The Silence of the Lambs
Bottom Line: Quite possibly the greatest thriller ever made.
“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” –Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lecter, M.D.
Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Brooke Smith, Frankie Faison, Jodie Foster, Lawrence A. Bonney, Masha Skorobogatov, Scott Glenn, Stuart Rudin, Ted Levine, Tracey Walter
THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is a tastefully grim, unforgivably suspenseful thriller. Opening up, it is simply harmless, with absolutely nothing that would so much as foreshadow any particularly violent plot until at least fifteen minutes through. Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is a trainee for the FBI, who seems reluctant but ultimately willing to do her job. Starling is sent on a case that involves hunting down a serial killer nicknamed “Buffalo Bill” (Ted Levine), who flays his victims to sew skin suits for himself. Yet little information about him other than the vague newspaper articles. Carefully, Starling confides in Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant psychiatrist and manipulative criminal who is imprisoned for cannibalism. Lecter has a connection with “Buffalo Bill”–one of his patients, murdered before the film’s story begins, was good friends with “Buffalo Bill”–and steadily hints Starling to where she needs to be.
It’s a bit of a surprise that the film is a heavy study of not one, but two complex characters. The film is such a deep analysis, it makes classic thrillers such as Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO and John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN seem shallow; I dare say that “Buffalo Bill” and Hannibal Lecter are two of the most important antagonists in the history of all thrillers, and as such a prudent examination, the film itself is underappreciated. It’s quite possible that Hopkins’s career began to slowly take a downhill route by the 21st century, with roles in fiascos such as HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS, BEOWULF, and THE RITE, but he delivered nothing but a mighty fine effort back in 1991. We hardly notice that his appearance adds up to less than twenty minutes because he surrounds the entire film as such an important character, and the uneasy results of his appearance leaves distasteful aftereffects long after we’ve moved on from him.
“I’m having an old friend for dinner.” –Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lecter, M.D.
Essentially, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is a thriller, but it’s made with the blood of a horror film and the genetic makeup of a crime film. Aside from the insidiously menacing Dr. Lecter and the crooked “Buffalo Bill”, the film isn’t very frightening, but it “silently” builds up enough suspense to make the ending an eight-minute shock. I must say, I was quite shaken up by the utterly frightful finale. Once the meaning behind the film’s title and famous poster art is learned, the heart begins to beat savagely, as well. I have not yet read Thomas Harris’s pulp novel upon which THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is based, but after unearthing this picture, a masterfully directed and edited criterion, there is no doubt I shall seek it out.
But I must wonder: have the lambs stopped screaming?