Not all feminist movies feature women trying to fight for their rights by taking on the government or making a huge speech on how woman are being treated. Some movies take on a whole other genre, yet still bring up these cultural issues. One movie in particular that expresses the struggles have in society is The Silence of the Lambs directed by Jonathan Demme, a horror flick that consists of a woman detective, a cannibal and a killer.
To give some background, Clarice Starling, a student of the FBI, helps one of her past teachers, Jack Crawford, by taking on a case to help improve her training. The case deals with a killer, named Buffalo Bill who kidnaps women to skin them and then dumps them into bodies of water in various locations. Clarice tries to solve the case with help from Dr. Hannibal, also known as the violent psychopath “Hannibal the Cannibal”, as she tries to find out the killer’s motives for all the kidnappings while the clock ticks on trying to find him in time before he kills the US senator’s daughter, his latest trophy. Throughout the movie, Clarice has to prove herself as a female detective and push through the cultural stereotypes of women during the 1990’s.
The movie shows the struggle of Clarice trying to solve this case while being held back for being a woman who works for the FBI. The film points this out through varies shots that make her look visually submissive to men along with having the display of power as a form of resistance that represents recurring motifs.
At the beginning scene of the movie, we see this when Clarice is called into Jack Crawford’s office. During this passing time of her getting to his office, we are given a shoot of her riding the elevator that is filled with men. Just looking at the physical aspects of this scene, the height of all the male characters also play a part of making Clarice look small as all the men’s heights are overpowering her (or over towering her). We can also see that Clarice, the only women in the elevator, is wearing a gray sweatshirt while all of the men in the elevator are wearing red polos. The cinematographer, Tak Fujimoto, provided an example of form by placing Clarice in front of all the men in this shot to really contrast the differences between the female lead and the men. This short scene really shows how independent Clarice is while training with the FBI while also introducing some the protagonist’s struggles at the beginning scenes of the film.
We are given another similar scene that displays this idea of a male dominated culture. In this scene, the FBI finds the first victim of Buffalo Bill’s murders. They go to examine the body at a funeral house. There, Clarice is told to wait outside by Jack Crawford while he goes and talks to the forensic pathologist (someone who examines dead bodies). While Clarice waits outside, she is quite literally surrounded by sheriffs and cops of the local town in this scene. Almost all of the men are wearing a uniform and a sheriff’s hat displaying their authority and role to the public, which is a huge contrast to what Clarice is wearing which is just a jacket, scarf and button up shirt.
Tak Fujimoto made sure that the scene makes Clarice look out of place and submissive. The screen duration of this scene really defines the judgments being made by the cops and sheriffs about Clarice. However, Fujimoto made the decision to have her stare at back at sheriffs. This is displayed through the uses of eye line match cuts, which convey or imply another person’s point of view by filming back and forth repeatedly (Barsham). By this, we see what can see Clarice’s point of view to where she is looking during this scene. This further continues the motif being shown in the movie of Clarice trying to stand her ground in male dominated task force (Valentine).
The motif becomes even more present during the conversations between Mr. Hannibal Lecter and Clarice. When it comes to Hannibal’s and Clarice’s relationship, according to the plot of the film, Hannibal is almost offended that Jack Crawford would send a mere student to try to get information from him. Hannibal already suspects that Clarice will fail. Therefore makes her figure out and decipher information given by him for the case not only out of his amusement but also to show that he can still be powerful with intelligence while being locked up. During most of the scenes, of their conversations it appears to be a power struggle between both of them. As Hannibal tries to scare her away, she is merely taken back as they continue to stare each other down. Fujimoto uses scenes that give a direct front shot of both Hannibal and Clarice that jump back and forth through the conversation to really give the audience the idea that they are staying each other down (Barsham).
These scenes are framed by using a subjective point of view that presents itself with seeing things through both the characters point of view incorporated with a “dollies in” approach where the camera moves slowly toward the subject(Barsam). The stare down camera shots also tells the audience that Clarice will do anything to solve this case and because of that, she is not here to play Hannibal’s games. So throughout the movie, you see these constant battles of trying to dominate the other either through eye contact or clever tactics while giving the audience some suspense (Alysonkrier).
The Silence of the Lambs film is very profound and well done. Not only are the performances by both Jodie Foster (Clarice) and Anthony Hopkins (Hannibal) phenomenal and were Oscar worthy, but they were also both able to really represent the struggles of women trying to show their independence and power in a male dominated society. These recurring motif’s really give an idea what is it like living in this culture and expectations of society for women. Who knew horror flicks can be the ones leading the feminist movements of the 90’s?
Barsam, Richard and Monahan, Dave. Looking at Movies. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2016.
The Silence of the Lambs. Dir. Demme, Johnathan. Perf. Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster. Strong Heart/Demme Production. 1991. DVD.
Photos and Information
Alysonkrier. The Best Picture Project. 13 Apr. 2011. Web. 13 Apr. 2016.
Bastien, Angelica. Silence of the Lambs Pt 2: Head in Jar, Moth in Throat, Girl in Pit. 09 Feb. 2016. Web. 11 May 2016.
Quotes Gram. Hannibal Lector Silence of the Lambs Quotes. Web. 11 May 2016
Tony. Lambs Chopped. 15 Oct. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2016
Wikipedia. Clarice Sterling. 17 Apr. 2016. Web. 11 May 2016.
Valentine, Genevieve. Strange Horizons. 17 May 2014. Web. 13 Apr. 2016.