Why I Love Silence of the Lambs

Silence of the Lambs is my favourite movie for many reasons. I first watched this movie when I was 13 years old, arguably some of my worst years. For my whole childhood I had been sneaking downstairs in the wee hours of the morning to watch as many murder/ thriller/ forensic shows that I possibly before my parents woke up. Everything from Blue Blood and Bones to New Tricks and NCIS. I was obsessed with the makings of a murderer and my young mind wanted to do everything possible to learn more about murder. I was never really afraid of the shows I watched and never had nightmares because of them. Instead, they made unbearably cocky that if I ever faced a murderer I would outsmart them or get them to trust me. Let's be honest though, I would probably end up in the morgue scene of all those shows being analysed on a cold metal table. 

Silence of the Lambs was the first piece of media I encountered where the subject of behavioural science was presented to me and I was enthralled. I always wondered what it would feel like for a killer. Why do killers kill? Revenge, love, justice. All probable reasons for murder but I wasn't interested in the kills that had an easy answer. I was interested in the kills that involved a killer that had no reason to kill other than they liked and enjoyed the kill. Which leads us to our antagonist of the film, Hannibal Lecter. Hannibal "the Cannibal" is a fascinating villain in this movie for one simple reason; we don't see what he's truly capable of until the climax of the film. 

Throughout the film we are warned continuously about the monstrous acts Hannibal has committed however, I think the ineffectiveness of these warnings on the viewers boils down to two things: the characters we receive the warnings from and the character we receive them through. Our protagonist in this story is Clarice, a fresh new face in the world of dealing with serial killers which Hannibal recognises immediately. We hear the warnings from various men in some position of power in their respective fields, Jack Crawford and Dr Frederick Chilton. We are warned of Hannibal through these men mainly but since these warnings are directed at Clarice they come off as condescending and sexist. Crawford treats Clarice as a child that is made of fine china. While Clarice is new to the game, Crawford treats her as if she is not who she is, which is a top student at the academy for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Clarice is top of her classes, very adapt and a quick learner. All these skills should of made her the top choice for the Hannibal interview in the first place. 

Chilton's behaviour towards Clarice is different to Crawford's but still condescending and reeks of misogyny. Instead of having worry for Clarice like Crawford, Chilton uses his power he has over Lecter as something to brag about and showcase to Clarice in a sleazy attempt to impress Clarice. Chilton's nice persona wears off as soon as Clarice expresses that she wants to talk to Lecter alone showing that Chilton only wanted to assert his dominance and power over Hannibal in front of Clarice and had no real interest in Clarice's job, person or interview. These uncomfortable interactions with these men in power are all sort of confirmed as off beat and out of the ordinary for someone in Clarice's position simply because she is a woman in her first interaction with Hannibal. He confirms the fact that Crawford sent in Clarice not because of her intelligence and skills alone but because she is a pretty and young female. 

Clarice doesn't seemed surprised by this though which confirm her sharpness. She is not a naïve little girl as these men were treating her. She was aware of the thought process in sending her in but used this casual sexism to her benefit. If you can't beat the system, use it to your advantage. This scene also show Crawford's sloppy intel on Hannibal. To understand a killer you need to understand the person who kills. Any viewer can tell that Hannibal is not phased by Clarice as a sexual object like Crawford had hoped. He simply sees that she has a different viewpoint because of the discrimination she faces in her workplace and he trusts her to find the puzzle pieces of Buffalo Bill. Lecter has respect for Clarice and we can see this when Hannibal convinces inmate Miggs to swallow his own tongue after he disrespect and dehumanises Clarice by throwing his semen at her as she leaves from her first interview with Hannibal. Hannibal dislikes this kind of vulgarity as shown in this scene, however, uses the kind of vulgarity associated with killers like him to put on a show, for example, in the scene when Hannibal first meets Senator Ruth Martin by making a comment about breastfeeding to this woman in power. 

Clarice, despite being new, does the thing I always wanted to do; understand a killer of this nature. She truly gets into Hannibal's head and understand his personality which now is the basis of behavioural analysis of criminals specifically serial killers. Clarice is simply a strong, female lead in a movie. Up to this point in my life, strong women in movies wore high heels while they fought and wore white vest tops. Despite one of the central themes being the sexualisation of women in male dominated careers, in my opinion, Clarice isn't written to be sexualised by a male audience. She wears fairly average clothes, shoes and doesn't have any slow motion shots of her changing. I wouldn't say that Clarice was written for the female gaze or male gaze. She is simply written as a character. Despite her gender being a central focus, it doesn't impact how you view the character necessarily. I personally like this because the men in the movie that do treat her differently because she is a women seem foolish and almost comically pig-headed. 

Silence of the Lambs was the movie that helped me further some of my favourite hobbies including true crime and behavioural science which are now central parts of my personality. It showed me as a young girl that my sex or gender shouldn't effect everything and showed me that not everyone has these strict gender divides. All in all Silence of the Lambs is an impactful movie that I truly enjoy each time I watch and could never get sick of analysing and talking about. 

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