Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Addendum to recasting--Part IV (1991): "The Silence of the Lambs"

One of my all-time favorites. Thinking back, I can't believe I watched this for the first time when I was twelve years-old. Knowing my parents, if we had sat down to watch something on HBO, for example, and this movie came on, I have no doubt they would not have let me continue watching at that age. But curious kids are curious kids, and I was aware of the films box-office success even way back then. When I saw it listed in the TV guide as being broadcast on cable, you better believe I tuned in, alone in the privacy of our basement. I remember my dad eventually knew I'd seen it, as my cousin and I asked him what the c-word was. He wasn't exactly thrilled, but he didn't put up much of a fuss. I ended up recording the film on our VCR

I imagine some readers may be wondering, "Are you suggesting Meryl for the role of special agent Clarice Starling? But she's too old!" The answer is yes. As this is possibly my favorite movie, and absolutely consider it one of a handful that most shaped my love of cinema (and no doubt my morbid fascination with serial murderers), I really wanted to include it among my recasting selections. To do that, I have to suggest some changes to the iconic character originated by Jodie Foster. Namely, her age. Hear me out. 

We know that one of the main features of Clarice in The Silence of the Lambs is that she's a young FBI trainee. Someone likely in her twenties. Inexperienced. Smart, but unsure. It's an important part of the dynamic between her and the super sophisticated nuance of Dr. Hannibal Lecter (played brilliantly by the great Sir Anthony Hopkins). But what if we imagine the character was, say, 35--nearing the cutoff point at which candidates will no longer be considered for becoming an agent for the FBI. Meryl would've been 40 at the time this movie filmed in the fall of 1989 (its release was pushed to early '91, as Orion Pictures wanted to focus its awards attention on another little film they had in their quiver that year, Dances with Wolves). So, absolutely no issue with Meryl playing 35. For whatever reason, I picture her character having a ponytail and bangs. Seems like it would make her appear a bit younger. And if we consider the history we learn about from Clarice, where she becomes an orphan and runs away from a relative's ranch and is then sent to an orphanage, it might be an even more compelling history if it took longer for her to scrape up the means for college at UVA (perhaps having to work and go to night school over the course of six to eight years), to then work her way up to the training academy. That might be more of an accomplishment. The stakes would higher with her working against the clock a bit in regard to age. But not so long in the tooth that she'd lose that important sense of innocence and "greenness" Clarice needs. What a fun prospect to imagine Meryl working to convey all that. 

One of the most memorable scenes in cinematic history. And I'm not sure if Meryl has done a West Virginian accent quite like this one--always fun to consider. While this film is arguably very character-driven, the aspects of a genre film are in there. Many would classify it as a true horror film, or a psychological thriller. Meryl's never quite done something as edgy as Silence of the Lambs was for its time. The movie was an example of how a film released early in the year could actually do well at the Oscars. And that it did, winning the top five (Picture, Director, Actress, Actor, and Screenplay--only It Happened One Night and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest managed to do that previously, and none have since). It was also a major box-office success, with a worldwide gross of $273 million against only a $19 million budget. 

I will say that while I maintain that this film is brilliant, I wonder if it would be as well-received today. The character of Buffalo Bill doesn't exactly show transgender individuals in the greatest of lights. I understand that even Dr. Lecter explains that Buffalo Bill isn't a "real transsexual," yet it's a little difficult to look back on this picture and not sort of get the impression of transgender folks having been depicted as a bit crazy. Some may think it's not a great look when gender identity is obliquely utilized as a tool to showcase creepy characters. I don't tend to view it quite that severely, but it's worth mentioning the film isn't a perfect picture. Although it's nice to see a woman lead in a movie who doesn't have a romantic relationship as part of the story--hopefully that's not negated by the gruesome fact that the story follows a killer of women. But it's sort of representative of the types of films Jodie Foster seemed to gravitate toward. 

In the end, I think this could've been an incredibly exciting role and story to see interpreted through Meryl's characterization. Next week, I'll "officially" wrap up this recasting series when I take on a lighter film from the summer of 1992. 


  1. I would love to see Meryl as an agent/investigator/detective. Something like Kate Winslet in Mare of Easttown recently would be astonishing, as Kate was.

    1. OMG I adored Mare of Easttown, and Winslet was wonderful in it.

  2. Wow Jeff I'm really in board with this idea and love how you explain the casting, it isn't that big a leap.

    I was younger than you when I first saw it on TV (I guess I had pretty permissive parents!) and loved it too. I think it may also have helped shape my interest in serial killers and forensic psychology as well :)

    Whilst I think Glenn Close should have won her Oscar over Jodie Foster in 1989 (although Meryl have the performance of the year in ACITD), I cannot deny Jodie gave the performance of her career in "The Silence Of The Lambs" opposite my favourite actor, Sir Anthony Hopkins.

    When will Meryl get a chance to work alongside him?!

    1. She came so close to working with him in The Last Station. Ended up being Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer.