To the editors:

Re: Article on Chicago actor in The Silence of the Lambs [“Ted Levine Is Not a Bad Guy,” March 1]

I can’t imagine that “studying” serial killers would bring any real insights to a performance (the knowledge that most of them are half-Jewish, for instance, is not only useless but actually inflammatory), but I’m not surprised that an American actor would decide that that was how it should be done. Another route, an analysis of gender, might have brought him closer to “truth” as art and as life would have it. But then what American actor would want to be so burdened?

In the article’s description of one of the last scenes of the film, Levine’s character, in kimono and wig, dances lasciviously; he is not a transsexual, but he wants to gain the power of women. The Anthony Hopkins character says of Gumb that he “hates his own identity.” Director Jonathan Demme says, “he’s a man who loathes himself so much he wants to be the farthest away from what he fundamentally is–a woman.” The truth is that what we are seeing is a vivid picture of a male aware that his own reality, his “maleness” is made up of qualities generally (and falsely) ascribed to the female (i.e., passivity, egocentricity, dependency, frivolity, shallowness). He pathetically desires to “become” the “female” that he really is (a male). Therefore, it is not hatred of himself (nor even hatred of women) that is being expressed; it is hatred of the fact that his own maleness (in the guise of “femaleness”) is stolen from him and he finds himself disinherited from his true subjectivity. His desire is for a ritual to recapture himself within the image of “femaleness” that is projected; and he is correct in trying to assume that image of “femaleness,” for it is the thing that he truly is.

“Being an incomplete female, the male spends his life attempting to complete himself, to become female. He attempts to do this by constantly seeking out, fraternizing with and trying to live through and fuse with the female, and by claiming as his own all female characteristics–emotional strength and independence, forcefulness, dynamism, decisiveness, coolness, objectivity, assertiveness, courage, integrity, intensity, depth of character . . . and projecting onto women all male traits–vanity . . . weakness . . . triviality. . . . It should be said, though, that the male has one glaring area of superiority over the female: public relations. He has done a brilliant job of convincing millions of women that men are women and women are men.” Valerie Solanas, “S.C.U.M. Manifesto”

Zapp Merryweather