To the editors:
Have we come to the point where any attempt to portray and denounce misogyny is in turn denounced as misogynistic? I am referring specifically to Jonathan Rosenbaum’s review of The Silence of the Lambs [February 22]. In Mr. Rosenbaum’s overzealous attempt at sensitive (politically correct = new fascism?) liberalism, he shot himself in the foot by not presenting a more thoughtful look at this provocative film.
Here are some examples that Mr. Rosenbaum’s analysis missed the mark:
(1) Simply because Ms. Foster has no romantic involvements and is confident in the film is not the reason that this film has feminist overtones. The character deals with the death of her father and her involvement with other father figures in a patriarchal society. Her mother was dead, “she did not know her mother,” which is a metaphor for our society which stifles women. The character also deals with the powerlessness of women in society through the analogy of her experience in childhood with the lambs. Dealing with her past and her powerlessness empowers the character (and women).
(2) After the senator’s daughter is kidnapped and the reward commercials are run, the statement is made that this is a good attempt to treat the victim like a person. Once she becomes more than an object, she becomes harder to kill. This is a powerful statement for a society that objectifies women in the media as mere sex objects. The senator’s daughter is also more than a victim, she fights back. She captures the psychopath’s dog in an attempt to gain her life and freedom.
(3) Women are not graphically shown torn to pieces. We see dead bodies, but are repulsed by the effects. In fact, in the most violent scene, Dr. Lecter’s escape, it is two men who meet violent and graphic deaths.
(4) Mr. Rosenbaum goes too far when he devalues the film for trying to make a statement on violence simply because we are engaged in a (wrong) war. Maybe by looking at an intelligent, “reasonable” psychopath and our fascination with killing, we can begin to look at why we condone the “justified” killing during wartime. If we glorify psychopaths, then there is not a word grand enough to encapsulate how we exalt soldiers.
Far from being simply another slasher film and far from engaging the issues of violence and misogyny in a detailed manner, the movie still merits a closer look. In the future, Mr. Rosenbaum and others like him need to make the distinction between a depiction of misogyny and actual misogyny.
Jonathan Rosenbaum replies:
The major concern of my piece, which Mr. Mote overlooks, is the peculiar need of many people–including, apparently, Mr. Mote–to regard Lecter as a “realistic” rather than a supernatural character. This entails accepting that what Mr. Mote calls “an intelligent, ‘reasonable’ psychopath” has the power to persuade a fellow prisoner to swallow his own tongue and knows where the heroine can be reached on the phone at any given moment.
Furthermore, I never claimed that women are shown being “torn to pieces” in the film; my argument is that slasher movies are predicated on the audience’s imagining and contemplating such events–even if the female characters in question are sufficiently empowered to fight back. Indeed, without the desire to imagine and contemplate such events, The Silence of the Lambs–and a pasteboard construction like Lecter–wouldn’t exist.