Silence of the Lambs and Female Heroism
April 19, 2017 at 9:57 pm #1019Lizzie MessanaParticipant
When Dr. Gillin introduced this week’s film in terms of a girl seeking to become a knight after her father is killed, a classmate and I discussed how we expected the film to play out. We speculated that the girl would become a knight despite the patriarchal weight bearing down on her shoulders, surpass everyone’s expectations of a woman, and gain revenge for her fallen father, demonstrating that she is determined, noble, loyal, and worthy of respect. A similar sentiment is expressed by Alison Lurie in The Classic Fairy Tales: “there are a good many forgetful or imprisoned princes, who have to be rescued by the clever, brave, and resourceful princess, who is just as willing to undergo hardship and risk her neck” (xiv). In many ways, Clarice exemplifies the “clever, brave, and resourceful princess, who is just as willing to undergo hardship and risk her neck,” solidifying her spot as the 6th greatest hero on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains and living up to her description as an “incredibly strong and beautiful feminist hero that [Jodie Foster is] so proud of” (Foster’s 1992 Oscar acceptance speech).
On her journey from FBI rookie to hero, Clarice faces many of the same obstacles that typical female heroes face. Clarice answers the call to adventure, in taking on Hannibal Lector and the Buffalo Bill case, and she has to overcome various obstacles that come in the form of gender prejudice. She is faced with various blatant sexual remarks and pointed gazes from many men, including Dr. Chilton, Miggs, the bug nerds, and fellow FBI trainees, simply because she is a female in a male dominated field. However, Clarice is undeterred by this gender prejudice, pulling rank to remove the police force from the autopsy room and telling Crawford that, as a figure of authority, he needs to demonstrate a more equitable perspective on men and women, so that the other men in the police force will follow his example. Despite her relative youth and inexperience in comparison to those around her, Clarice continues to surpass the men in the film in both intelligence/perception and dedication, finding clues and pursuing them when Crawford and other men didn’t, which ultimately leads her to successfully, almost singlehandedly rescue Catherine.
Further, it is important to remember Clarice is not a one-dimensional, triumphant, perfect hero. Rather, like a Campbellian hero, Clarice is simply human. She has weaknesses; she is impatient, she gets easily frustrated, she lets her emotions get the best of her at times, and she seems to play right into Hannibal’s hands. Through her strengths and her weaknesses, Clarice presents a hero who is ultimately human. Unlike the sentiments expressed by Andrea Dworkin in The Classic Fairy Tales, Clarice is not simply promoting stereotypical gender roles in which women are innocent, victimized, and merely aspire to be objects of desire (xiii). By shutting down the men’s unwanted advances, pursuing the case, and providing the audience with a complex human protagonist, Clarice breaks out of the stereotypical feminine role.
While many aspects of the typical hero’s journey are present in Silence of the Lambs, I perceived a different end goal in the film. Rather than joining the FBI to seek revenge for her fallen father or to save a “forgetful or imprisoned prince,” Clarice joins the FBI to save herself. Unlike the typical hero’s journey, in which a romantic relationship is the end goal, in this story, the female protagonist is both the damsel in distress and the hero of the film, combined into one character. Clarice can save herself believes that saving at least one person will help her to redeem herself for abandoning her sheep, which was eventually slaughtered at her uncle’s farm. Her realization that some victims can’t and won’t save themselves, as exemplified by the sheep’s’ refusal to leave their opened pen, set Clarice on a mission to become someone who could and would save them, and in her personal success in overcoming adversity and in saving Catherine, Clarice redeems herself. Essentially, this film is about a woman (Clarice), aided by a woman (Ardelia Mapp), in saving a woman (Catherine), all while defying expectations set for women in a male-dominated field. Through its female protagonist, Clarice, the film “suggests a society in which women are as competent and active as men, at every age and in every class [and helps] to prepare children for women’s liberation” (Alison Lurie as quoted on xiii-xiv).
–Lizzie MessanaApril 21, 2017 at 7:23 pm #1022Kate SchulzParticipant
Lizzie, I think your analysis is really insightful and accurate. I had seen this film before, however never in the context of the typical fairy tale, girl becomes a knight, story. Therefore, I had never made the connections between the two until now, and I agree with basically everything that you have written here. I especially like the comment about Clarice playing both the damsel in distress and the hero. In so many stories, the female is portrayed as only the damsel in distress, and a lot of the plot is centered around her being saved. Additionally, it seems the woman is always portrayed a romantic interest, and always reciprocates those feelings. Even thinking about classic princess stories that give women a greater role (Mulan, Beauty and the Beast, etc.), there is still the romantic plot, ending in love and “happily ever after.” The way that the “happily ever after” never comes before the love story, seems to suggest that that happy ending would not have been possible without it. In my opinion, it was really refreshing to watch a woman who was not interested in romantic relationships and was simply focused on her career and goals, and who did not need a “prince” to save her and contribute to her happiness. Seeing a woman be able to save herself, rather than just being a victim, especially in a male dominated field, was something I really appreciated.
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