The Silence of the Lambs
1991 Movie Directed by Jonathon Demme and starring Anthony Hopkins and Jodi Foster
Revisiting a movie I have watched at least a thousand times is not a problem, the problem is trying to watch it in the spirit of academic review. With the eye of a critic, I viewed it and found some really amazing things and some not so amazing. It doesn’t change the fact that I absolutely love the movie (not as much as the book of course, but this review is of the movie and I will stick to that only.)
Let’s begin with the beginning of the film. Clarice Starling, a student in the FBI academy is called to the office of Jack Crawford head of the Behavioral Science Unit. This happens to be the department Clarice hopes to someday join. On her way there, multiple scenes show her weaving between the myriad of male recruits all of whom oogle her like nothing more than a piece of meat. She gets on an elevator filled with men who dwarf her into a small meek woman rather than the strong (both physically and emotionally) woman that she truly is.
The first time viewer will not realize that Crawford is lying to her when he describes the job he wants to offer her. He is not, in fact working on a collection of profiles of the country’s most infamous killers but he is sending her in; young, attractive and innocent as a way to bait Hannibal Lecter to aid in their Buffalo Bill investigation. She is being used by the very man she looks up to and strives to be like. A man who would become a father figure to the once orphaned little girl who rose above her “white trash” family history to follow her dreams.
When she arrives at Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, she meets Dr. Chilton who makes a pass at her and again refuses to take her seriously. The FBI recruit can’t catch a break. So far, she has not managed to garner any sort of respect from the men—all professionals—that she has encountered.
Enter Dr. Hannibal Lecter. The introductory scene is effectively creepy as we pan into the plexiglass lined cell to see Lecter standing, hands at his sides, clear blue eyes, and a slight smile on his face. The strange attentive stance tells us everything we need about this psychotic psychiatrist.
Here is a man who immediately accepts Clarice for who and what she is. While occasionally brutally honest, he is never disrespectful to her. He never treats her as if she is beneath him and he never objectifies her (although there was that opener when he did regret that he could not smell her c**t). He makes it clear to her that he knows the real reason she is there and opens her eyes to the truth. He never talks down to her and he gives her puzzles to solve leading her to more clues in the Buffalo Bill case.
Now, given that, I will say this led to several things I just couldn’t buy. For one, Clarice solved the Miss Hester Moffet anagram and the “look inside yourself” pun way too easily and once she did, she was allowed to go investigate on her own—a student, who could have messed up everything, alone. I guess one could argue that in this instance she was treated as an equal, but one could also argue that perhaps again she was only being humored and allowed to run after what they considered a lot of nonsense.
The lack of respect for the female “lead investigator” continues when she is taken along to view the recently found body of a Buffalo Bill victim. Crawford introduces her last, then excludes her from the conversation, leaving her in a room full of male police officers, all of which shamelessly glare at her. Throughout the movie, Starling is forced to guild her loins and keep holding her head up high even when she wants to break down and cry. She only does so once in fact near the beginning, after Miggs throws his jizz into her hair. Watching the girl crumble into sobs at her cheap Pinto, I was reminded of a piece of advice my mother drilled into me my entire life: “Put on a strong face, don’t let them see you’re nervous or scared. Be strong always in public, then when you get home, if you need to fall apart, do it then.” In that moment, I felt for Clarice, I felt her pain, I felt her heart pounding and I felt the unfair feelings of being a “poor, one generation away from white trash” female trying to make it in a professional male’s world.
She even once tries to call Crawford out on his treatment of her, but he blows it off and later almost makes a joke of how she got upset when he left her out of the conversation back at the funeral home. Yet, in each interaction with Lecter and make no mistake it is a true interaction, a give and take, a quid pro quo, he treats her both respectfully and equally. He even talks Miggs into swallowing his own tongue after Lecter is humiliated by the way his “guest” was treated by the crazed masturbator.
Although never given full credit, it is Clarice and she alone who solves the Buffalo Bill murders and somehow manages to survive long enough to take him out all by herself. Let’s take a closer look at that as well. Buffalo Bill or Jame Gumb. A man who has taken over the home of a seamstress. Now, I don’t know if the man has a job but he certainly has a lot of “stuff” that makes it easy for him to do what he does. I’ve brought this up before. How do these serial killers have access to all this equipment?
Of course, there is the deep symbolism of the Death’s Head moth pupas placed in the throat of at least one victim. We learn that he has these eggs imported. WITH WHAT MONEY? Not to mention the setup he has in the basement to grow them. The basement is something else too, isn’t it? A complex labyrinth of hallways and rooms so that each one can be devoted to a specific aspect of the killing. There is the autopsy table and dissecting area, the sewing room, the dressing room, the moth farm, the decomposing bathtub, and of course, the convenient well in the floor. Wow, what a great real estate find. Lucky for Buffalo Bill, right? Lucky thing he has those military grade night vision goggles too so he can shut the lights off to pursue the FBI student in the dark.
His only mistake is hesitation in the end. Oh, how many murderers have been taken down in a similar fashion?
But even in the end, Lecter continues to be the shining example of a most decent villain when he telephones Starling to congratulate her on her graduation and wish her well. He assures her that due to his respect for her, he will never come after her.
Don’t get me wrong, Lecter is and always will be one of the creepiest villains I have ever known. I wouldn’t want to find him in my closet. But in review of this movie and in comparison to all the male protagonists in it, he doesn’t look that bad after all.