The Silence of the Lambs

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If you are already resigned to witnessing some pretty gruesome stuff, and almost morbid amounts of suspense, then there’s really no reason I can’t recommend The Silence of the Lambs. I’ve generally been pretty terrified of seeing it, and that’s a valid concern. It deals with pretty disgusting stuff, and what the movie doesn’t show is still implied, so it ends up being a pretty horrifying movie. Apart from that, there’s interesting character development and a very engrossing film.

Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is training to be an FBI agent when she is chosen to help out with a high profile case, involving a serial killer dubbed “Buffalo Bill” (Ted Levine) who skins his victims. To help catch him, Agent Crawford (Scott Glenn) instructs Starling to interrogate an already imprisoned serial killer, Dr. Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter. She has her work cut out for her as Lecter starts playing a pretty formidable series of mind games with Clarice, which could not only hold up the hunt for Buffalo Bill but endanger her psychologically.

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The film is very suspenseful not just with the Buffalo Bill half of the story, but the Hannibal Lecter part of the story as well. The atmosphere is very creepy throughout, with Lecter being kept underground in the first part of the film and Bill keeping his victims in a pit in his basement. There’s a lot of sneaking around in basements and long descents underground. The suspense doesn’t just have to do with the plot though, but also the characters. Because Lecter radiates such a brutal intelligence, you don’t necessarily know what he’s manipulating people into doing, but you know it’s going to end badly. There’s a particular scene in his second prison where the guards come to give him dinner that illustrates this perfectly.

This film is very interesting from a feminist angle. Clarice is a very strong central female character with men manipulating her on all sides: Lecter, Crawford, and sort of indirectly Buffalo Bill, who targets women. She is helped out by her friend in the FBI, who is a woman. The woman Bill kidnaps during the film is effectively helpless, but tries her darndest to get out of there alive. There aren’t very many women in the film, but they do most of the work. Crawford makes Clarice do his bidding, Lecter studies her in a strange way, but they both seem to respect her. There’s clearly more to be said about this and the movie definitely merits more analysis on this front.

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The acting in the film is fantastic. Hopkins perfectly captures the animalistic nature of Lecter, being a cannibal and all, while also synthesizing it with the well bred intelligence that the character possesses. He is incredibly terrifying and effective in this role, while having minimal screen time. Foster’s role is more central to the film, but not being such a flashy character doesn’t leave as immediate an impression. However, when you look back on the film her contribution is amazing. She anchors the film and gives a wonderful sense of Starling’s growth throughout, and the difficulties and challenges she goes through.

The Silence of the Lambs was nominated for seven academy awards, and won five of them. It holds the distinction of being the third and last (to date) of winning the four major awards: picture, director, actor, and actress (the previous two to accomplish this are It Happened One Night and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). It also won adapted screenplay, and lost out on sound and editing. The Silence of the Lambs is far and away the best movie I’ve seen from ’91, so I can’t really say it shouldn’t have won best picture.  It’s a great film, not for the faint of heart by any means, but definitely an intriguing film in many ways.

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“Well, Clarice – have the lambs stopped screaming?”

Long story short: 3.5/4

For Further Reading:

FMR “Movie’s That Everyone Should See” review
Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies” review

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12 responses to “The Silence of the Lambs

    • Yup. Luckily I’ve seen enough horror now not to get completely freaked out about this one, but you can bet I watched it in the daytime, and in segments. It’s pretty effective in the horror and suspense department for sure.

    • Thanks! I do think it’s great, though I can understand your point. I think it is considerably elevated by the interactions between Lecter and Starling.

    • Thanks! I like how you can sense her fear or awkwardness in a lot of situations but she is able to overcome it anyway. And I liked how they carried this into other characters in the film, such as the girl who gets kidnapped. I feel like someone definitely had a bit of a feminist agenda going into this one.

  1. Hi, Hunter:

    The Silence of The Lambs is a decent domestic horror story. Leanly adapted for film. Though there were far scarier novels at the time to base a vanity project on. Michael Slades’ Headhunter leaps to mind.

    That said. There are many parts of Lambs that work. Especially Ted Levine’s “Buffalo Bill”. Exceptionally creepy and he knows it! Also Scott Glenn and the “Nerd Squad” at the Smithsonian Museum(s).

    Anthony Hopkins’ Lecter excels in intellectual sociopathy. Though, I still prefer Brian Cox’s brief, slimy smooth take on the character in Michael Mann’s Manhunter .

    • Ah I don’t know, I thought the film was pretty creepy.
      Always happy to see Scott Glenn though! He didn’t have a ton to do here, but he was good.
      Haven’t seen Manhunter, though it was interesting to contrast Hopkins’ performance here and Mikkelsen’s in the TV show Hannibal, which I have seen. I wouldn’t say one was better than the other, but it was interesting to see the character at different points in his life portrayed by different actors.
      I’ll have to check out Manhunter one of these days!

      • Great catch between Hopkins and Mikkelsen! Who is far more seductive and subtly manipulative in a very visual and splendidly executed television series. A different take on Lector, than on The Silence of the Lams and Manhunter . But an intriguing one, to be sure!

        Scott Glenn is a criminally under utilized actor. Been a big fan of his since ‘Urban Cowboy’ and George Romero’s ‘Knight Riders’. Glenn wears his leathery toughness like a badge of honor. Which works well in his “Been there. Done that” favor.

        • It makes a great difference, having him walk free as opposed to imprisoned. He’s more obviously a monster in this film.
          Haven’t seen those; I mainly remember him from The Right Stuff and The Hunt for Red October.

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