Genderbent Wednesdays Takes on THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

The year is 1991. The date? February 14th, Valentine’s Day. There’s been flowers and chocolate. There’s been wining and dining. And now, to close out the evening, there’s obviously only one appropriate movie premiere for you and your partner to go see: The Silence of the Lambs.

I mean, I didn’t because I was 5 for most of 1991, but still. 27 years later–well, 27 years and one month later than I’d hoped; damn you, RL–we’re going to take a look at what a gender-flipped remake of this movie might look like today.

Boy, there’s a lot to discuss.

DISCLAIMERS:

First, there will be ALL the SPOILERS for The Silence of the Lambs. I will not, however, be spoiling or even addressing the novel. Nor will I be discussing Hannibal (the movie), Hannibal (the TV show), or basically any other book or book adaptation from this franchise.

Also, for the purposes of this column, I’m only swapping genders and not sexualities–which is to say, if the character is a straight man in the original, they will now be a straight woman here. In the deeply problematic case of Buffalo Bill, I’m interpreting Hannibal Lecter’s assessment (“Billy is not a real transsexual, but he thinks he is; he tries to be. He’s tried to be a lot of things, I expect”) to indicate that BB is a cisgender man whose disturbed mental state has led him to adopt various different gender, sexual, and political identities over the years that he thinks will somehow make him feel complete or content, no matter how ill-fitting these identities might be. There are absolutely problems with this approach, like, I don’t wanna validate the toxic BS idea that a cis/hetero person should be the gatekeeper of what it means to be queer, like queer people themselves can’t be trusted to know their own goddamn gender and/or sexual identity. But since Lecter’s “diagnosis” seems to be canon, I’ll be treating Buffalo Billie as a cisgender woman, at least for the purposes of this essay. (Obviously, this will be discussed in much more detail later on.)

Going forward, however, I think I’ll probably avoid picking movies with trans and/or non-binary characters for this particular column, as I, a cisgender woman, am probably not the best person to tackle what a gender-flip for said characters would mean. (If I had a bigger platform, I’d consider inviting trans and/or NB writers on the blog for some guest essays, but as my platform is currently maybe a quarter-inch off the ground and not really much use to anyone? We’ll probably stick to non-ambiguously cis characters for a while.)

Finally, because I am a cis woman discussing gender in such a problematic film, I feel like I should link to a couple of actual trans perspective on The Silence of the Lambs. Here is a trans woman discussing her interpretation of gender in the movie, and here is another trans woman discussing how The Silence of the Lambs is often praised for being a feminist film, despite how harmful its transmisogny really is.

Okay, we’re going to actually get started now.

A CAST OF CHARACTERS:

Clarence Starling (Clarice Starling)
Hannah Lecter (Hannibal Lecter)
Jackie Crawford (Jack Crawford)
Buffalo Billie (Buffalo Bill)
Argyle Mapp (Ardelia Mapp)
Dr. Frederica Chilton (Dr. Fredrick Chilton)
Barbie (Barney)
Maggie (Miggs)
Carter Martin (Catherine Martin)
Senator Rupert Martin (Senator Ruth Martin)
Mr. Hector Moffatt/Benjamina (Miss Hester Moffatt/Benjamin)

THE RAMBLING ESSAY PART

It’s been a very long time since I watched this movie.

I bring it up because when I decided to re-watch it for this column, I was primarily thinking about it in terms of Clarice and Hannibal, specifically what their dynamic would look like if you gender-flipped their characters. What I wasn’t thinking about? Well, quite a bit, as it turns out.

Let’s start right at the beginning of our imaginary remake: FBI trainee Clarence Starling runs an obstacle course in the middle of some gloomy ass woods. I’ll point out that, in the original, it’s nice to see Clarice isn’t doing some slow, sexy Baywatch run with perfect hair and full makeup, a gender-expectation that doesn’t really apply to Clarence; like, men get over-sexualized in movies too, of course, but rarely do I watch a dude protagonist exercise and think, Man, I’m so relieved he actually seems to be working up a sweat. I’d also point out that there’s an expectation for what will happen to women alone in the woods, particularly in thrillers or horror movies, and that the guy who suddenly appears to tell Clarice the boss wants to see her is totally not fulfilling that expectation.

Still, not much really changes for Clarence here until we get to the elevator.

(Skip to 1:50 if you want to see this little snippet.)

Clarence gets into an elevator packed full of identically dressed women, all of whom are broader and at least a head foot taller than him. This, you see, is one of the things I forgot about The Silence of the Lambs: it’s not all serial killers and cannibals, but also male gaze and sexual discrimination in the work place. TSotL spends a fair bit of time focusing on how Clarice is seen and treated in a heavily male-dominated work environment, and this shot, admittedly brief, immediately invites us to recognize how much she stands apart here.

With Clarence, this becomes considerably more difficult. Logistically, you can totally do it, of course: cast a very short actor and then fill the elevator with women who are at least 5’10”. You’ll still get the visual discrepancy; I suspect the tone, however, will be quite different. I mean, throw Daniel Radcliffe on an elevator with the Amazons from Wonder Woman, and we’re talking broad comedy, right? More importantly, while a female-dominated FBI would be absolutely fascinating to see, there’s no way Clarence’s story here doesn’t become one about the “female gaze” and “reverse sexism” in a shot-for-shot remake, which, yeah, no thanks. If we were just talking about this one scene, maybe . . . but oh no. Bust out your alcoholic beverage of choice because this whole essay is about to become a Reverse Sexism Drinking Game.

For now, Clarence heads off to Jackie Crawford’s office, glancing at the case board. Notably, he sees a flier that says BILLIE SKINS FIFTH with five pictures of young men on it. I bring it up because it’s very rare to watch a serial killer movie where only men are victims. Men might die in these movies, certainly, but it’s more likely because they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time: a cop who’s killed in the line of duty, maybe, or a dude vic who’s chosen because he fits a certain theme regardless of gender. (Think Se7en, for instance.) Men are rarely the sole targets in these kinds of thrillers. It’s unexpected for men to be hunted in this same way.

It’s also obviously rare to see movies about female serial killers, Monster being an obvious exception to both rules. A movie with both a lady psychiatrist cannibal and a lady who kills people to wear their skin feels decidedly new and honestly kind of exciting, at least, if you totally rewrite Buffalo Billie’s whole character. Of course, there’s a lot of bullshit that comes along with women being vilified in stories (will we never escape your long, naked-ass shadow, Eve), but there’s also potentially a lot of power in getting to be the monster for once, rather than the victim. Though I also feel compelled to mention that The Silence of the Lambs is the rare serial killer film where the female victims aren’t raped, a subversion I suspect wouldn’t even occur to most people in a gender-flipped remake.

At any rate, Jackie Crawford walks into the room, and Jackie’s relationship to Clarence is interesting depending on how you interpret their dynamic. I’ll discuss this more later, I’m sure, but it’s probably fair to point out that I’ve never quite trusted Crawford and his intentions towards Clarice in the actual film. Let’s look at this first meeting, for example: at the risk of being ridiculously over-analytical, I can’t help but notice Jackie’s body language here. She’s leaning back in her chair, hands behind her head and super casual as she reminds Clarence of their shared history. Apparently, Clarence relentlessly grilled her in class, and she gave him an ‘A’–though whether she gave him an ‘A’ because he grilled her or despite how he grilled her is, again, up to interpretation. I suppose I favor the latter because there’s something pointed about how Jackie brings this up. It strikes me as false flattery, like Jackie’s trying to butter Clarence up and/or remind him that she’s been good to him before, even as she lies about the real nature of his assignment. Jackie only leans forward and gets down to business once Clarence corrects her that he got an A-.

Business, of course, is at Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. With that in mind, let’s move on to Dr. Frederica Chilton because, damn, there is a lot to discuss here.

Look, terrible psychiatrists know no gender in Hollywood. They’re a dime a dozen, from hacks to quacks to outright monsters. But Frederica Chilton is definitely a special flavor of scum: she’s super smarmy, apparently keeps a picture of a mutilated nurse in her pocket, and likes to sexually harasses men within about five minutes of meeting them. Consider the dialogue from the clip above: “You know we get a lot of detectives around here, but I must say I can’t ever remember one as attractive.” Then, ignoring Clarence’s very obvious discomfort, Chilton continues to ask if he’ll be in Baltimore overnight because “this can be quite a fun town if you have the right guide.”

Ugh, that’s, like, full body shudder skeeze right there. Of course, once Chilton realizes she won’t be getting any tonight, she immediately becomes disinterested and begins rushing through the appointment–although, like any true skeeze, still manages to make time for some casual sexism, like when she flat-out says that Clarence was only picked for this assignment because he’s young and pretty and sexually irresistible for the incarcerated Hannah. (It’s probably worth pointing out that as offensive and demeaning as this assumption is, I’m not actually sure Chilton is wrong. After all, we know Jackie Crawford is using Clarence here. Do we trust that Crawford isn’t specifically using him for his good looks too?)

On the positive side of this gender-flip: the word “scummy?” Not often associated with female characters, something I also pointed out in my genderbent Die Hard essay while discussing Ella/Ellis. I’m actually pretty interested in seeing a woman play such a role. It could be kind of fun. Also, men absolutely do get sexually harassed in the real world, and it’d be good to have a movie address that reality. I’m just not sure The Silence of the Lambs is the best movie to do so because it’s specifically dealing with institutional sexism and discrimination. I just don’t know how you recreate scenes like this without reinforcing the false belief that men are equally and systemically harassed by women on a daily basis. (Reverse sexism shot!)

Consider how Clarice handles Dr. Chilton in the actual film. She doesn’t tell him to fuck off. She doesn’t verbally berate him until he runs home, crying for his momma. That kind of scene can be incredibly cathartic and emotionally rewarding  to watch, but in the real world, women are rarely afforded such opportunities without serious consequence. Realistically, if Clarice told off Chilton for being an inappropriate creep, do you think he’d have let her meet Lecter at all, or would he have denied her access until she was forced to call Jack Crawford for help? I’m sure that would have cemented her credibility with the FBI. Nothing helps a woman’s reputation more than being known as someone who runs to the boss when things get tough.

Likewise, Clarice can’t afford to tell Chilton, “No, of course you shouldn’t come with me to interview Hannibal. What an obviously dumb idea.” Instead, she’s forced to gently suggest it’s a bad plan and ask what Chilton thinks about it, giving him the opportunity to save face by pretending it was his own idea in the first place. And when he’s still a whiny little shit about it, Clarice has to flatter his ego by pretending that she’s enjoyed his company. It’s totally gross Clarice has to do this. It’s also the kind of thing I suspect most women are used to doing: placating a dude’s ego so they can just get on with their goddamn jobs.

While I’m sure that men have to deal with shit like this occasionally, I don’t believe that men have to deal with it systemically. In modern American culture, at least, men aren’t generally expected to smooth talk their way out of problems, partially because far more men are in positions of power and simply don’t have to, but also because diplomacy usually isn’t considered a terribly masculine attribute. Women are expected to “manipulate,” while men are expected to be “direct.” Watching Clarence constantly placating people’s egos could be pretty interesting, but I can also see a gender-bent remake warping the scene into something like this: instead of asking leading questions or flattery-lying his way into Hannah’s cell, Clarence flat-out tells Dr. Chilton that she can’t go and that’s that. Because while Clarice would risk coming off as an unlikable bitch to the audience, Clarence would probably just be seen as a “tell-it-like it is” dude.

Moving on. Clarence heads into Worst of the Worst Row. He briefly glances at all the female prison guards, including friendly Barbie, who reassures him that he’ll do just fine. Clarence is ultimately composed here but still visibly nervous, something I honestly rather like. Male heroes are rarely afforded the opportunity to be this apprehensive, certainly not because of a bunch of scary lady inmates. Though I’ll admit, I’m not totally sure what to do with Maggie here. What would she even say to Clarence? “I can smell your spunk?”

Finally, 2,000 words later, we finally get our first glimpse of Hannah Lecter.

Hannah politely wishes Clarence a good morning before asking, “You’re one of Jack Crawford’s, aren’t you?” Again, this is a moment that very much depends on your interpretation of Crawford: I’ve always heard the unspoken word “girls” in this question: “You’re one of Jack Crawford’s girls, aren’t you?” Other people might just assume “pupils” or “mentees.” I also don’t know if that translates to a genderbent remake. Would I have heard boys if Hannah was the one asking? I’m honestly not sure.

Regardless, Clarences uses pretty much the same flattery technique here that he did with Chilton, immediately framing their session as a “teacher-student” bond in order to appeal to Hannah’s vanity. Hannah, of course, calls him on it because she’s basically Sherlock Holmes, if Sherlock Holmes was a woman, a psychiatrist, and a serial-killing cannibal who likes to creepily smell people and tell them weird, private shit about themselves. Much of this dialogue can easily remain as is, although I suspect some changes would occur, specifically in regards to Clarence’s past: not many people would assume that his mother was a coal miner, no matter what accent he’s tried to suppress, and certainly not many people would try to provoke him by bringing up all the tedious teenage girls who wanted to have sex with him years ago. For that matter, I’m not sure Hannah would bother to point out how ambitious Clarence is, either, considering ambition is almost never considered a negative or irregular trait for a man.

Anyway, Clarence leaves. A couple of things to note here.

1. Maggie throws cum at Clarence’s face, which . . . is probably not going to happen in the remake. Suggestions for what Maggie might do instead?

2. Clarence is visibly upset as he thinks about his dead mom. I like this a lot, partially because it’s so rare for the Dead Cop Parent to be a mom, but also because Clarence ends up crying against his car, and that obviously doesn’t happen to dude protagonists, certainly not in horror movies. Maybe if he had a girlfriend who bit it or something. Otherwise, it’s pretty rare.

Also probably worth pointing out: The Silence of the Lambs is the rare film where the female protagonist doesn’t have a canon love interest. I mean, I’m sure arguments can be made for either Crawford or Hannibal (hardcore shudder, BTW), but Clarice’s story is the rare one where romantic love is really not a motivator of any kind. It’s something that means a little less to me in a gender-flipped remake, although to be fair, male protagonists also often have unnecessary love interests and they annoy me almost as much. (In general, I just crave stories where romantic love isn’t shoved into stories that don’t require it.)

Another downfall of the gender-flipped remake? Losing the ladymance between Clarice and Ardelia. In the montage that follows our first visit to Baltimore State Hospital, we spend some time with Clarence and Argyle, a relationship that means little to me because bromances are celebrated in basically every genre; women, meanwhile, often only get to have female friends in romantic comedies or female-based dramas, AKA, chick flicks. (Also in the montage? A bunch of ladies checking out Clarence and Argyle’s asses. Reverse sexism shot!)

After our montage is over, Clarence finds what’s left of Benjamina (AKA, Mr. Hector Moffatt), and The Silence of the Lambs begins its long and storied descent into transphobic bullshit. Like when Hannah refers to Benjamina’s romantic preferences as “exotic.” Considering Benjamina and Buffalo Billie were once lovers, “exotic” here appears to means some undefined combination of “gay” and/or “trans” and/or “freakish,” which is just bullshit. Alas, the worst is really yet to come on that score.

Back to our Reverse Sexism Drinking Game: Hannah says that Jackie and Clarence like-like one another, which is why Jackie’s helping out Clarence’s career. Hannah also asks whether Clarence thinks Jackie wants her sexually. Clarence blows this off as being beneath Hannah, but it’s never made explicitly clear if Hannah said this just to rile him or if because it’s actually true. Later, Clarence and Jackie head off to investigate one of Buffalo Billie’s victims, where Clarence realizes that Jackie lied to him from the get-go; his assignment was always about getting Hannah’s insight into Buffalo Billie. Jackie, not apologetic in the slightest, says that Hannah would’ve known immediately if Clarence had walked in with an agenda.

What I find interesting here is that, personally, my sympathy really does depend on Crawford’s gender: if Jackie Crawford’s a woman, her plan strikes me as a smart play because Hannah Lecter ain’t no joke. But if Jack Crawford is a man, I start thinking about shit like this in The West Wing, where CJ, the only woman, is left out of the loop because she isn’t trusted to do her job, which, RAGE. Because–and I know I sound like a broken record, considering gender politics comes up in literally almost every scene in this movie–this kind of shit really does happen to women in male-dominated workplaces, and it’s infuriating.

None of this is helped in the next scene where Jackie tells the local sheriff that she wants to speak in private, insinuating that Clarence shouldn’t hear any of the gory details with his delicate gentlemen ears. This, of course, leaves Clarence surrounded by a bunch of local female cops, all looking at him with either total bewilderment or utter condescension written on their faces. (Double shot!) Shortly thereafter, Clarence tells all of those local female cops to leave, something that could come off as either a) dismissive, since it’s a dude telling a bunch of women their damn jobs, or b) another example of our male hero actually using praise and placation to get shit done.

Back in the car, Jackie–half-smirking like a jackass–realizes that Clarence is actually upset about the whole “let’s not talk in front of the boy” thing. She says she only did it to get rid of the troublesome sheriff, but Clarence points out that it matters because other cops look to Jackie to see how to act. Jackie says that Clarence’s point is taken. Honestly, I don’t know that I believe her, but I still like the intent of this scene, even if I don’t think it’s nearly as powerful when gender-flipped.

Next, Clarence meets up with a couple of entomologists.

Two lady nerds is obviously a plus, although these are definitely super stereotypical nerds. Of course, one of them immediately hits on Clarence, which feels a little inappropriate, although it’s worth pointing out that Clarence never really seems uncomfortable, like, this is definitely not how Clarence responded to Dr. Frederica Chilton’s advances. It’s possible that Clarence just likes our lady nerd, but it’s also possible that Flirtatious Ph.D. just isn’t seen as a threat. Either way, no one’s mistaking her as an actually viable love interest in this movie.

Meanwhile, Buffalo Billie is busy sewing skin whilst fully naked, as one does. Her workshop is surrounded by mens costumes and fashions, which I suppose would end up being, like, suits and ties? Fake facial hair? Short wigs? Maybe boxers? It’s difficult because it’s hardly considered shocking for a woman to wear pants, but the same cannot really be said for a man wearing a skirt or dress. While some progress has been made in regards to fashion and gender norms, it’s still not nearly as socially acceptable for men to dress in feminine clothing–and TSotL is deliberately using those gender norms to weird mass audiences out.

Here’s the thing about changing Buffalo Bill to Buffalo Billie: I’m pretty sure a lot of people would say that Billie is inherently less creepy. They really shouldn’t, considering both versions of the character are killing people for their skin, but I predict they would. One reason they might offer is that ‘a woman wouldn’t be strong enough to incapacitate all these men,’ which, ugh. (Though I should point out that Buffalo Billie probably wouldn’t wear a fake cast while tricking her victims, since most men likely wouldn’t assume that she posed a physical threat.)

But the other reason is this: Buffalo Bill’s creepiness has never just been about all the flaying and murder; the bras, dresses, and wigs are meant to come across as weird. They’re meant to be indicators of “craziness,” which a) is gross, and b) isn’t quite as effective when you change them to suits, ties, and boxers. Which isn’t to suggest that trans men, who may or may not wear such clothing, don’t also face social stigma or discrimination; obviously, they do. But as much as I like this movie, I agree with Jos Truitt in the essay I linked to before: cis feminists like myself must address this movie’s transmisogyny, not just brush it away as an unfortunate aside. Because make no mistake: it’s a feature, not a bug.

While Buffalo Billie sews in the buff, Carter Martin screams for help. There’s nothing particularly that needs to change here; I’m really only bringing him up because, as you already hopefully know, there’s quite the double standard when it comes to weight in this country. Catherine, you see, is a size 14, while first victim Frederica–presumably about the same-ish size and weight–is described as a “great, big, fat person” by the charming Buffalo Bill. Of course, dress size and actual weight often don’t match up in any meaningful way for women, but as a size 14 myself, I just find I’m very curious to know what Hollywood thinks would be an equivalent size for a man. I’m guessing it’s less than flattering.

Shortly thereafter, Senator Rupert Martin pleads for his daughter’s life, and while this dialogue could stay verbatim . . . I feel it’s less likely. Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know. Maybe I’ve just watched way too many Criminal Minds episodes. But sentences like “I know you can feel love and compassion?” Doesn’t that seem more like how police might instruct a mother to speak? I can’t help but feel a father’s speech would focus more on commands than empathy, especially if he’s a politician and a conservative one at that. Likewise, phrases such as “you have the power” and “you are in charge” seem like they’re directed at a male villain, not a female one. Mind you, I actually quite like the switch-up in expectation here. I’d just be surprised if it made the final cut.

Clarence then offers Hannah Lecter the fake deal from Senator Martin, and we finally get to one of Hollywood’s most infamous Latin lessons.

Hannah says that Clarence is “very frank” while describing her past, a description I wonder if she’d even think to mention if Clarence was a man; after all, men are supposed to be frank, remember? Hannah also asks Clarence if he ran away as a child because he was sexually abused by his aunt, an immediate assumption that seems less likely in this gender-reversed scenario.

We also *sigh* get into Buffalo Billie’s diagnosis as someone who desperately wants to be trans, or something. I don’t know, it feels like bullshit. I’m going with it for the purposes of this essay, but man, it’s such bullshit. (Hannah never elaborates on what else Billie has “tried” to be, but considering some of the swastika shit in her house, I assume Nazi is one of them, which, awesome, movie. Way to connect being trans, being a serial killer, and being a Nazi all in one go.) While it’s nice to see that Clarence at least points out there’s no correlation between being transgender and being violent, this doesn’t at all wipe out TSotL’s serious problems with transphobia, as evidenced by lines like this: “Billy hates his own identity, you see, and he thinks that makes him a transexual, but his pathology is a thousand times more savage and more terrifying.” So . . . being transgender is savage and terrifying, then, like, there’s some scale of Savage and Terrifying Things where Being Trans is like a 10 and Being A Violent Psychopath Who Kills People to Make Clothes Out Of Their Skin is like 10,000? Yeah, good comparison, writer. Seriously, let’s just go ahead and bust out the GLAAD award.

Man, between my ire and this already lengthy word count, I am definitely winding down. Should I just start highlighting specific scenes?

“It Puts The Lotion in the Basket”

This doesn’t change too much, but you do get to see Carter both begging for his life and screaming in terror, which can happen in movies, but rarely does. Usually, screaming/begging in earnest is something a cowardly villain does. If it’s a hero, it’s usually for comedic effect.

Also, Buffalo Billie’s voice changes when she gets upset. I guess she’d be adopting a lower register throughout most of this scene, but would scream “put the fucking lotion in the basket” in a much higher-pitched register?

“When Your Little Girl is on the Slab, Where Will it Tickle You?

Can’t really do the breastfeeding line with Senator Rupert Martin.

“The Lambs Were Screaming”

Surprisingly, there isn’t too much to discuss here in regards to gender, although Hannah reaching out and creepily brushing Clarence’s finger with her own does strike me as more of a masculine, possessive thing. Still, I’m sure that a woman could do it too. It’s a disturbing little gesture regardless of gender. No, mostly, I just want to rant that Clarence’s rancher aunt is such an asshole, like, I get it; fucking with someone’s livestock and thus livelihood is a big deal, but maybe that’s not the sort of thing you send a grieving 10-year-old to an orphanage for, especially on a first offense? Seriously, MASSIVE asshole.

“Ready When You Are, Sergeant Pembry”

Well, first we must discuss Hannah’s drawing of Clarence: he appears to be wearing something rather low-cut. It’s not revealing, really, just hints at the smallest bit of cleavage that, of course, Clarence does not actually have. Also, Clarence is holding a lamb to his not-bosom and is otherwise really invoking a whole Virgin Mary thing here. I am dying to see this actual picture.

Of course, we also get this film’s most infamously violent scenes, which, kinda cool, now has all female participants. Not the women are completely denied the chance to be violent in genre movies, but you really don’t get many scenes where ladies go right for the face, biting into cheeks, beating other handcuffed women to death with batons, etc. Even the offscreen violence is pretty damn violent for Hollywood ladies: Hannah slices off one cop’s face and hangs the other up across the prison bars with her belly hanging open. Something like that might happen to a woman in a horror movie, but it’s considerably less likely that the perpetrator would be a woman too.

Also cool: the team of cops who find this mess are all women except for one dude. Meanwhile, everyone on the SWAT team is a woman. Paramedics, too. It’s basically women central right here, and that’s just pretty great.

“He Would Consider That Rude” + “Don’t You Make Me Hurt Your Dog”

OTOH, here are a couple of scenes I would definitely regret in a gender-swapped version of the story. First, Clarence and Argyle. Again, their friendship loses something for me because bromances are celebrated in movies, while ladymances are not. And this scene between C + A specifically bums me out because I love that two ladies work out the vital clues to tracking down the serial killer. Men get to do that in thrillers all the time. Two women, though? Shit, offhand I can only think of one movie where two female cops are even partners: The Heat. And, of course, that’s a comedy.

Meanwhile, Carter Martin is clever enough to trick Precious into the well, and people, it’s not that I want all dudes to be useless or anything, but it’s hard to watch a female victim work so hard to save herself, only to give that ingenuity to a man.

Of course, that brings us to The Scene.

“Would You Fuck Me?”

No, I would not. You kill people for their skin, and I have problems with that. But full confession: I actually really like the song “Goodbye, Horses.” Own it and everything.

So, there are both logistic and moral problems with this particular scene. Logistic ones: what, exactly, is Buffalo Billie doing in it? She’s probably not going to be applying eyeshadow, although I suppose she could be applying various contour makeup to make herself look more masculine. And she could easily be wearing a man’s scalp on her head, which, shudder, scalp-shit just gets to me. As far as clothing goes, though, I suspect she’d have to be dressed in more than just an open robe. I mean, I guess we could see her wearing a binder, but it seems like she’d want something over that, right? Meanwhile, tucking obviously isn’t going to be a thing here. She could be stuffing her pants, of course, but then she needs to actually be wearing pants. Or, at the very least, underwear. And again, because of BS cultural norms, I highly suspect mainstream audiences would argue that Buffalo Billie isn’t as creepy in this reshot scene, even though she’s still wearing another person’s fucking scalp on her head.

This, of course, brings us to our moral problems, which I’d like to sum up as HOLY JESUS, NO, WE HAVE TO REWRITE THIS ENTIRE CHARACTER FOR THE REMAKE. THEY CANNOT BE TRANS OR “WANNABE TRANS,” WHATEVER THE FUCK THAT IS, NO NO NO NO NO. SET IT ALL ON FIRE.

“Don’t You Leave Me Here, You Fucking Bitch!”

So, now we’re at the confrontation between Clarence and Buffalo Billie. In regards to gender, this is pretty interesting. Clarence mostly keeps it together here, like, he never starts screaming or anything, but he’s still absolutely freaked out, especially when the lights go off. Justifiably, I mean, like, shit. In the actual movie, when Buffalo Bill goes to touch Clarice’s hair and face?

CREEEEEEPY.

Still, I’m pretty torn on this scene. I mean, it’s basically the epitome of the male gaze, right? Does it lose something when you flip genders? Honestly, I don’t know. On one hand, I appreciate what this movie has to say about gender discrimination (well, cis gender discrimination, anyway), and I do love to see a woman saving another woman, especially in this kind of creepy basement/horror movie scenario where both ladies would normally be helpless victims and only one would probably survive. OTOH, I might really enjoy seeing a movie where the female villain has this much masculine power, so to speak. And I’d love to see more movies where the male hero, particularly one in law enforcement, is this out of breath, vulnerable, shaking, etc. It could also be fun to see Carter Martin desperately screaming obscenities at Clarence, although, presumably, he wouldn’t call Clarence a bitch. Maybe asshole? I’m a big fan of asshole as a gender-neutral insult.

“Well, Clarence. Have the Lambs Stopped Screaming?”

At last, the denouement. First, Jackie Crawford escorts Clarence out of Buffalo Billie’s house, wrapping an arm around his shoulders and shielding him from the press. Even if Jackie was a 100% fully confirmed canon love interest, this just doesn’t happen in movies. Shit, even in Die Hard, when Holly punches Thornberg, it’s definitely John, all busted and limping, who has his arm wrapped protectively around her.

Later, Crawford specifically makes time out of her busy schedule to watch Clarence’s graduation. And at the graduation party, they share both a handshake and a Look. Honestly, I really don’t know how their relationship would play out in a gender-flipped film because it still seems up in the air in the actual movie: between this Look, Hannibal’s comments about Crawford, the general “sexism is everywhere” atmosphere, and how Ardelia watches Clarice go off with Crawford in possible concern, I’ve always assumed that Jack, at least, wants something to happen there. But truthfully, a lot of those assumptions have been inferred and could easily be interpreted different ways. After all, for most of the film, there really isn’t much going on, sexual chemistry wise, between Jodie Foster and Scott Glenn. And if I had to guess for the gender-flipped remake? There wouldn’t even be a Look, considering older women are rarely love interests for young male heroes.

Finally, Clarence and Hannah talk for one last time on the phone. I’m really only bringing it up because Clarence glances around, slightly afraid, like Hannah might be watching. It’s a nice horror movie shot that I have a hard time picturing Hollywood filming with a male lead.

Obviously, I want to see it immediately.

CASTING CALLS

Gotta be honest: I don’t have a lot of ideas here, so I’m only doing a few of these right now.

Clarence Starling

I definitely want someone short. On first blush, I’m instinctually leaning towards Iwan Rheon, who’s certainly got the big, blue eyes for all these ridiculous Jonathan Demme close-ups. Plus, I’d really like to see him play someone not totally villainous and creepy for once, which I suspect is going to end up being his M.O after Game of Thrones. He can do it, too. I know. I’ve seen Misfits. (Okay, he’s still kinda creepy in the first season, but, like. After that.) And while 5’8″ isn’t super short, it’s not hugely tall, either, and could easily be worked around.

Hannah Lecter

Man, this one’s rough. I mean, Hannibal Lecter is Anthony Hopkins’s most iconic role, and it’s just hard to separate the two, especially if you never watched the TV show. (I know, I know. I really did mean to get there. Don’t yell at me, Hannibal fans, I’ve lost plenty of shows before their time, too.)

You know who I do kind of like for it, though? Brenda Strong. She’s no stranger to playing clinical and/or villainous characters. I also rather like her voice for it. Hollywood wouldn’t cast her in a million years because she’s a TV actress and not a huge name, but that’s just because Hollywood is dumb. There are so many talented people working mostly or exclusively in television.

Jack Crawford

Speaking of talented actresses working in TV, how about Melissa McBride? I could totally see her playing a top dog in the FBI, and I’d love to see her outside of The Walking Dead.

Buffalo Billie

Seriously, let’s just be clear here: in any remake, gender-swapped or not, Billie needs to be entirely rewritten without the sorta-trans-but-not-really-trans angle. I mean, for fuck’s sake. For a woman who just likes cutting up men and wearing their skin, though, without any atrocious transphobic bullshit? Hm. Would Famke Janssen be too campy? (ETA: Crap, I had no idea Famke Janssen played a problematic transgender character in Nip/Tuck. Hm. As far as alternate casting goes, how about Laura Dern? I feel in my heart that Laura Dern could be an amazing villain.)

CONCLUSIONS:

There are some interesting things about gender-flipping The Silence of the Lambs, but ultimately I’m not really in favor of it. We just miss out on too much that I love about the original, not to mention inevitably end up making a whole movie about systemic male oppression, which, bah.

What I would love to see, though? A sequel that doesn’t have shit to do with Hannibal but instead focuses on Clarice’s and Ardelia’s friendship in the FBI. I know that would never happen because horror franchises always prioritize villain over protagonist, but fuck it, this is my dream movie, right? Yeah. And in my dream movie, Ardelia is actually the POV heroine of this one, while Clarice is her best buddy. It’s years later, both are still in the FBI, and Ardelia has a new serial killer case, which she occasionally talks out with Clarice. People, I am INTO it.

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4 Responses to Genderbent Wednesdays Takes on THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

  1. Claire says:

    The entomologist is a love interest in the book, so a remake could always play up that angle, if it wanted to. Also, when I think of Hannibal Lecter I always think of Brian Cox, who I think does a better job.

    • Huh. I had no idea that the entomologist is actually a love interest in the book. In a gender-flipped version especially, I kind of love that.

      I’ve only seen bits of Manhunter and not in a long time. I don’t really remember it, other than laughing at 80’s Grissom. Maybe at some point I’ll have to check it out to compare the Lecters.

  2. Marisa says:

    I love this! You are brilliant! I have a few thoughts:

    1. Maggie could throw underwear at Clarence.

    2. Maggie also could proclaim, “I can smell your balls” (This made me giggle aloud, perhaps because it’s so absurd. The original is also absurd (also threatening) yet somehow the “balls” thing is comical. Is it because men aren’t typically objectified to that extent?) That’s annoying. Not to suggest that men should be objectified like this….clearly no one should. Also, balls are funny….but I’m still annoyed.

    3. If “Don’t you leave me here you fucking bitch” won’t work, how about: “Don’t leave me here you fuckin’ dick!” Why is this funny to me? Is it because it’s kind of ridiculous to think of two men interacting with one another like that? Why? Is I it because (as men are portrayed in our culture) one man would never let another get away with talking to him like that without it coming to blows, whereas it’s widely accepted that women can be “bitches” therefore it’s acceptable to “put them in their place” by expressing such? Wow, that’s annoying! Are women expected to either “take it” or rise above while it’s acceptable for men to defend themselves as they see fit? Not that physical violence is ever ok, but neither is the double standard. I think it’s indicative of the different value placed on men and women in our culture. Wow, that’s really fucking annoying!

    4. I agree with you that Carter Martin cleverly capturing Precious doesn’t have the same impact of Catherine Martin doing the same. It’s sad that it feels like such an accomplishment (instead of “the norm”) for a woman to be able to defend herself or possess the brain power to outsmart her attacker. However, I am completely down to lose that in exchange for a truly terrifying and powerful female character like Buffalo Billie. The whole idea of Buffalo Billie is just cool. I’m dying to see this movie!

    5. What about Meryl Streep or Judi Dench as Hannah Lecter, Jack Gleeson from GOT or Daniel Kaluuya as Clarence, Catherine Keener as Chilton, Lena Headey or Allison Janney as Billie?

    • Thanks!

      1. Oh, that could work. I didn’t think of that.

      2. Yeah, “I can smell your balls” makes me giggle too. I mean I think “balls” is just objectively a funny word. But yeah, it seems to lack a certain threatening tone. Objectification might be part of that. I wonder, too, if the very real threat of sexual assault just makes certain language towards women sound more menacing, whereas similar language towards men just doesn’t come off as natural or intimidating?

      3. I actually think “Don’t you leave me here, you fucking dick!” could work, depending on delivery. But I’d agree to the double standard.

      4. I don’t think I’d want to see Buffalo Billie ultimately, since Buffalo Bill is such a problematic character, but I would love to see a movie with a terrifying, powerful female serial killer. There are some great female horror movie villains, of course, but not as many and even less that are truly iconic. Catherine Keener and Allison Janney could potentially make excellent villains.

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