I know, I know. Silence of the Lambs? Seriously? Another piece on The Silence of the Lambs? What hasn’t been said?
I heard something recently about Jodie Foster’s relentless pursuit of the role of Clarice, one of my favorite characters in film, and it so moved me that I decided I needed to address it here. Director Jonathan Demme wanted Michelle Pfeiffer fresh off of Married to the Mob; then he was convinced the part should be played Meg Ryan – both of whom turned it down (Michelle because it was too dark). He met with Jodie and she told him the reason she wanted the role was because “It’s about one young woman trying desperately to save the life of another young woman. And in order to do that, she’s faced with the overwhelming obstacle of all these men.” I have seen the movie tens of times, and I never recognized that element of it, and yet I know now it’s one of the reasons I love the role
Clarice is a loner. She is young and vulnerable and uncertain, but when she is certain, she’s not afraid to speak her mind. But she does it at the right time and without drama. Take, for example, when she tells Crawford that his demeaning treatment of her in front of the local police was important; that “they look to you to show them how to act.” I love that about her and have tried to mirror it in my own life. Bide your time, say what you want to say in one sentence. Don’t repeat it to make it more than it is. Why do we do that? Repeat our fabulous point of view over and over again as if that is what makes it brilliant?
Clarice is physical. She works at it. She walks with purpose, isn’t afraid to say what she doesn’t know, and thinks well on her feet. All of these attributes show up for us to see, for us to feel, in Silence of the Lambs. She is an exercise in successful life lessons for women, and I value them. The opening scene of her going through the field course at FBI headquarters is the most inspirational video for getting me to want to exercise, and that’s saying a lot.
Silence of the Lambs is a roadmap to being a successful woman in a man’s industry without losing your sense of female self. All the way to the FBI, where women are not embraced as worthy, or at least they weren’t when it came out.
So, here’s to Demme who gave her the role, and here’s to Jodie Foster, who recognized the underlying importance of the theme that no one else really saw. “And look what happened,” said Demme about casting Foster. “I fell madly in love with her… I named our production company Strong Heart Productions after Jodie’s sense of character.”
-Christine Merser (AKA Hollister)