The Silence of the Lambs (1991), dir. Jonathan Demme


NOTE: this review was written on November 21st 2017. I would also highly recommend this piece for a continued discussed of the film’s trans themes.

the silence of the lambs has two central thematic devices: the moth and cannibalism, the moth a central image to the promotional campaigns and the cinematography throughout

transition is but emergence from a cocoon: after a few days, you’ll emerge. a change. a transformation.

cannibalism goes hand in hand with a sense of bodily disgust: naked corpses that are our laura palmers; our own relationship with blood and the human body (and genitalia)

just as the crying game used the concept of a woman with a penis for shock value around the same time, ‘the silence of the lambs’ has a sense of trans villainy. ‘the silence of the lambs’ might have been hit with backlash from the gay community at the time, but that’s not it, from the director who would go on to direct philadelphia only a few years later. hannibal‘s fan community would embrace its queerness. buffalo bill can seem a camp archetype at times: she moves around draped in femininity, applying make-up in extreme close-up

her identity is questioned: transvestite and transsexual are constantly conflated (before ‘transgender’ became the dominant word within discourse), as though they are the same. clarice questions this association between being trans and being violent

(met some gay friends dressed in drag the other night. though there’s trans peeps who do drag, it isn’t the same thing)

(of course, being trans is to be subject to violence: my gender presentation depends upon spaces, I cannot bring myself to wear a skirt anywhere alone, or at night, for fear of harassment. it was tdor yesterday; trans suicides and murders and hate crime are far too common)

she isn’t trans; she’s just pretending. it’s just become a part of her now because she’s believed it for so long. she was abused as a child. she’s a serial killer. it’s just another part of her motive

(i cannot find a label. they/them is in my bio. she/her floats around in my head. it feels unnatural. he/him feels awkward. am I non-binary, genderqueer, questioning or just definitely not male?

(maybe i’m just pretending. it’s just being feminine. it’s to fit in with all my other trans and non-binary friends.

(first i was bi. then i was cis gay. then i was andro. then i was grey. then i was ace. then i am???????

(i’m spiralling. i have no clear direction. a voice in my head keeps coming back, telling me to kill myself. i can’t do it any longer. i’m exhausted. maybe i’ve questioned myself too much.

(maybe i wasn’t abused as a child, but i’m still a victim of abuse and sexual violence.)

demme is interested in the physicality of transition, right down to its central metaphor: buffalo bill must embody the bodies of cis women, taking their skins as her own. she’s a patchwork; she goes to three different gender clinics for reassignment surgery, but she isn’t actually trans. apparently

(transition is difficult; transition isn’t necessary. transition is social; transition takes years. transition requires waiting lists and shit doctors and shitty laws. maybe transitioning by murdering people isn’t such a bad idea after all)

in a dramatic reveal, buffalo bill emerges naked, her pierced nipples and lack of penis creating a subversion of gender. to her concept, she’s an embodiment of masculinity, built upon the mythology of westerns. as the ‘male’ villain of a ‘male’ genre, it carries through

gender and sexuality become of two halves: there’s a phallic threat of violence to her; the fbi questions the fact none of the women appear to have been raped after three days held captive and mutilated, post mortem. but her dialogue suggests a sexual anticipation

buffalo bill must adapt to cis society: presenting as male as she opens the door, unable to reveal her true self

maybe there’s a trans serial killer out there whose story is waiting to be told, but within a cinematic landscape where transness is embodied by the phallic (and psychological) duality become male and female identity in ‘dressed to kill’, or more sympathetically as an aspect within the bank robbery to afford transition within ‘dog day afternoon’, maybe awesome positive trans protags could be a start

demme has a progressiveness to him: though anthony hopkins’ hannibal might be the focus of the film’s cultural impact, jodie foster’s clarice is the protagonist, and excels. she’s a victim to male threat: the semen thrown at her in the prison, the leering comments of coworkers who sexualise her whilst underestimating her competency both as a woman and as a student. the film’s ancillary characters are female: not only in clarice’s interaction with other women, but in the film’s female victims, and the power of a female senator

to 1991, the silence of the lambs is feminist. but is it still feminist to 2017? the camera rests upon its men too often. though ‘the silence of the lambs’ doesn’t treat female bodies and rape like ‘wind river’, it remains a female corpse. clarice can see herself in these women: she must fight against buffalo bill for her own sakes and her own survival

(is the trans woman once more placed as an extension of male violence? as the leering rapist and stranger we must protect against with bathroom bills?)

as a thriller and horror film, the silence of the lambs is often far too conventional. there’s iconic scenes, but demme isn’t radical. his narrative and structure never transcend

sometimes, i try to forget the times films are problematic. forgive it and accept the entertainment; accept the escapism. but sometimes, it’s too difficult. i cannot watch ‘the silence of the lambs’ and forget

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s