It’s been more than 30 years since ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ was released in theaters, on Valentine’s Day 1991 in the US, which seemed like a macabre decision on the part of its distributors. However, despite being considered “vintage”, many images and dialogue in this film are about FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) and her search for the killer Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), with the help of the cannibal, Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), are still etched in our minds.
The gothic prison with its glass wall.
The haunting gaze of serial killer Hannibal Lecter.
The moth in the throat.
“I ate his liver accompanied by broad beans and a good Chianti.” (one of the 100 most popular movie phrases in history).
Undoubtedly one of the best movies of the 90s with stunning looks and iconic performances, so much so that it has been parodied numerous times, from the 1992 Oscars entry for Billy Crystal; even Chris Griffin imitating Buffalo Bill’s dance in ‘Family Guy’; going through the best of all, the musical parody off broadway titled ‘Silence!‘ (with a chorus of actors dressed as lambs and the scandalous duet between Bill and the captive Catherine, entitled ‘Put the f***ing cream in the basket’).
But after three decades (jokes aside), it’s still as potent as it was when it first arrived. The movie is still one of only three films to win the “Big Five” of the Oscars, (actor, actress, director, film and screenplay, the latter for adapting the novel by Thomas Harris). And it continues to be a huge influence on film directors and audiences alike.
Why? Changed the concept of serial killer movies forevermaking the intelligent and educated Lecter much more than a monster of the cinema slasher. Also, for being a groundbreaking feminist thriller that paved the way for a more honest portrayal of female cops on screen.
Everyone from ‘The X-Files’ to ‘Homeland’ to ‘Sicario’ to ‘Zodiac’ to ‘Mindhunter’ owe director Jonathan Demme’s movie (and Ted Tally’s screenplay) a big favor.
And let’s not forget that the ‘Silence of the Lambs’ phenomenon has led to: a sequel‘Hannibal’, two prequels‘Red Dragon’ (based on the same book that had already been adapted to the cinema before ‘Silence’ as ‘Manhunter’) and ‘Hannibal, the origin of evil‘. In 2013, there was also a TV series called ‘Hannibal’, and another recent US series‘Clarice’, which is set one year after the events of the film.
Lecter’s universe has become an incredibly successful franchise. Not bad considering that Gene Hackman, Sean Connery, Michelle Pfeiffer Y Meg Ryan, among others, turned down roles thinking it would be too “terrible” for the audience.
The mixture of terror (because yes, it is also one of the best horror films in the history of cinema), with the police procedure and suspense, made it unique in its time. The central role of new FBI agent Clarice Starling, and Jodie Foster’s strong yet vulnerable and realistic portrayal, is what sets The Silence of the Lambs apart from other films featuring female leads as police officers.
“What I really like about Clarice Starling is that it may be one of the first times I’ve seen a heroine who isn’t a version feminine Arnold Schwarzenegger full of steroidsFoster said in an interview with Empire in 1991.”It wasn’t a woman running around in her underwear with a gun. Clarice is very competent and very human“.
Foster was right that the role of Clarice Starling was a major departure from the way women were portrayed in thrillers and action movies of the time. One of the most obvious differences is the way she was dressed.
Moviegoers were used to seeing Sigourney Weaver fighting an alien while wearing nothing but a vest and shorts; Debra Winger’s federal investigator only wore a strappy dress in ‘Black Widow’ (1987); and Theresa Russell ran after the “bad boys” wearing a (very impractical) low-cut top in the 1990 film, ‘Impulse’.
Clarice, in her oversized green coat, pants, and brown lace-up shoes – “Your good bag and your cheap shoes” – she is far from those glamorous heroines, but there is much more to her than what she wears. She is a woman in a traditionally masculine role, as stated Roger Corman (who has a small role in the film), in the making-of documentary of the tape, ‘Inside the labyrinth’.
“In most movies, the man is the hero, so by making the woman the heroine, you’re doing something different.“, he commented. In doing so, the directors were moving away from the typical cop movie formula that everyone was used to, in addition to other aspects that are absent as well.
Unlike Bond or Jason Bourne, Starling is not a dissident or a rebel – as narrated in the film, we see her following procedures, sticking to the rules and showing respect for methods what he has learned at the FBI (The directors worked with feds and filmed his training complex at Quantico. At the FBI they were also surprised with the final result, as producer Ron Bozman recalls in ‘Inside the Labyrinth’, and saw it as a call to recruit new female officers.)
In cop-spy thrillers made years before ‘The Silence of the Lambs,’ audiences were used to seeing the man run in, brandishing his gun and saving the day. as a prince who rescues a princess from dragons, but here it is Clarice who, through dogged investigation and her interactions with Lecter, tracks down the captive wife of the killer Buffalo Bill.
“Jodie taught me that this is the story of a young woman trying to save the life of another young woman. Maybe it’s a thriller. It may be a horror movie, but you have to honor that core story.Demme told dead line in 2016.
Or as Anthony Hopkins succinctly put it in the documentary making-of: “She faces the monsters and destroys them“.
And it does much more than that. While everyone remembers the film for Hopkins’ riveting portrayal of Lecter, (even though he’s only on screen for a total of 24 minutes), it’s Foster’s Clarice who is at the heart of the story, and director Demme and screenwriter Ted Tally focus on her, making Clarice even more central than she is in the pages of the best-seller of Harris.
Throughout the film, director Demme perfectly shows how Clarice Starling is subjected to the sinister male gaze every time she goes to work.
From the beginning of the movie, as Starling goes through Quantico training, the male agents see her, they look at her. (We note how, unusually, nearly every character has a shot looking directly at the camera, putting us in Clarice’s position and feeling those gazes.)
When she is told to report to the office of her superior, Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn), Clarice gets into the elevator to go to his office and is surrounded by bigger and taller men who seem to be staring at this petite woman in the middle of the room. they.
Starling finds herself in a world dominated by men, the film reminds us, whether standing in a room full of local cops as Crawford leaves her to examine a body (an act she will later reproach him for), or being objectified by the various men advancing on her, including Lecter’s smug jailer, Dr. Chilton (Anthony Heald).
But Clarice – who is never given a love interest in the film, unless you count meek entomologist Dr. Pilcher – is more than an equal to the men in the film, she’s also the only person she can connect with. Hannibal Lecter and that he has the strength to control his twisted intelligence.
She’s a woman who knows she has to be as good (or better) than every man she meets, and as Jodie Foster commented in her 1992 Oscars speech, that’s what makes Clarice Starling “an incredibly strong and beautiful feminist heroine, of whom I am so proud“.
Starling – thanks to Jodie Foster’s powerful interpretation of screenwriter Tally’s words – changed the game of how female police officers were portrayed on film and television. From Gillian Anderson’s intelligent and inquisitive Scully in ‘The X-Files’, to Emily Blunt’s ruthless FBI agent in ‘Sicario’.
It’s a shame that Clarice’s next appearance in Ridley Scott’s 2001 thriller ‘Hannibal’ (based on Harris’s 1999 novel), may not actually be the woman praised in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’. Julianne Moore, taking on the role of Clarice, wears a dress cut off at the navel as she watches Lecter feed a man her own brains, for God’s sake. It’s a betrayal of character that explains why neither Foster nor Demme wanted to return to the sequel.
However, the power that ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ has to scare us, excite us and relax us has not diminished over time. It’s still just as terrifying and addictive as it was 31 years ago, when viewers saw (with her hands, probably) FBI Agent Starling walk through the dark prison corridor to meet Dr. Lecter for the first time.
‘The Silence of the Lambs’ is available at streaming on Amazon Prime Video.