1991 – The Silence of the Lambs

by Alan Rapp on February 16, 2021

in Home Video

  • Title: The Silence of the Lambs
  • IMDb: link

The Silence of the Lambs movie review30 years ago, on Valentine’s Day, The Silence of the Lambs was released in theaters. While not the first of Thomas Harris‘ novels to be written about Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), nor the first to be adapted to film, The Silence of the Lambs stands out from the rest for the odd pairing central to its story. With prequels, sequels, and even television series, Hollywood has searched for a way to recreate the magic of a film that took home Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay while earning a reputation as an instant classic. 30 years later, they’re still looking.

The first thing you notice about watching The Silence of the Lambs is how well it holds up building tension and teasing the audience where the story will lead next. We start with the introduction of a FBI trainee sent to interview the former psychiatrist and currently incarcerated cannibalistic serial killer. The unusual relationship between the pair will provide the heart of the film as Lecter offers to help Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) hunt down a current serial killer, and former patient, Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), as the tabloids have named him, who is killing and skinning young women.

There are numerous choices made by director Jonathan Demme, both large and small, which offer huge payoffs before all is said and done starting with the introduction of Lecter, first through secondhand accounts from his psychiatrist and a prison guard and then finally the reveal of the character himself. What is revealed, and how it is revealed, not just in this scene but throughout the film, proves to be one of The Silence of the Lamb‘s biggest strengths as Demme knows how to build up both Lecter and Bill without the need to revel in their deeds. There’s no flashbacks to explain who and what Lecter is, it’s all in Hopkins’ performance and the reactions of Jodie Foster and others.

With hints and riddles, Lecter agrees to help the FBI find Buffalo Bill (even though at any point he could offer a name), for a change of scenery and for information about Clarice’s past which provides us with the meaning behind the movie’s title (in one of several stand-out scenes between the pair). While the relationship can’t be said to be a friendship, there’s an unusual respect that develops between them (despite each using each other for their individual needs). The film toys with themes of Clarice being thrown to the wolves because of her attractiveness and young age by the callous FBI, but it takes no time at all to realize she’s the right person for the job whether or not her boss (Scott Glenn) carries a torch for her, and why wouldn’t he?

The Silence of the Lambs movie review

In many ways Bill is a secondary character, and one of the film’s largest criticisms comes from the LGBT community for its portrayal of Buffalo Bill as transgender (despite the film’s dialogue explicitly stating that Bill was not really transsexual, only deeply disturbed). Other criticism comes from the film’s violence and gore, which is well-tempered by Demme, often focusing on character’s reactions more than the violent acts themselves. The choice is never more evident that in Clarice’s introduction to the asylum where Dr. Chilton (Anthony Heald) warns her of the man she’s about to meet by showing her a picture of what he did to the last woman he saw. The picture is only shown to Clarice, not the audience, and Foster’s reaction to Chilton’s chilling tone is all we need to see. The Silence of the Lambs is full of characters disturbed by a world in which Buffalo Bill and Hannibal Lecter thrive.

The film’s settings, from the bug room to the pit in which Bill keeps his latest victim, to the storage facility where Starling finds her first big clue, and so many more, all feel lived-in and real. Never once do the characters seem to be walking around a set which is amazing given the sheer number of set pieces the film uses. The same can be said for the performances. Although Foster and Hopkins get the bulk of the credit here, there are no loose links. Levine is terrifically creepy, with a sudden bursts of violence, that hits all the right notes and the supporting characters from prison guards to FBI agents all do their jobs in keeping the tightly-woven tapestry from ever fraying. Even the bug nerds (Dan Butler and Paul Lazar) are perfect here. 30 years later, The Silence of the Lambs remains as creepy, as entertaining, and as memorable as it ever was.

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