The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Cast: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Ted Levine, Scott Glenn
As infrequently as it occurs in the movie industry, I do love a good horror film, though I can’t say that it’s my favorite genre. Horror movies come in by the dozens on a yearly basis it seems, and yet I honestly can’t recall any of recent years that were actually memorable. Then again it’s just hard for me to get into these slasher or screamer flicks that rely on cheap and manipulative thrills to get a reaction out of an audience. For me, a good horror should be moody and atmospherical, creating a sense of fear and dread through it’s plot, tone and, most of all, through it’s characters. What a snob, right? Whatever.
The Silence of the Lambs is such a movie. The story of a young FBI agent, in pursuit of a serial killer, who must seek the help of an imprisoned psychopath in order to track him down before another victim is discovered… for obvious reasons, we’re going to be entering it into The Movie Bucket!
There’s a reason that it’s considered to not only be one of the greatest horror movies of all time (not to mention being the only horror to win an Oscar for Best Picture), but it also features one of the most iconic hero/villain match-ups in cinematic history. Cast aside the underwhelming sequel and the misguided prequels that followed, and The Silence of the Lambs still stands as an excellent stand-alone movie, due mostly in part to it’s superb direction and impeccable cast.
When you think of Sir Anthony Hopkins, how can you not think of his incredible turn as Dr. Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lector? By now, it’s a well-known fact that Lector has around 20 minutes of screen time, which, by typical standards for a “lead” role, is significantly short considering it’s 2 hour runtime. That’s what makes Hopkins’ performance so astounding. From the moment we meet him up until the credits and for hours to follow, his presence is forever felt and lingering. In just that short amount of time Hopkins delivered a mesmerizing performance – his manipulative charm, his devilish sneer, his unnerving disposition – it all becomes imbedded in your mind to such an extent that you find yourself curiously rooting for him.
Of course, there is no Hannibal Lector without his worthy opponent, Clarice Starling. In what is most assuredly her finest performance, Jodie Foster created an equally iconic character as the young FBI agent-in-training who gets thrown into the arena with Lector. Foster adds such an emotional weight to Starling – giving a strong, independent character such vulnerability. She’s a survivor, a hero that we watch grow through her experiences and interactions, one that we care for and want to protect.
The dynamic between the formidable doctor and the persistent Clarice are what makes this movie. Though it only takes a small fraction of the runtime, the face-offs (literally) between Starling and Lector are what captures your attention. These are the moments when we fear for Clairce, as she faces a man who is both a genius and a psychopath, entering into his twisted game of quid pro quo. Is she revealing too much to Lector? Is she letting him in? The suspense of some of these scenes are overwhelming at times, creating such tension as we watch the manipulative cat and mouse game bounce back and forth between the two characters. Aside from the ongoing credit to Hopkins and Foster (so GOOD), it’s here too where director Jonathan Demme shines. Putting the camera face-to-face with each character, in the interrogation scenes especially, was simply inspired. The audience get’s plopped right in between the two combatants – witnessing, through Lector, Starling’s courage stumble, her emotions getting the better of her, and then regaining that confidence once more as she gets the upper hand. When we look at Lector… his gaze just casually mind-fucks you as he unlocks your darkest secrets and crushes your dreams.
But good people! We have forgotten one other piece to this master… piece. Lest we forget, these two people would never have even met had it not been for the brutal crimes of Buffalo Bill, played with a brilliant and disturbing air by Ted Levine. Often overlooked when people think of this movie, thanks to his two leads, but Levine’s performance is just as on par with each of theirs. His creepy and erratic behavior will have you fearful for anyone who comes into contact with him.
The Silence of the Lambs is a horror for the ages, with characters that’ll stay with you after each viewing. Full of evocative, eerie cinematography with horrifying imagery throughout, it’s hard to shake a movie like this. With so many lackluster horrors in the theaters today, this is always one to go back to for a good thrill, it never fails.