Why Clarice Starling is my role model
I usually get a few odd looks whenever I tell people that “Silence of the Lambs” is my favorite movie.
“But it’s so scary!” They’ll say. “And disturbing! And gross!”
Yes, that is true. It is scary, disturbing, and, at times, depending on your queasiness quotient, gross. But it’s also one of the best movies ever made. Adapted from Thomas Harris’ novel, it won the Big Five awards at the Oscars in 1992: for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Writing – becoming only the third movie in history to do so (and has yet to be repeated). The fact that the movie is essentially a horror movie made the wins even more remarkable.
Admittedly, I am not a fan of horror movies. I don’t like being scared and I really can’t stand the sight of rotting corpses or people’s faces getting ripped off. I’m the person who hides behind her purse or bucket of popcorn at the tiniest sight of blood on screen. So why is one of the scariest movies of all time, my favorite movie of all time?
Two words: Clarice Starling.
I was in high school the first time I watched “Silence of the Lambs.” I was sixteen years old and had my eye on attending NYU and immersing myself in film and theatre. I wanted to create stories. I wanted to be inspired.
And then I watched Clarice Starling’s story (and Jodie Foster’s amazing performance), and I was DONE. I was more inspired than ever before. Why? Because I had just watched, arguably, the most badass female character in film history. I had never been exposed to a female character like Clarice before, and she intoxicated me. I was hooked on her bravery, her independence, her strength, and, basically, her kick-ass-ness. I wanted to be Clarice. Or, at the very least, I wanted to write and create more stories about someone like her.
Even today, years later after that initial viewing, while writing projects I find myself asking, “What would Clarice do?” Because, yes, she is that superb of a female film hero. Don’t just take my word for it. In her 1992 Oscar acceptance speech, Jodie Foster described her beloved Clarice as an “incredibly strong and beautiful feminist hero that I’m so proud of.”
As the film celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary today, here are the reasons why Clarice Starling is my favorite film hero (and why she should be yours, too).
She’s super smart
Clarice was selected as young FBI pre-grad to assist with the murder investigation of four young women. She hadn’t even graduated, people! But her profiling was so spot on that she was hand picked to talk to spooky Hannibal Lecter (played by Anthony Hopkins) to get into the mind of a serial killer. Her smarts helped gain Lecter’s approval and convinced him to help her with the case.
She’s small but mighty
Clarice is shorter and lither than her (mostly) male colleagues and director Jonathan Demme craftily begins the film focusing on her in an elevator surrounded by men who are visibly taller than her, indicating her so-called inferiority. Soon, though, we see her adeptly scaling walls and shooting pretend bad guys in a training exercise. And don’t get me started on the climactic scene in which she single-handedly takes down Buffalo Bill – in the dark, no less!
She’s not afraid to be vulnerable
A woman’s vulnerability is often dismissed as being “too emotional” and intrusive. Ugh. But it’s Clarice’s vulnerability that allows her to connect deeply with Buffalo Bill’s victims as well as share her deep-rooted trauma (the truth behind “the silence of the lambs”) with Lecter, which ultimately helps her save Buffalo Bill’s remaining victim. Clarice’s vulnerability only adds to her strength and character.
She believes in female friendship
What is so refreshing about Clarice is that she did not have a man’s shoulder to lean on. Instead, she shared major BFF love with Ardelia Mapp (played by Kasi Lemmons), which was an awesome example of women in the profession having each other’s backs.
She holds her own with Hannibal Lecter
When we think of Hannibal, we usually think of those lame jokes about the Chianti and fava beans line, or that scene in “The Cable Guy.” But Lecter’s a super creepy guy! He’s a serial killer AND a cannibal, but Clarice is able to earn his respect and trust. Lecter respects her so much that he even makes a prison inmate eat his own tongue after abusing her. And when they go head-to-head with Lecter’s “quid pro quo” game, Clarice is able to expertly give what Lecter wants so she, in turn, can get what she wants to solve the case.
She makes her own way in a male-dominated profession
At the onset of the film, it’s very clear that Clarice works in a male-dominated profession. In the opening scenes, we see her walking through the halls of FBI headquarters where men leer at her with the kind of looks that say, “What are you doing here, little woman?” Later, she is greeted by the hospital’s head psychiatrist Dr. Frederick Chilton, who creepily tells her, “We get a lot of detectives here, but I can’t ever remember one as attractive.” In another scene, Clarice’s boss Jack Crawford chooses to discuss matters with the Sheriff away from her because “as a woman” she may be disturbed. She puts them all to shame when she is not only able to work with Lecter, but detects clues that were overlooked by her male colleagues and solves the case — and beats down Buffalo Bill.