Transplant: Saving Face, Cheshire grins, and other pained expressions

In Silence of the Lambs, an FBI agent played by Jodie Foster hunts two serial killers in a chase that unfolds on a therapist’s couch as much as it does in backlot abductions. Each killer wants to transform himself (according to the explanation provided by Mr. Lechter), has the psychological need to change his identity. One does so by consuming others; and the other by dressing up in them. It’s gruesome but compelling, and the bond Hannibal forges with Jodie demonstrates that a relation of the flesh goes beyond a glass of Chiant and fava beans.

The fact that both of the women involved in recent face transplant case attempted suicide (one, successfully), is face contorting stuff… This is the first face transplant in history, and it’s already the limit case for such a thing. What more could we have to deal with? Face donations? Family faces? A woman–and it’s her choice, is my position (though no, I think medicine has gone too far here)–will be equipped to smile again with the Cheshire smile of a woman, who like herself, chose to die. Is this called saving face? Or is it “steal your face? (name of Grateful Dead’s logo)” How does the song go? “Steal your face right off of your head”

There’s a face transplant in the film Eyes without a Face. And one in Face Off. But this is weird. This goes beyond Extreme Makeover. She survived her own suicide, that is good, that is very good. How will she feel now? Will she be able to face herself?

From the New York Times:
Among the most disturbing aspects of the debate are conflicting reports from doctors about whether the transplant was the result of two suicide attempts, one failed, one successful.
Reports that the patient’s disfigurement resulted from an attempted suicide raise questions about her emotional stability and ability to consent to such a risky operation.
Reports that the donor committed suicide raise questions about the recipient’s psychological future because, if true and the transplant is successful, it will mean that for the rest of her life she will see in the mirror the nose, mouth and chin of a woman who herself met a brutal end.

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