “Mom, who is Hannibal Lecter?”

I knew better than to give him the whole story. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s necessary to hold back on the scarier details of movies he’s not allowed to see, or he’ll obsess over them. A lighthearted discussion of the movie Jaws, for example, led to a four-year boycott of the beach. We’re not a family who loves to be scared by horror movies but Jackson gets fascinated by the DVD boxes, so the trick is to satisfy his curiosity without giving him nightmares.

“Well,” I said, wading cautiously into the water, “Hannibal Lecter is a character in a couple of books by Thomas Harris, and then Hollywood came along and made movies based on the books, and uh. . . . [DEFLECT! DEFLECT!] You know how your Uncle Stinky is very opinionated, and Aunt Lisa calls him Hannibal Lecture?”

“But does Hannibal Lecter really eat people? What kind of a name is Hannibal?”

“Well, it’s an old name. Hannibal was a, uh, Roman soldier and he crossed the . . . Alps with a bunch of elephants to make a surprise attack on . . . somebody . . . ”

Jackson had so many questions that it only made sense to write a post about it. So here is a PG-rated version of the plot of The Silence of the Lambs that explains some of the psychology but avoids the most horrifying details, and that I hope will make a lot more sense than the version I made up in the car after school last week.


Clarice: “I’m Clarice Starling! I’m named after a small bird, and I’m very smart and ambitious so I’ve joined the F.B.I. It’s like the army, so I have to run through the woods to stay in shape. My boss is kind of arrogant, but I have to do what he says because I love law enforcement and I don’t want to be poor anymore.”


Clarice’s Boss: “Clarice, we’re looking for a serial killer whose nickname is Buffalo Bill. I can’t tell you why, it’s gross. I want you to go talk to another serial killer who is so bad-ass we have to keep him locked up in a cell under ground. But whatever you do, don’t tell him anything about yourself or he’ll use it against you.”




Hannibal Lecter: “Hello, Clarice. I’m going to be very polite to you at first.”



Clarice: “Your file says you’re a doctor and a genius, but your crimes repulse me so much that I feel like I’m totally better than you. Now I’m going to analyze you so that I can understand the mind of a murderer. ”




Hannibal Lecter: “Yeah, good luck with that. Also, your shoes are cheap and you’re trying to hide your cracker accent.”




Clarice: “Uh oh, you have uncanny perception and you’re training your sites on me. My boss warned me about this! I’m out of here.”




Lecter: “The horrible man in the cell next to mine flicked something at you on your way out, and now we’re both disgusted.”

[Jackson: “What did he flick at her?” Me: “Yogurt.”]

Lecter: “To make up for his offensive behavior I will give you a clue! Look for an old patient of mine, from when I used to be a psychologist, he will help you find what you’re looking for. This will lead you to a storage locker. It will be very dusty in there.”



Strange Guy: “I need help putting my couch in this van.”






Senator’s Daughter: “You seem okay because your arm is in a sling. I’ll just hop into your van and then you can push the couch in and trap me there.”





Clarice: “Dr. Lecter, I went to that storage locker and you were right, it was very dusty.”




Lecter: “Good job, Clarice. The person who rents that storage locker is connected with Buffalo Bill. I will tell you more about the mind and motivations of Bill if you tell me about yourself. Quid pro quo, Clarice! That’s Latin and it’s a smart way of saying we have to have an equal exchange of information.”



Clarice: “This isn’t about me, doctor. But if you tell me more about Bill I’ll get you transferred out of here so you can get away from the yogurt-flicker. See you in Memphis.”



Lecter: “This isn’t quite what I had in mind, Clarice.”

[Jackson: “Can I go as Hannibal Lecter for Halloween this year? I want to wear one of those masks.” Jack: “I WILL NOT HAVE MY SON WALKING AROUND LOOKING LIKE A SERIAL KILLER.” Me: “Maybe we could find you a little straight jacket…”]



Clarice: “Tell me more about Buffalo Bill! A girl has been kidnapped and time’s running out for her!”





Lecter: “Tell me about your childhood, Clarice, or you’ll get nothing from me! Bwa ha ha!”



Clarice: “Oh, for heaven’s sake. I had a traumatic childhood, we were very poor, my parents may have died at some point and I was raised by other people. It was on a farm, and you know what happens on farms: don’t get too attached to the animals.”



Lecter: “Great story, Clarice. Quid pro quo! Here’s a file containing all my notes about Buffalo Bill. You go get him, and while everyone’s distracted I’ll escape from this cell in a really horrible way. To tell you more would spoil everything.”

[Jackson: “Does he eat someone?” Me: “Well, he gets a little bitey.”]


Clarice: “I’m going to stumble into a suburban home that coincidentally belongs to Buffalo Bill, who’s got the senator’s daughter trapped in his basement.”




Buffalo Bill: “Oh, hey, how’s it going? I’m kind of busy right now, so if you’re selling something you need to come back . . . never.”




Senator’s daughter: “Man, I am so sick of living in a pit in this weirdo’s basement. But wait, I hear a woman’s voice! HELP! GET ME OUT OF HERE!”



Clarice: “I think someone’s calling for help from inside your house. I’d better force my way in.”




Buffalo Bill: “Uh oh! I’d better turn off the lights and put on my night-vision goggles so I can watch you stumble around my basement looking for the light switch. Ha ha, this will be funny.”



[Jackson: “Can I get some night-vision goggles for Christmas?”]



Clarice: “I have a gun, you jerk. KA-BLAM!”




Lecter: “Good work, Clarice. I’m calling you from a pay phone in a tropical locale, where I’m living under a fake name. I promise you that I’ll never come looking for you because (a) we respect each other, and (b) you’re such an easy target, it just wouldn’t be sporting.”



Clarice: “I’m weirdly happy to speak to you, doctor, but now that I’m a full-fledged F.B.I. agent, I have a sworn duty to hunt you down and bring you to justice.”




Lecter: “I have to go, Clarice, I’m having a friend for dinner.”




Me: “And the moral of the story is: an evil genius never loses his sense of humor.”

Jackson: “I thought the moral of the story was never to get into a stranger’s van.”

Me: “Oh, right, that is totally the moral of the story.”

Article Posted 5 years Ago
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