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Feminist Forensics in The Silence of the Lambs

With The Silence of the Lambs (1991), his Oscar-winning procedural about the psychology of serial murder, director Jonathan Demme took the crime thriller into bold new territory. Upending the typical gender dynamics of the genre by putting a strong-willed female character front and center, and boasting a pair of searingly intense lead performances that position the film as a gripping battle of wills, Silence follows FBI Academy trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) as she seeks the guidance of an incarcerated psychopath, Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), in order to track down a killer on the loose. Clarice is an even more central figure in the film than she is in the best-selling source novel by Thomas Harris, and Demme underscores her experience as a professional in the male-dominated field of federal law enforcement. Critic Maitland McDonagh incisively examines the character of Clarice and how her perspective as a woman informs the way she sees forensic evidence.

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