Monday, February 4, 2013

Women in Horror: The Silence of the Lambs

** This review contains spoilers. **

Clarice Starling works very hard and is regarded as an exceptional student at the FBI Academy. Jack Crawford, her mentor and teacher, enlists her help to present a questionnaire to Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant but deranged psychologist infamous for cannibalism, manipulation, and murder. He scoffs at her attempts and sees that her mentor actually wants his help in the current serial killer case, where the murderer known as Buffalo Bill skins women. After a disgusting act from another inmate, Lecter decides to help her by giving her a riddle to solve. This marks the start of their odd relationship where he provides information and insight in return for details on her personal life. Clarice will face her own personal demons as well as a deranged killer before she has even become a full fledged FBI agent.

Clarice Starling is one of my favorite horror heroines. She's focused, dedicated, and strong, but many around her don't see her this way. Upon my latest viewing, I noticed that Clarice is very often underestimated and out of place, mostly because of her gender. She is very often surrounded by tall, imposing men when doing anything in relation to the FBI (at the academy, at the autopsy, etc.). The cinematography of these scenes gives the viewer Clarice's point of view and, in comparison, she seems small and meek, perhaps unsuited for the job frequently associated with strength and masculinity. Many men in the film agree with this assessment of her. Dr. Chilton hits on her immediately, seeing her only as a sexual object purely base on her appearance. After being rebuffed, he completely changes his demeanor from friendly to cold and singlemindedly seeks to undermine her. Even Crawford, her mentor, uses her as an uninformed pawn in order to fool Dr. Lecter, ignoring her ability to consciously persuade Lecter to help them. Hannibal Lecter dismisses her as an annoyance at first before she intrigues him and, of course, Buffalo Bill merely sees women as objects to be torn apart and sewn together. All of these factors make Clarice's chosen career difficult for her to venture into and become successful purely based on her gender.

Clarice proves to be a strong, formidable woman, even to those who doubted her, by never backing down in the face of opposition. She succeeds where Dr. Chilton had failed for years in forming a connection with Hannibal Lecter and gaining his trust. Dr. Chilton, on the other hand, inadvertently allows Lecter to escape. Crawford follows a false lead to an empty house while Clarice finds Buffalo Bill by accident and kills him. This scene is one of my favorites because of what it shows about Clarice. When the lights are turned off, she is obviously terrified, frantically trying to feel her way around and listen for Buffalo Bill. The second he makes a noise, she turns and empties her gun into him and immediately reloads. It shows how she feels emotion, which is a stereotypically frowned upon trait of women, and it doesn't interfere with her ability to be a good FBI agent. Jodie Foster portrayed Clarice wonderfully with a perfect balance of toughness and vulnerability.

So many aspects of this film came together to make it exceptional. Anthony Hopkins is excellent as Hannibal Lecter with his trademark intense, unblinking stare. Ted Levine as Buffalo Bill is odd and disturbing, especially the infamous Goodbye Horses dance and the perfect delivery of "It puts the lotion on its skin." The film score by Howard Shore supports and enhances each and every scene and I can never hear Bach's Goldberg Variations the same ever again.

The Silence of the Lambs is an excellent film. I can watch it with fresh eyes and discover something new about it even after I have seen it many times over the years. It's one of those special films that transcends its time period. Sure, there are cues all over the place (clothes, phones, hair styles, etc.), but they are incidental in the face of the intensely interesting characters and the chilling plot based in reality.

My rating: 10/10 fishmuffins

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