Features and Columns · Movies

Why Clarice Starling is Such a Compelling Thriller Character

The ‘Silence of the Lambs’ character is one of the most complex characters ever put on screen.
Silence Of The Lambs Clarice
Orion Pictures
By  · Published on October 20th, 2020

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video about one of the greatest characters in the thriller genre: Clarice Starling The Silence of the Lambs.

How do you write a protagonist who can conceivably square up against not one, but two serial killers? The Silence of the Lambs has no shortage of cannibals and skin-wearing psychos. So how can a mousey FBI trainee hold her own in such bold company?

Well, the answer is that Clarice Starling, played by Jodie Foster, is an exceptional woman within both the halls of Quantico and the thriller genre itself.

When we first meet Clarice, she has all the familiar trappings of an underdog: she’s assured, ambitious, and patently underestimated. But as the film unfolds, and Dr. Hannibal Lecter gets his hooks into her, it becomes clear that she is more than just a wide-eyed trainee looking to prove herself. Indeed, her diligence inevitably reveals itself as a symptom of an obsessive recklessness — a morbid curiosity that repeatedly draws her towards danger like a moth to a flame.

This is the crux of Clarice’s complexity, and the implicit fear lurking in the background of her psyche: that all that separates her from someone like Dr. Lecter, is a pane of glass.

The video essay below goes into more detail as to what makes Clarice Starling so compelling; from Foster’s subtle facial queues to director Jonathan Demme’s intimate positioning of the camera. It is a concise reminder that, in a film full of big personalities, quietly persistent Clarice is perhaps the most complex.

Watch “The Silence of the Lambs | Making a Complex Thriller Character“:

Who made this?

This video essay comes courtesy of The Discarded Image, a video series created by Julian Palmer that deconstructs film. The series began with a deconstruction of how Steven Spielberg creates suspense with the beach scene in Jaws and has steadily grown from there. You can check out The Discarded Image’s video essays here. This video essay was written and narrated by Manuela Lazic, whose website you can visit here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).