Tuesday, September 6, 2011

#396. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Directed By: Jonathan Demme

Starring: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn

Tag line: "Prepare yourself for the most exciting, mesmerising and terrifying two hours of your life!"

Trivia:  Anthony Hopkins described his voice for Hannibal Lecter as "a combination of Truman Capote and Katharine Hepburn"

Directed by Jonathan Demme, The Silence of the Lambs introduced us to one of the most fascinating characters in cinematic history: Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Played to breathtaking effectiveness by Anthony Hopkins, Lecter is both sophisticate (a brilliant psychiatrist and patron of the arts) and animal (a killer who not only murders his victims, but eats them as well). Despite his limited screen time, Hannibal Lecter looms heavy over The Silence of the Lambs, and you will remember this film because you cannot forget him. 

FBI agent in training Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is assigned to track down a serial killer known only as Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), whose modus operandi is that he kidnaps women, murders them, then removes a portion of their skin. 

In an effort to understand Buffalo Bill, Starling’s superior, Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn), suggests that the young agent talk with another convicted serial killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), who is serving multiple life terms for murder. The incredibly intelligent yet undeniably dangerous Lecter agrees to assist, but attaches a series of conditions to said agreement, one of which is that Starling must herself reveal her innermost thoughts and fears. 

Though apprehensive, Starling agrees to Lecter's demands when Buffalo Bill strikes again, abducting the daughter (Brooke Smith) of a United States Senator (Diane Baker). To prevent yet another murder, Starling will square off against Lecter in a psychological game of cat and mouse, a showdown she may have no hope of winning. 

The Silence of the Lambs works well as an F.B.I. procedural, detailing a thrilling hunt for a serial killer, and this alone is reason enough to see it. Yet what truly makes The Silence of the Lambs a great motion picture is the verbal give-and-take between Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter. The sparks fly almost immediately when a nervous Starling first pays a visit to the maximum security prison where Lecter is being held. The facility's resident psychiatrist, Dr. Frederick Chilton (Anthony Heald), warns Starling that she’s about to come face to face with a "monster". Yet no warning, however strong, could have prepared her for this initial encounter. 

As she approaches, Lecter is standing in the middle of his cell, staring out from his Plexiglas cage with a sly, sinister smile curling his lips. Over the course of their discussion, Lecter will mock Starling’s southern drawl, calling her poor white trash masquerading as an agent. His words hit close to home, and are all the more troubling to Starling because, in less than five minutes, Lecter has already discovered one of her weaknesses. 

The two speak often, and a level of trust develops between them, yet Starling remains uneasy, always sensing that Lecter can see right through her. As she will come to learn, Hannibal Lecter can see through damn near everybody! 

In any given moment, Hannibal Lecter is both the most interesting and most frightening character in The Silence of the Lambs. He is as intelligent as he is insane, and we’re never quite sure which extreme is controlling him at any given moment. His sharp skills of observation are used to pick apart his adversaries, probing the dark areas of their mind. He never blinks, and he never looks away; he is a hunter, burrowing into the psyche of all who approach him, always in search of a glance...a movement...a single word that will reveal their innermost fears. 

Look into Hannibal Lecter’s eyes, and The Silence of the Lambs will stay with you forever.

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