Week 12 – December 4th, 2021

One aspect of Silence of the Lambs that strikes me the most after watching the film was the concept of the female gaze through the protagonist Clarice: is there even a female gaze in the film?

A scene (video below 2:30 – 6:20) that brought about this question was the autopsy scene where Clarice was in the room with Crawford and one other man to do an autopsy of a victim’s body:

Although throughout most of the film, it seemed as if Clarice was given a female gaze as viewers are shown the world through her perspective, this “female gaze” is brought under question in this scene above. In this scene, it is clear that there is an order in which the characters gets to see the woman’s corpse: all the men see it first, and only when Crawford says “It’s okay, Clarice” did the protagonist turn and face the body, and once she did, she was able to find a clue on Buffalo Bill. Why is it in this particular order, and what does the effect of only Clarice being able to find out clues and understand the corpse despite being in the same room with more experienced men in the FBI?

Let’s revisit Mary Ann Doane’s text Film and the Masquerade. In this text, Doane writes:

“The woman, the enigma, the hieroglyphic, the picture, the image-the metonymic chain connects with another: the cinema, the theatre of pictures, a writing in images of the woman but not for her. For she is the problem.”

“This is precisely why Freud evicted the woman from his lecture on femininity. Too close to herself, entangled in her own enigma, she could not step back, could not achieve the necessary distance of a second look.”

Doane’s and Freud’s claim that Woman cannot have a female gaze for she is the problem/image actually explains the autopsy scene in Silence of the Lambs. Only after Crawford has looked at the corpse and back at Clarice did the protagonist turn and examine the corpse. This echoes Doane’s writing because Crawford and the men are seeing the corpse as a problem that they do not understand, hence, they need the Woman in Clarice to look and clarify the problem to them. Why? Because Clarice is part of the image, she is an object of desire of the men, and she is too close to the real (she is close to Dr. Lector who has accepted his sinthome) that only she can help explain what is going on. Hence, there is no female gaze in Silence of the Lambs, viewers are just shown Clarice’s perspectives because she is the object of desire and a means of getting to the Real.

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