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Photo: ‘The Silence of the Lambs’
This year marks three decades since Jonathan Demme’s 1991 horrifyingly culturally impactful film ‘Silence of the Lambs’ was released into theaters, and then would soon become a cinematic experience that would both shock and impress audiences at the time; later inspiring a variety of future series and stronger female characters with media. The film was something that most likely no one would’ve expected to make the current impact that it did on Cinema history; along with the ways in how a woman’s struggle within the workplace (and how other male peers view her outside of the workplace) became a prominently apparent element within a film during a time where it wasn’t as common to comment on as opposed to our rather progressive society now.
A few months ago, a fantastic review by author Daniel Choi on ‘Silence of the Lambs’ (and the study of the male gaze) was featured on Hollywood Insider this year. In the review, general information about the film, specific elements that made the film fantastic, and how the aspect of the “male gaze” becomes one of the main issues tackled within the film, are all featured. Within this article, we will mainly be showcasing an appreciation of ‘Silence of the Lambs’ and its lasting influential impact on Cinema history through various elements; With that said, to get a more in-depth look into the basis of the film’s story and how it exactly tackles the “male gaze”, it’s highly recommended to check out Choi’s review.
“Quid Pro Quo”
“Quid Pro Quo. I tell you things, you tell me things. Not about this case though; about yourself.” (Silence of the Lambs).
This line said by Hannibal Lecter towards Clarice Starling while she’s interrogating him in his jail cell on the surface seems as though it’s simply just another incredibly eerie sentence within an already chilling scene. However, when looking deeper down further, this line goes far behind just another way to make the audience be even further on the edge of their seats. Instead, it becomes a way that we’re subtly pushed into one of the most frightening elements of ‘Silence of the Lambs’: a manipulative invasion of one’s mind.
Together, Jonathan Demme and writer Ted Tally collaborated to form a wonderfully thrilling aspect of digging deep into the psychosis of individuals; specifically in this case, the minds of both Hannibal and Clarice. These characters have something they are currently tackling in their lives; whether that be mentally with themselves or something completely out of their utter contrl. For this reason, it becomes clear within the interrogation scene between Hannibal and Clarice that they both want something from the other to achieve their personal gain to combat what they’re battling with at the moment. Clarice ultimately wants to find out more information on Buffalo Bill, whilst Hannibal wants to understand who Clarice is to dig further into her psyche (and what truly brings her to wanting to gain information on the case). Through all of this, the writing, paired with Demme’s meticulous handling of directing the film, shines through as one of the most emotionally impactful and influential parts of ‘Silence of the Lambs’.
‘The Silence of the Lambs’ – Up Close and Personal
Another influential impact from ‘Silence of the Lambs’ is the reinvention of the close-up, and how Demme marvelously created a chillingly fueled emotion based on manipulating fear and anxiety within the minds of the audiences through these close-up shots. It is also thanks to the help of both Oscar-winning performances of Anthony Hopkins (playing Hannibal) and Jodie Foster (playing Clarice) to make the use of this choice of close-up shots to be all the more effective and influential in the ways that would keep audiences on the edge of their seats.
It is also notable how the camera tends to follow the characters in the film; never allowing the audience to fully take their eye off of them, forcing them to make full eye contact with a stranger (majority of the time, being a stranger that they know is a murderer). As audience members, the assumption that you’ll feel somewhat secure and comfortable while watching a movie is an expected one; however, when it comes to ‘Silence of the Lambs’, that sense of security is tossed away and leaves you trying to find a way out despite you also wanting to find out more. This element of making the viewer feel this way is not an easy feat, and it becomes remarkable and memorable to all of the minds who see this film.
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In another area of becoming personal in regards to ‘Silence of the Lambs’, the film would also go on to influence individuals with an uprising of the cultural fascination of serial killers. People had become interested in serial killers, and based what they saw from the film to be likely how actual crime cases were solved; focusing mainly on the killer and rarely on the victims. Overall, with the release of this film, the popularity of viewing crime cases similar to how Clarice Starling attempts to solve the case became more prominent than before.
She’s Her Own Woman
While the aspects that have been mentioned above are all (on a surface-level) main elements as to how ‘Silence of the Lambs’ became a culturally impactful and influential film in the world of Cinema, there is one huge and single element to which the film becomes so strong in its impact on Cinema: a woman fighting her way through a male-dominated environment.
Before ‘Silence of the Lambs’’ thrilling release, there wasn’t quite a variety of strong female characters; especially in horror movies. At the time, a woman struggling within the workplace in the media was depicted as comedic rather than something entirely serious. But, when Clarice Starling made her way into the media world with her seriousness in battling this institutionalized sexism, this comedic notion was turned upside down. It was from this point that Clarice Starling would become one of the catalysts to a more progressive view of giving female characters their voice; especially a voice within the field of crime. Clarice Starling paved the way into a familiar trope within crime of a strong female character determined to figure out the case when everyone else around her has given up; relying solely on herself and tackling it like the hard-working rebel she is.
It’s also thanks to this revolutionary element that Clarice Starling would go on to inspire future strong female characters, such as agent Scully from the TV series ‘The X-Files’, thus making Clarice be named one of the top 50 best female characters (based on a 2016 study). In the end, Clarice Starling would be a pioneer to what a female character could become in a movie; erasing the notions that sexism within the workplace should not be allowed to be brushed over (or seen as comedic) and that she can hold her own as an individual and come out of her experiences stronger than ever.
It would be incredibly hard to disregard the ways as to how ‘Silence of the Lambs’ was an influential and revolutionary film that changed the way horror, and female characters could be created. It showed tactics in how Cinema can be a wonderful form in artistically impacting audiences both currently and in the future. So much can come from films that inspire others, and create even greater future media works that can progress our society further, simply through how much care goes into a film. Demme’s genius determination and meticulous work towards making ‘Silence of the Lambs’ culturally impactful will never be forgotten or overshadowed. And that is what makes this film deserve so much appreciation.
By Leah Donato
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