Anda di halaman 1dari 24

Down at the Bone: Female Detectives and Feminism

CP 470a

Nathan Fortmeyer

SIU 850330050


Even a cursory reading of the films Silence of the Lambs and Winters Bone yields

considerable and significant parallels: both films are adaptations of novels (authored by

men) that focus on female detectives (Clarice Starling and Ree Dolly 1) who must

navigate metaphoric and literal liminal spaces. Starling and Ree both set about their

respective investigations, which are imbued with the mythic overtones of the heros

quest, with comparable determination, each addressing very real threats, to both body and

mind. Both female detectives endure physical violation, and are thus marked by the

trials of their quests. Starling and Ree operate outside traditional patriarchal society; their

active pursuit of facts grants them agency at the same time it elicits male backlash.

Silence of the Lambs and Winters Bone are also examples of the womens picture,

which Tasker (2002: p. 24) defines as a film with a female protagonist, dealing with

issues related to women and womens lives, and ultimately privileging a females point of

view. As the story of each film unfolds, the females point of view is consistently


Both films are also marked by deadlines. FBI trainee Starling sets out to stop a

serial killer known as Buffalo Bill and save his next victim, Catherine Martin, within the

narrow window of three days (Tasker, 2002). Ree (who operates outside of formal law

enforcement) is a stoic teenager who tends to her catatonic mother and dependent

younger siblings, twelve year old Sonny and six year old Ashlee (Stokes, 2011) 2. After a

bail bondsman informs Ree that her meth-cook 3 father, Jessup Dolly, put the family home

up as collateral for bail and has since vanished, Ree realizes she has only a week to find

her father, more out of necessity than sentiment (Stokes, 2011). Thus, both Silence of the

Lambs and Winters Bone invoke traditional detective narratives (the police procedural

and the P.I. noir, respectively) propelled by a race against the clock (Tasker, 2002: Stokes,

2011). Unlike traditional detective narratives, though, is the emphasis upon the female

detective and how she enacts agency in a world dominated by hostile, condescending

men. Starling and Ree navigate a complex spatial world, by challenging gender norms

and embodying attributes of the quintessential detective.

The Quintessential Detective

You need a strong sense of who you really are down at the bone (Fallis and

Greenberg, 1998: p. 28, emphasis added).

The world of detectives has much in common with the world of feminism and

film: both have a stake in knowledge, agency, and the gaze (both the subject controlling it

and the object of it). Fallis and Greenberg (1998) break down the criteria constituting the

quintessential detective into the intellectual, emotional, and physical. The intellectual

requirements of a detective include curiosity and tangential knowledge, the emotional

qualities include persistence and a high tolerance for stress, and the physical qualities are

stamina and mobility (Fallis and Greenberg, 1998).

The quintessential detective is always negotiating a relationship with knowledge;

what to know and how much to know are two key components structuring an

investigation. Fallis and Greenberg (1998: p. 25) note detective work is oddalmost

every important decision you make is based on information you know to be incomplete.

Each Starling and Ree take is based upon information they know to be incomplete. It is

important to note there are questions that need not be asked, answers that need not be

sought, (Fallis and Greenberg, 1998: p. 21). Starling stops short of examining why

Buffalo Bill skins women, only ascertaining his M.O. in order to apprehend him, not

understand him (Tasker, 2002); Ree is focused on finding her fathers body, not

determining the circumstances surrounding his death, openly acknowledging this caveat

several times (Stokes, 2011). Starling and Ree, although selective of the focus of their

respective investigations, still embody the vital intellectual prerequisite for detective

work: curiosity (Fallis and Greenberg, 1998). Coupled with persistence, the need to know

(as well as obtain the necessary forensic evidence) drives Starling and Ree.

Starling seeks to know how Buffalo Bill works, but not why (Tasker, 2002). Ree

also does not concern herself with any of the whys surrounding her fathers

disappearance, only the how of proving his death; as far as shes concerned, his death is a

forgone conclusion. In both instances, the answer to the question of why is presented as

superfluous at best and deadly at worst. Starling need only understand Buffalo Bills M.O
; Ree limits the scope of her quest to exclude knowledge of why because that knowledge

would only further endanger her life. Ree is repeatedly warned (with both implicit and

explicit threats of bodily harm) to not only give up, but also forget (most notably during

the chilling-and ultimately grisly-nocturnal journey across the Ozark version of the river

Styx5 to her fathers bones, when one of the Milton women warns Ree not to remember

where they are.

Fallis and Greenberg (1998: p. 9) highlight the dangers of knowing, declaring that

learning transforms youit changes the way you perceive yourself. This perception

can also be empowering; Starling and Ree seek knowledge and proof, and in doing so,

transform their knowledge into agency. Starling comes to perceive herself as a confident,

competent investigator, officially recognized as a Special Agent; Ree finds her father,

obtains proof of his death, and regains equilibrium over her home, now endowed with the

return of her fathers bond (the threat of which was the impetus for Rees quest in the first

place). For Starling and Ree, empowerment resonates from knowing not just in the

gerund form (tangible facts), but also from the verb form (the confidence and ability to

conduct an investigation).

This is how detectives operatedig a little, make a few educated guesses, then

dig a little more. And then, a little more. (Fallis & Greenberg, 1998: p. 81). Starling and

Ree both dig for the truth, metaphorically (the way a detective digs for the truth) and

literally (Starling uses a shovel to blockade a door in Buffalo Bills basement during her

attempt to rescue Catherine Martin from a pit; Ree pulls her fathers hands up and out of

an Ozark bog). In the process of digging, Starling garners the disdain of various male

authority figures (Dr. Chilton, West Virginia Sheriff); as Ree seeks answers, she commits

the only crime that is categorically unacceptable-asking questions, (Silverstein, 2010:

paragraph 1). Despite the various threats they face, Starling and Ree do succeed in their

quests. Fallis and Greenberg (1998: p. 107) note, given enough time, almost anybody

can be tracked down. All it takes is a little creativity, a little planning, a little attention,

and a whole lot of persistence.

Fallis and Greenberg (1998: p. 29) enumerate several of the emotional dangers of

detective work:

Since the job tends to be solitary, it allows time for introspection and
reflection on what youve seen. There is danger of becoming hard and cynical;
there is danger in not becoming hard and cynical. And even more perilous is the
willing abandonment of compassion and humanity.

Starling and Ree not only retain compassion and humanity, they embody the

traits. Compassion and humanity drive both Starling and Ree in their quests. Starlings

compassion and empathy fuel her quest to rescue Catherine from Buffalo Bills basement;

Rees very real perception of her responsibility to her catatonic mother and younger

siblings firmly entrenches her in humanity, driving her to find her fathers bones. Tasker

(2002: p. 53) notes Starlings empathy is victim-centered and, above all,

compassionate. Starlings intense internalization (and balancing) of both passionate

humanity and obsessive, objective observation is what guides her to Buffalo Bill. At the

commencement of the West Virginia victims autopsy, it is Starling, whose voice wavers

as she begins to examine the body, who mediates an emotional response that goes beyond

disgust (Tasker, 2002: p. 44). Stokes (2010: paragraph 7) notes Rees actions are those

of a noir hero. But her motivations are nothing like this. Everything that she does is in

care of her family. Ree adopts the role of mother and father, although her deployment of

traditionally masculine behavior (splitting wood, hunting) carries none of the violent

undertones that characterize the men in her life.

This compassion comes with its own burdens. Starling says of the lamb she tried

so desperately to save, he was so heavyhe was so heavy, (Demme, 1991); in Rees

last line of the film, she reassures her siblings, Id be lost without the weight of you two

on my back. I aint goin anywhere, (Granik, 2010).

Fallis and Greenberg (1998: p. 30) list the critical physical attribute of a detective

as stamina, the ability, and more important, the willingness to endure. Not just to persist

in the face of long hours, solitude, and stress, but to endure physical discomfort as well.

Starling and Ree both endure solitude, long hours, and hard travel. Starling is still

analyzing the case during the car ride away from the West Virginia autopsy, as her mentor

Crawford attempts to nap; Rees inexorable walking leads her over and through the

Ozarks (Woodrell, 2006). Fallis and Greenberg (1998: p. 17) emphasize that these

qualities are not inherently male or female, noting that gender itself does not preclude one

from, or predispose one to, becoming a good detective:

In detective work what you are is often less important than who you are. In many
ways, gender, race, physical ability, and such are irrelevant. Those factors can be
either a liability or an asset. It all depends on the circumstances and the person.

Who Starling and Ree are also aligns with Tyree and Walterss (2007: p. 45)

description of Fargos Marge Gunderson:

She's a sensible, smart woman, thoroughly up to the task confronting her, who
solves her case not by unraveling esoteric riddles or roughing up a series of
recalcitrant informants but following procedure. Marge is a nice, normal
Minnesotan hometown girl doing her job in a professional but decidedly unrushed

Tyree and Walters (2007: p. 76) go on to observe

A suggestionruns throughout The Big Lebowski, and indeed the Coens' work in
general: that real men are in fact women. Or, to put it another way, while the men
bluster around trying to prove themselves worthy of the name, it's the female
characters who thrive and get things done, adopting conventionally 'manly'
behavior as the occasion demands.

Tyree and Walter (2007: pg. 76) could just as easily be describing Starling and

Ree, who both consistently adopt traditionally masculine behavior.

Starling and Ree receive the purest aid from other women. Fellow trainee Ardelia

Mapp accompanies Starling through physical training while simultaneously prepping her

for an exam; after Lecters bloody escape, Mapp rushes to notify Starling, and proceeds

to aid her in poring over the Buffalo Bill case file (and Lecters accompanying notes). At

the Memphis courthouse, Starling has a quick, but palpable, encounter with a female

sheriffs deputy; the female deputy identifies with Starling momentarily, through a

weighted gaze that almost psychically conveys empathy. In the male-dominated world of

law enforcement, this unnamed deputy no doubt experiences the same obstacles and

derision as Starling.

Starling and Ree are both physically marked at critical stages of their respective

quests. At the end of Starlings first visit with Lecter at the asylum, an inmate (whom

Lecter refers to as Multiple Miggs) splatters Starling with semen. Later, Starling cuts

her leg during her search of the Yourself storage facility. After her climatic showdown

with Buffalo Bill, Staring emerges with gunpowder embedded in her cheek 6.Gunpowder.

Its nothing. Im okay, Starling tells Crawford after she emerges from Buffalo Bills lair

(Demme, 1991); this gunpowder tattoo is clearly visible during Starlings graduation, and

subsequent conversations with Crawford and Lecter. Although it is oblique in the film

Silence of the Lambs, in Harriss sequel novel, Hannibal (1999: p. 51), Crawford (who

has a sizeable library on tattoos, body symbology, and ritual mutilation) tells Starling,

do you know what the French call a beauty spot, a mouche like that, high on the cheek

they call that one courage.

Ree also receives her fair share of physical punishment, primarily a vicious

beating delivered at the hands of Thump Miltons female underlings (a tactic that arises

from the gendered stratification of violence; the violence visited upon Ree is declared

legitimate because it was delivered by other women, a fact Miltons crew makes manifest

in an attempt to placate Uncle Teardrop). The intensity of Rees beating, and her stoic

reception of it, may be what finally gains the sympathy of Miltons female underlings,

who finally accede and offer to lead Ree to her daddys bones, (Granik, 2010).

Starling and Ree both sustain their injuries as they navigate a hostile world of

male hegemony. In the due course of their investigations, Starling and Ree persist

through male violence and violation, both metaphorical and literal. Refusing to give up,

both of these female detectives follow their cases through to their respective conclusions.

However, at each films conclusion, Starling and Ree still bear the physical markers, the

overt residue, of their trials. Starlings gunpowder tattoo is visible at her graduation; Ree

is still bruised, battered, and swollen at the front porch banjo denouement.

Observed and Observing: The Female Detectives Agency and Gaze

There is a certain perverse pleasure to be derived from the ability to see without being

seen. (Fallis & Greenberg, 1998: p. 186).

Tasker (2002: p. 18) draws attention to the relationship both the cinema and the

detective story share with voyeurism, and how this voyeurism relies on both what is

shown and withheld, returning again and again to the question of how much we see.

Certianly, both Silence of the Lambs and Winters Bone promise and withhold horrific

images (Tasker, 2002; Stokes, 2010). Dr. Chilton flippantly shows Starling a photograph

depicting the aftermath of Lecters violence, and Ree embraces her fathers hands as a

chainsaw rips through them. The audience sees neither.

Veteran homicide detective Vernon Geberth (2006: p. 451) stresses that reason

and motivation for the crime are an extremely important consideration in establishing the

investigative direction, and it is precisely through Starlings ability to see reason and

motivation that she is able to locate Buffalo Bill. As Tasker (2002: p. 52) notes, Starling

has to learn about vision: to see and understand the smallest signs.

It is Starlings gaze that drives the investigation, and her careful observations

provide the key revelations necessary for narrative-as well as thematic-resolution. Tasker

(2002: p. 52) notes that Lecter identifies Gumbss chief desire-he covets-asking Starling

to understand this in terms of her own life, her experience as a coveted object. Often, the

camera adopts Starlings point of view, particularly during her search of the Baltimore

storage unit (where she finds Raspeils head, with moth inside), and later, inside

Fredericka Bimmels home, where Starling intuits Buffalo Bills motive via the

dressmakers dummy and butterfly wallpaper (Tasker, 2002). Starling finally identifies

Buffalo Bill when, standing in his living room, she observes a moth alighting upon spools

of colorful thread (Tasker, 2002).

In both Silence of the Lambs and Winters Bone, the female detective surmounts

adversity through persistence of will and vision. Starling and Ree both use an active gaze

to decode the mysteries of the mise en scne. Starling, ( la the police procedural)

analyzes evidence, observes an autopsy, deciphers anagrams 7, and conducts routine

interviews; Ree ( la the private investigator noir) pinballs through a shady underworld

populated by drug dealers, drug addicts, murderers, accessories, and reluctant witnesses.

Although Starling is formally trained as an investigator, Ree is no less astute; when a

low-level dealer attempts to trick her into thinking her father died in a meth lab

explosion8, Ree is not fooled, quickly countering (in both novel and film), You must

think Im a stupid idiot or somethin-theres horseweed standin chin-high inside that

place! (Woodrell, 2006: p. 77). Later in the film, Uncle Teardrop takes Ree to a

cemetery to search for bumps that do not belong; the viewers gaze aligns with the

sweeps of Rees flashlight.

However, even as Starling commands the narrative through her gaze, most

notably the climax in Buffalo Bills basement. More importantly, though, Starling is an

object of Lecters gaze, as well as psychological probing (Tasker, 2002). In her second

meeting with Lecter, Starling sits cross-legged on the floor as Lecter speaks from the

shadows (Tasker, 2002).

Starlings transformation is, in part, aided and observed by Lecter, who at turns

taunts and edifies. Starlings transformation hinges on the cryptic clues Lecter provides,

and in order to attain the clues, Starling barters childhood trauma, in the process

becoming the object of Lecters penetrating gaze (both visual and psychic). This barter

comes to a head as Starling recounts her traumatic experience on her uncles sheep and

horse ranch, when she tried in vain to save lambs from slaughter; Tasker (2002: p. 15)


In telling this story Starling is her most vulnerable: even as she recalls the stubborn
refusal of the lambs to run away, Starling seems to lose herself in her recollections,
almost as if she were hypnotized by Lecters voice and fixed to the spot.

This hypnotic recollection of trauma, albeit briefly, situates Starling as an object of

Lecters (and by extension, the audiences) gaze; as Tasker (2002: p. 13) notes, we

contemplate Starling even as we are positioned with her. Often, however, the audiences

contemplation is benevolent, as Tasker (2002, p. 21) writes:

The film also explicitly offers Starlings point of view, aligning the audience
with her heroic quest. The tracking point-of-view shot, more usually associated
with danger in thriller or horror films, provides us with Clarices perspective, both
in the flashbacks to her childhood and the here and now of the investigation.
Extreme close-ups in which characters talk directly to the camera add intensity to
the exchange of looks and wordsDemmes film enacts a heroic quest narrative in
which the heroines motivation is clear and direct. The film does not simply allow
Clarice Starling her autonomy; it is positively celebrated.

Navigating Space: The Female Detective and the Gothic

Starling is an active protagonist in every sense of the work; as Tasker (2002: p.

63-64) observes, her status as an FBI agent (even if only temporary) defines her as an

active, enquiring heroinetaken by her professional quest. Ree is just as mobile,

walking, running, and hitching rides (in both automobile and boat) in her search. Unlike

the heroine in Charlotte Perkins Gilmans The Yellow Wallpaper9, Starling and Ree exert

agency over space. Starling is often framed in doorways and glimpsed in transitional

spaces, (Tasker, 2002: 64), and it is this successful navigation of liminal space that

characterizes Starlings agency; she navigates such transitional spaces as the asylum

corridor, car park, airport, funeral home anteroom, and the Baltimore storage facility.

Starlings vision and agency are critical in the navigation of the storys final (and

most explicitly gothic) space: Buffalo Bills home, which encompasses a sprawling,

labyrinthine basement (Tasker, 2002). Within the improbable geography of Gumbs

home with its many basement rooms, Starling must navigate a snaking, tortuous route

through rooms replete with staring mannequins, moths, swastika-emblazoned sheets, and

bodies in various stages of transformation (Buffalo Bills woman suit and a bathtub

running over with the putrefying human remains) in order to reach, and thus save,

Catherine (Tasker, 2002: p. 65).

Starlings mobility, and the agency underpinning it, is also requisite for her career

in the FBI, as the purview of the FBI is the purview of the serial killer: transient

topography. An FBI Special Agent (into which Starling transforms in the films coda)

commands a bailiwick encompassing the United States 10.

Starling navigates the gothic , which Tasker (2002: p. 58) defines as disorienting

and disturbing. Starling navigates contrasting spaces such as the sterile modernity of

Quantico and the archaic dankness of Lecters cell and Buffalo Bills basement, locations

defined by spatial complexity (Tasker, 2000: 58) and emotional resonance.

Ree navigates her own grim topography, one Silverstein (2010: paragraph 2)

describes as post-apocalyptic, scattered with signs of life long gone-old trucks, car parts,

tools, trash, moored in the uncompromising inertiadominated by corruption, drugs,

and misogyny.


Whaley (2001: p. 531) notes that there is a link between violence against women

and the patriarchal gender stratification system. As society becomes more gender-

equal, tension will arise initially, as the residue of misogyny will persist until evolving

gender norms become widespread (Whaley, 2001). Thus, there is often an inverse

relationship between violence against women and gender equality, at least initially

(Whaley, 2001).

Taxi Driver is an example of a film that distills this anxiety surrounding

masculinity (Taubin, 2000: p. 14) and is a direct result of the reconstruction of gender

that arose from the 1970s feminist movement. This anxiety resulted in a glut of films

depicting white male backlash (Taubin, 2000); Silence of the Lambs and Winters Bone,

however, counter this trend, embracing Starling and Ree as female investigators invested

with agency. Set against a backdrop of male backlash erupting out of a terrible anxiety

aboutnot being on top (Taubin, 2000: p. 72), Starling and Ree rise to the occasion not

out of an inherent need to control and stigmatize others, but through an analytic acumen

coupled with compassion.

Starling and Ree, bearing the primary stigma of the female other, are often subject

to the repressive circumstances of male prejudice (Schur, 1983). Starling is the target of

Dr. Chiltons clumsy come-ons, as well as the disdain of the West Virginias Sheriffs

Deputies (and even Crawford to some extent, who blows smoke at the West Virginia

Sheriff ostensibly to take control of the investigation, in the process denigrating Starling).

Ree is threatened with bodily harm with alarming regularity (threats emanate from a

variety of sources, ranging from Uncle Teardrops somber order, delivered via his wife,

Victoria, for Ree to keep her ass real close to the willows, to Thump Miltons male and

female underlings (Granik, 2010).

However, Starling and Rees otherness (Schur, 1983) as females is just as often

an asset. In both novel and film, Starlings knowledge of female habits gives her an edge

over her male counterparts (Starling discovers Polaroid instant photographs crucial to the

investigation in a jewelry boxs hidden compartment), and Rees plight elicits sympathy

and grudging respect from the Milton women.

Lecter tells Starling that it is advancement which she loves most, (Tasker, 2002:

p. 70). Ree fantasizes about advancement offered by the United States Army. In Silence

of the Lambs and Winters Bone, the FBI and Army represent for Starling and Ree,

respectively, avenues of escape from rural poverty. Starling and Ree view the acquisition

of skills available through the egalitarian nature of bootcamp (where all recruits are

subjected to pain and training equally) as critical in the acquisition of female agency in a

patriarchal society (Harris, 1988; Woodrell, 2006).

Underpinning this explosion of violence, however, is the constant, implicit threat

of it; the specter of violence haunts nearly every encounter between men and women.

Uncle Teardrop chillingly remarks to his wife, I already told you once with my mouth,

and grabs Rees face when she persists in asking questions. What is particularly notable

about this instance is that Uncle Teardrop grabs Rees face the very moment she implores

him with the imperative look (Granik, 2010).

Although Starling and Ree are relatively isolated in their quests, there are several

instances where each one draws upon a network of male and female aid. Starling elicits

guidance from both Lecter and Crawford, but this guidance is at times tainted or

compromised; Lecter routinely taunts her, and although Crawford brings her into the

investigation, he also precludes her at several key points. Crawford disavows Starling in

front of the misogynist West Virginia sheriff, intimating that certain crimes should not be

discussed in front of a woman; later, Crawford perfunctorily thanks her for aiding the

investigation, but discourages her from coming to the planned raid of (what the FBI

falsely believes to be) Buffalo Bills home, instead encouraging her to follow up on more

routine aspects of the investigation. Ironically, it is Starlings methodical execution of

these dismissed inquiries that leads her directly to Buffalo Bills true lair (Tasker, 2002).

As an all-male SWAT team storms an empty house (in an exemplary sequence of parallel

editing), Starling intuits Buffalo Bills identity. The same ambivalence accompanies the

male aid Ree receives; although Uncle Teardrop eventually comes to her aid in her quest

to find her fathers corpse, his commitment to a violent vendetta condemns his fate firmly

to the guns-a-blazin category. While Ree remains on the porch with her fathers banjo

and two siblings, Uncle Teardrop resolutely (and somewhat romantically) drives of to

perpetuate the cycle of male violence, an ending as ambivalent as Stokess (2011)

feelings about it11.

Both Starling and Ree struggle for achievement and agency. Tasker (2002) points

out that, although Starling is a figure of some authority, she must constantly struggle not

only for respect, but also the leeway to do her job. The same applies to Ree, who as a

surrogate mother for her younger siblings, must also complete tasks traditionally (and

stereotypically) viewed as masculine, such as teaching her younger brother and sister

how to hunt; Rees adoption of an active role in the search for her father yields perpetual

(and ever-increasing) warnings and threats, partly due to the criminal nature of his

disappearance, but also, one surmises, as backlash against her persistence and agency

(Schur: 1983).

Finding the Father

Tasker (2002: p. 40) notes that many critics (such as Amy Taubin and Brian

Jarvis) were disappointed that Starlings decisions were often mitigated by male authority

figures. Amy Taubin was particularly displeased with Crawfords line your father would

have been proud today (Demme, 1991), but Tasker (2002: p. 40) points out that

Starling does not simply follow but exceeds her father-only ever a town marshal-in her


Tasker (2002: p. 73) identifies Starlings motivation for an FBI career as not so

much a run toward an absent father as to take his placesolving the case-and saving

Catherine Martin-offers a fantasy of completion and resolution thatallows her to take

her place of authority and responsibility in the world.

Like Buffalo Bill, Starling is linked with transformation, a connection reinforced

by her name12. Tasker (2002: p. 12) also identifies several connections between Starling

and birds: Starling startles a bird during the opening run through the Quantico assault

course; on her first meeting with Lecter, he tells her to fly back to school; a stuffed owl,

wings spread, is the first object illuminated by Starlings flashlight in the Baltimore

storage facility; and Starlings very transition from trainee to Special Agent evokes the

fledgling bird with feathers newly fit for flight.

Ree does not wish to follow in her fathers footsteps; she only needs proof of his

definitive absence before she can lead her family forward. As Silverstein (2010:

paragraphs 3 and 4) observes, aside from Ree, men define every woman in the film

Ree disassociates from these women by rejecting male influences in her life. Similarly,

Stokes (2010: paragraph 8) points out that Ree is marked by the absence of men in her

life. The key aid Ree does draw upon is usually female: Rees friend Gail gets her

transportation, Rees sister Ashlee spots a squirrel to shoot for dinner (a rare instance in

the film of violence being used constructively), and the Milton women eventually relent

and ferry Ree to her fathers bones (Stokes, 2010).

Starling and Ree seek not only success in the bare bones nature of their respective

quests (Starlings rescue of Catherine and subsequent professional recognition; Rees race

against the clock to save the family home from forfeiture), but also attain closure.

Starlings quest grants her peace from the screaming of the lambs; Ree is granted (albeit

temporary) access to her fathers final resting place, and achieves (again, temporary)

financial security. Starling and Ree transform themselves by adopting what is erroneously

viewed as only masculine behavior, and in doing so they both exceed their fathers.


Clarice Starling and Ree Dolly are both strikingly similar. Determined refugees

from rural poverty and patriarchy, Starling and Ree embark on quests of knowledge and

closure. Throughout their investigations, parallels abound, from the arch of their quests

right down to the minutia of forensic evidence 13. Silence of the Lambs and Winters Bone

portray female detectives who embody feminist agency.


Demme, Jonathan. 1991. The Silence of the Lambs. Orion Pictures.

Fallis, Greg and Ruth Greenberg. 1998. Be Your Own Detective. New York: M. Evans and

Company, Inc.

Geberth, Vernon. 2006. Practical Homicide Investigation: Tactics, Procedures, and

Forensic Techniques. New York: Taylor and Francis Group.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. 1973. The Yellow Wallpaper. New York: The Feminist Press

Granik, Debra. 2010. Winters Bone. Roadside Attractions.

Harris, Thomas. 1988. The Silence of the Lambs. New York: St. Martins Press.

1999. Hannibal. New York, New York: Delacorte Press.

Irvine, Gary D. and Ling Chin. 1991. The Environmental Impact and Adverse Health

Effects of the Clandestine Manufacture of Methamphetamine. P. 33-46 in

Methamphetamine Abuse: Epidemiological Issues and Implications, edited by

M.A. Miller & N.J. Kozel, Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and

Human Services.

Jenkot, Robert. 2012. Cooks Are Like Gods: Hierarchies in Methamphetamine-

Producing Groups. Pp. 409-418 in Constructions of Deviance, edited by P. Adler

& P. Adler, Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Saferstein, Richard. 2006. Criminalistics: An Introduction to Forensic Science (9th

edition). New York: Prentice Hall.

Schur, Edwin M. 1983. Labeling Women Deviant: Gender, Stigma, and Social Control.

Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Silverstein, Molly. 2010. Winters Bone: Feminism as Survival. Broad Recognition: A

Feminist Magazine at Yale, November 10. Retrieved May 5, 2012.



Smith, Gavin. 2002. Identity Check: Interview with Jonathan Demme. Excerpt cited in

Yvonne Taskers BFI Modern Classics: Silence of the Lambs. London: British

Film Institute

Stokes. 2011. Winters Bone, Film Noir, and Feminism. Overthinking It, May 2.

Retrieved May 3, 2012. (


Tasker, Yvonne. 2002. BFI Modern Classics: Silence of the Lambs. London: British Film


Taubin, Amy. 2000. BFI Modern Classics: Taxi Driver. London: British Film Institute.

Tyree, J.M. and Ben Walters. 2007. BFI Modern Classics: The Big Lebowski. London:

British Film Institute.

Whaley, Rachel Bridges. 2001. The Paradoxical Relationship Between Gender

Inequality and Rape: Toward a Refined Theory. Gender and Society 15(4): p.


Wikipedia. April 2012. Starling. In Wikipedia. Retrieved May 6, 2012.


Woodrell, Daniel. 2006. Winters Bone: A Novel. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and



1. 1. I refer to Clarice Starling by her last name and Ree Dolly by her first name; the

reasoning behind this decision is that Starling strives to further the law

enforcement heritage imparted onto her by her father, while Ree strives to assert

herself and create a life above and beyond the limiting gender constraints of the

Dolly clan.
2. In the original novel, both of Rees younger siblings were boys, Sonny and Harold

(Woodrell, 2006). Graniks (2010) film substitutes Rees youngest brother for a

sister; this modification from the source novel further foregrounds gender issues;

late in the film, when Rees situation is at its most dire, distant relatives offer to

take in Sonny, but this offer does not extend to Ashlee. This half-offer further

emphasizes the devalued status of women in a patriarchal society.

3. Amphetamines are a group of synthetic drugs that stimulate the central nervous

system. Methamphetamine (a highly addictive chemical derivative of

amphetamine), also known as crank or ice, is usually smoked in crystal form

and results in a state of euphoria and hyperactivity, followed by a period of

exhaustion that may last for several days (Saferstein, 2006: p. 261). This euphoric

state can also result in hallucinations, and chronic users exhibit violent

destructive behavior and acute psychosis similar to paranoid schizophrenia,

(Saferstein, 2006: p. 261). Prolonged methamphetamine abuse can also result in

skin lesions and degenerative tooth decay known colloquially as meth mouth,

caused both by poor hygiene and the dehydrating effects of methamphetamine (as

well as heavy consumption of high sugar sodas). In the United States,

methamphetamine emerged when, in 1965 members of the Hells Angels

Motorcycle club found that they could produce the synthetic drug

methamphetamine; their efforts provided the first documented clandestine

methamphetamine production in the United States (Jenkot, 2012: p. 409).

The nickname crank arose because Hells Angels bikers would stash their

methamphetamine in the crank cases of their motorcycles (Irvine and Chin, 1991).

Even today, many of those involved in the clandestine production of

methamphetamine are largely lower- to working-class individuals (Jenkot,

2012: p. 411).
4. Three key terms are relevant in any discussion of serial killers: M.O., signature,

and souvenir. M.O., Latin for modus operandi, (literally: method of operating) is

a learned behavior and tends to remain consistent, and involves actions

necessary to accomplish the activity, (Geberth, 2006: p. 822). The signature is

the killers unique touch (or theatrical flourish) to the crime scene and/or victim,

and represents the underlying emotional needs of the offender, and often goes

beyond those [actions] necessary to accomplish the crime, (Geberth, 2006: p.

822). A souvenir is an object or article of clothing taken as a remembrance, and

in some instances, the souvenir may even be a body part, (Geberth, 2006: p.

820). Buffalo Bills M.O. is to abduct an overweight woman, hold her captive her

for three days, execute her, and flay her skin; his signature is the insertion of a

deaths head moth cocoon in the victims throat; his souvenir is the flayed flesh of

the victim, which also serves to fulfill his overall motivation: transformation

through what Starling dubs a lady suit, (Demme, 1991).

5. The boat that ferries Ree to the site of her fathers remains might as well have

Charon emblazoned upon the side.

6. The gunpowder embedded in Starlings cheek is the result of a process called

tattooing (Geberth, 2006: p. 323). Tattooing (also known as stipling,) results

when unburned powder or pieces of metal of the bullet from the blast [resulting

from the expulsion of gunpowder residue from the firearm barrel] are driven into

the skin, (Geberth, 2006: p. 323).

7. Starling decodes Lecters anagrams at two key points in the narrative. At the end

of their initial meeting, Lecter implores Starling to look deep within Your Self,

and go seek out Miss Mofet, an old patient of mine, (Demme, 1991). During his

meeting with Senator Martin, Lecter declares Buffalo Bills real name to be

Louis Friend, (Demme, 1991). Starling deciphers both: Miss Hester Mofet/miss

the rest of me, which alludes to Raspeils severed head, and Louis Friend/iron

sulfide, which is the chemical name for fools gold (Tasker, 2002).
8. Anhydrous ammonia (a key precursor chemical in the production of some forms

of methamphetamine) is a dry form of household ammonia that is in a gaseous

state and when it comes into contact with air, it chemically tries to bond with the

water molecules present in the air. If it comes into contact with human skin, it

leaches out the water in the skin, resulting in a chemical burn. If inhaled, the

anhydrous ammonia will leach out the water in the mouth, sinuses, throat, and

lungs, resulting in internal chemical burns. Additionally, anhydrous ammonia is

explosive. (Jenkot, 2012: p. 413)

9. Charlotte Perkins Gilmans The Yellow Wallpaper is a haunting tale of a heroine

subjected to the patronizing posturing of patriarchal society. Gilmans (1973: p.

10) novella focuses on an unnamed heroine who suffers from temporary nervous

depression-a slight hysterical tendency. Her doctor, husband (who is also a

doctor), and brother (also a doctor), all forbid her to work, and refuse to listen to

her in any way; her husband is the personification of patronizing condescension.

The story is based on a similar situation Gilman (1973: p. 47) experienced, and as

therapy Gilmans doctor, S. Wier Mitchell, advised her to never touch pen,

brush, or pencil as long as you live.

As the heroines sanity slowly unravels, she becomes fixated on her unsettling,

claustrophobic confines. The dominant characteristic of her prison (the bedroom,

a disused childs nursery, features barred windows) is jaundiced yellow wallpaper,

which she describes as having absurd, unblinking eyes, (Gilman, 1973: p. 16).

The heroine cracks under the pressure, believing that the hideous yellow

wallpaper is imprisoning a woman. Starling and Ree, in contrast, have a few more

options available than women of the late 1880s, and instead of suffering at the

mercy of men and the constructed space, both female detectives break free,

through a great deal of work (the same work denied to Gilmans heroine).

Although Starling and Ree face comparable male condescension.

10. As Starling sweeps Buffalo Bills basement, her gaze hovers on colorful map of

the continental United States, which is charted not by geographical traits but by

state boundaries. This may be an allusion to the FBIs supersession of the

jurisdictional boundaries that often allow serial killers to initially elude intra-state

11. Stokes (2010, paragraph 13) terms Uncle Teardrop the turd in the buttermilk.

Uncle Teardrop, who rescues Ree from Thump Miltons henchmen, becomes in

the last quarter of the film a kind of white-trash knight in shining armor. His

appearance at the front porch banjo denouement is problematic at best, glorifies,

the mans gotta do what a mans gotta do breed of violence, (Stokes, 2010:

paragraph 16).

12. The starling is a species of birds widely viewed as common and invasive; this

may be an important connection, as Lecter observes (during their first meeting)

that Starlings worst fear is being viewed as common (Tasker, 2002). Starlings are

not originally native to North America, and were introduced to the continent after

being inadvertently ferried across the Atlantic by European colonists. However,

although many view them as a common nuisance, starlings are notable for their

strong feet, direct flight, and gregarious nature (Wikipedia, 2012).

13. There is an obscure forensic connection between Starling and Ree. In Harriss

(1988) original novel, Starlings forensic experience is referenced: she worked in

a forensic identification lab, taking fingerprints from waterlogged decedents (also

known as floaters). This process involves a technician (in this case, Starling)

peeling the epidermis off of the deceaseds hand, wearing it like a glove, rolling

the skin over a fingerprint pad, and making a print on an identification card

(Harris, 1988; Geberth, 2006: p. 267). This is the same process that would be used

to identify the severed hands Ree submits as proof of her fathers death. As a

convicted felon, Jessup Dollys fingerprints would be on file.


Minat Terkait