The Silence Of The Lambs (1991) Directed by Jonathan Demme

I remember my dad telling me about Silence of The Lambs way back when he had just seen it in the movies in the early nineties and I was a kid. I decided that it was pretty much the scariest thing ever, while I wondered how much of the Hannibal Lecter imitation was actually from the film and how much was just my dad...It took me forever to watch the movie myself, but now I have seen it twice. Can you believe me if I tell you that it was actually my idea to watch it again? I can't.

Anthony Hopkins in Silence of The Lambs
Anthony Hopkins is very entertaining in Silence of The Lambs. He is a genius of Shakespearean acting. He holds everything so together it becomes scary to watch him do normal things... The other storyline involving a serial killer is hardly interesting (it just appears too clich├ęd) but Hopkins is perfect. The other great aspect of this ageing film is Jodie Foster. Her seriousness didn't quite carry Contact into greatness, but in Silence of The Lambs she seems real. These two actors make this film a classic. The plot and the way the story is told cinematically appears dated though. Last summer True Detective gave a fresh perspective on how to tell a dark cinematic story (oops, it's actually TV) and against these latest developments Silence... is just a little too stiff and even simple.

Jodie Foster in Silence of The Lambs
For most of my adult life I have tried to avoid watching disturbing movies that deal with the human darkness. Not because I don't want to deal with difficult and scary aspects of human life, but to protect myself from getting overwhelmed. Violence, death and ill will used to always show up in my dreams if I watched anything slightly thrilling. Recently, I have cultivated an appetite for intelligent, thrilling, sexy and sometimes disruptive narratives. Hannibal Lecter is certainly a character I can practice my nerves with. And no, I did not get nightmares. Maybe what I'm trying to say is that I am starting to appreciate films as places in which to deal with the meaning of aggression, anger, hatred and many other emotions with a bad reputation.

Lets ignore the earlier Manhunter (sadly most people have forgotten Michael Mann's first go at a big screen Hannibal Lecter), and get to the nitty gritty of why Silence Of the Lambs still retains that thing that makes it a cut above most thrillers. Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter remains one of the big screens mightiest portrayals of calm evil, an intelligent carnivore of speedy thought and cutting wit. Hopkins steals this film and effortlessly. A nudge and a wink will get you far, but the suspense builds in the Silence Of The Lambs – just waiting for the next moment that Lecter appears on screen (Hopkins probably occupies less than 15 minutes of screen time here).

Clarice Starling rises through the ranks
Demme's movie has other achievements like setting a bar for a new kind of FBI operative in the movies (although the earlier Agent Cooper in Twin Peaks was weirder). Jodie Foster's Clarice Starling possibly gives us feminist intent, although besides being a great detective she still seems to be wanting to please all and sundry 'to get ahead'. Rewatching Silence Of the Lambs in 2015 it does feel that Demme undermines Starling's character throughout the picture, not only in her easy opening to Lecter's mind games but her eagerness to be #1 in the academy of Federal Bureau hopefuls. After all this time it's easier to feel more for Lecter than Foster's fussy and overly diligent Starling. Later on this creates problems with caring about Starling's survival.

Lecter kept under close scrutiny
Silence Of The Lambs still chills with Lecter's presence and Starling's innocent, late rendezvous with the serial killer of the day, Buffalo Bill (an effectively quirky Ted Levine). And what keeps this movie alive after all this time is the weirdness amongst the straights. The FBI are simply not as strange as the people they follow or investigate and Demme reminds us of his indie movie roots. Jonathan Demme pre-Lambs had directed some fine, diverse indie fare including Last Embrace (1979), Melvin & Howard (1980), Stop Making Sense (1984), the breakthrough Something Wild (1986) and the criminally ignored Married To The Mob (1988).  Silence Of the Lambs retains enough of Demme's quirks away from the central roles to keep the movie mostly a timeless surprise. But this operates successfully purely through Hopkins, whose Lecter is one for the ages.


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