Female Paranoia in Silence of the Lambs

Personal paranoia plays a large role throughout the entirety of Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs, especially as it relates to gender. There is often music when Clarice and Hannibal speak, however each of them seems to have a different instrument assigned as their own. Often times, when Clarice speaks, we hear strings, yet when Hannibal speaks, we hear much lower tones of brass instruments. Often times, as tension builds, we are led into the scene by minor, dissonant music, which inevitably cuts to silence at some point. Furthermore, whenever Clarice travels to a more “small town” landscape, a different type of music, perhaps more subdued and melancholy, is introduced. When Hannibal and Clarice speak about Clarice’s past in the prison, the conversation begins with, I think, timpani whenever Clarice speaks, and brass whenever Hannibal does. However as the exchange and editing get more and more rapid, the instruments blend into one instrumental piece. The low tones for Hannibal whenever he is onscreen keep us constantly on edge and wary, so that despite becoming more accustomed to his character, we never feel at ease with him. Beyond that, as Clarice succumbs to Hannibal’s manipulation, she finds it more difficult to maintain her own ground and control, and thus, in a way, blends with Hannibal, just like the music.

Though Silence was made in the 1991, not a time of particular political uprising, I think it was a time when gender was perhaps a bit more on the forefront of the countries mind. With the AIDS epidemic in full swing, certainly questions of homo and heterosexuality were burgeoning, and with those discussions comes an increased awareness of gender. As Brenda Cooper writes in her piece, Boys Don’t Cry and Female Masculinity: Reclaiming a Life and Dismantling the Politics of Normative Heterosexuality, “…media narratives that challenge hegemonic masculinity have the potential to destabilize the heteronormative gaze. Masculinity, Halberstam (1998) argues, is “what we make it.” More provocative is Halberstam’s assertion that a core principal of heteronormativity – that the “penis alone signifies maleness” – corresponds specifically to a tendency among gender scholars to limit their discussions of masculinity solely to men.” I think this raises an interesting point for Silence. Clarice even at the beginning of the film is almost comically presented to us in an elevator with only other giant men, her own small stature waiflike in contrast. There is certainly a covert sexual threat underlying this entire film, between both Hannibal Lecter and Buffalo Bill. Despite being obviously threatened by Lecter at first, Clarice bonds with him in a way that a man almost surely wouldn’t have been able to, which is interesting because oftentimes gender is not overtly alluded to by either Clarice or Hannibal.

Furthermore, Clarice is doing a very masculine job as a petite female. It certainly raises the question of whether “female” and “feminine” and “male” and “masculine” aren’t always intrinsically tied. Despite Foster’s low voice and intensity, she remains a lot of her femininity in the film. She dresses not in the gender neutralizing uniform of a cop, but in her plain street clothes much of the time. She seems to be set apart from many of the other women in this film, especially in the childhood room of one of the young girls who has been abducted. For some reason an allowance, a separation, is made for her by Lecter. If anything, I think the film asks us to question our paranoia, especially as women, not in it’s validity but in it’s source.

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2 responses to “Female Paranoia in Silence of the Lambs

  1. Cynicism is also prevalent in ‘Silence of the Lambs:’ the ineptitude of the police and even the FBI throughout the film pulls the audience’s attention from a pursuit of a man by an organization to the pursuit of a man by an individual, Clarice. Although as individuals the characters seem competent (although certainly not perfect), as a collective whole nothing is accomplished that furthers the plot.

  2. sarinahenriettaperez

    John Berger writes about the woman as both the spectator and the observer. Women observe other women as women, and men as women, but observe ourselves as a man would. That is to say, we “judge” ourselves on how we think men perceive us. Further, men ACT and women APPEAR: men can essentially behave how they want whereas women must embody/project the image of the woman they want to be treated like. So a woman looking to be treated as an “equal” by men SHOULD, by this logic, behave “manly.” Like you said, it just makes you wonder what is inherently feminine and masculine behavior at the most basic level and also what is imposed on by society (clothes etc…)

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