The Silence of the Lambs (1991): American Film-Maker Jonathan Demme's Case Study on Human Psychology

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Murtaza Ali

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The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)  - By Jonathan Demme
Our Rating: 8.5
IMDb Ratings8.7
Genre: Thriller
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster, Scott Glenn
Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 118 min
ColorColor (Eastmancolor)



The Silence of the Lambs is a 1991 Oscar-winning Suspense film directed by American movie-maker Jonathan Demme. An adaptation of the 1988 novel—second in the Hannibal Lecter Series—of the same name by American author and screenwriter Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs is one of only three films—the others being It Happened One Night and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—to win top five Oscars: Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Picture and Best Screenplay (Adapted). The Silence of the Lambs features Harris’ most famous creation, Dr. Hannibal Lecter—a genius psychiatrist, sophisticated gentleman and cannibalistic killer, and arguably the most complex caricature ever depicted on the celluloid. Demme’s adaptation is mostly true to the novel with many parts from the novel’s plot being directly incorporated into the movie. Primarily a psychological thriller that blends well the elements of crime, horror and suspense, The Silence of the Lambs can also be looked upon, from the literary point of view, as an improvisation on the epic theme of ‘Beauty and Beast’.

Anthony Hopkins, Hannibal Lecter, wearing the famous Lecter mask
Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter
The story of The Silence of Lambs picks up few years after the events of Red Dragon—the first novel in the Hannibal Lecter series—and pits Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) against a young FBI trainee, Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster). Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lector holds the key to solving the mystery surrounding serial killings involving a psychotic killer named “Buffalo Bill” (Ted Levine) who’s known to skin his victims, specifically female ones. Senior FBI Agent Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn), who had earlier collaborated with Will Graham to nail Lecter, entrusts Clarice Starling with the responsibility of convincing Lecter, who before being exposed used to be a revered psychiatrist, to help FBI track the serial killer. Crawford believes that Lecter, who had been a consulting psychiatrist to many a psychopathic criminal, is ought to have a deep understanding of Buffalo Bill’s psyche. Starling pays a visit to Dr. Lector—who is serving nine consecutive life sentences for a series of cannibalistic murders—at Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane where he is kept under the pesky supervision of Dr. Frederick Chilton (Anthony Heald).

Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs
Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs
Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs
Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs
The sequence that follows—between Lecter and Starling—is undoubtedly one of the most powerful scenes ever filmed in the history of American Cinema, especially in terms of intensity, delivery and exchange of dialogue. From the very moment Lecter sees Starling, he starts to develop a special interest in her. Gifted with an uncanny ability to get inside the mind of his patients/victims, Lecter seems desperate to detect a weakness in Starling which the diabolical psychiatrist in him could use to his advantage. Lecter tries intimidating Starling (in a subtle yet characteristic manner) by demonstrating to her his superior intellect and olfactory sense. Initially appearing to be quite polite and courteous, Lecter suddenly grows impatient and hostile as Starling asks him to fill a questionnaire seeking an insight into Buffalo Bill’s modus operandi. 
 
Ted Levine as "Buffalo Bill" in The Silence of the Lambs
Ted Levine as "Buffalo Bill" in The Silence of the Lambs
The Silence of the Lambs, hannibal lecter prison escape scene
A Still from the Famous Prison Escape Sequence
On her way out, after being dismissed by Lecter, she encounters a demented prisoner, Miggs who splashes her face with his semen. Lecter, who considers the shameful act abysmally ugly, calls Starling back and gives her a lead to help pursue Buffalo Bill. What ensues is a game of cat and mouse involving Lector, Starling and the authorities who are in hot pursuit of Buffalo Bill. The Silence of the Lambs, with its intricate plot and highly complex characters, acquaints the viewer with new depths of cinema while simultaneously serving to be a case study in Human Psychology. The Silence of the Lambs serves to be a repository of some of the most original, powerful scenes—most of which are endlessly imitatedever depicted in cinema: be it the remarkable prison escape sequence featuring Lecter, the chilling finale featuring Starling and Buffalo Bill, or the gripping scene that brings Lecter—immobilized by a face restraint mask—face to face with Senator Ruth Martin whose daughter is kidnapped by Buffalo Bill. The Silence of the Lambs is a profound character-study that vividly demonstrates the true power of cinema. Anthony Hopkins, in his highly acclaimed portrayal of Hannibal Lecter, almost single-handedly immortalized Lecter and in the process also elevated himself to a position of unqualified envy and ubiquitous acclaim. In fact, one is either likely to suffer from inarticulacy or verbosity while describing Anthony Hopkins portrayal of Dr. Lecter. 
 
Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter, anthony hopkins, steely gaze, behind the bars
Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lecter
The Silence of the Lambs, Anthony Heald as Dr. Fredrick Chilton, with Hannibal Lecter
Anthony Heald (Left) as Dr. Fredrick Chilton
Lecter's trademark, his wide-open glacial eyes, not only makes him deviously equanimous, but also egregiously peculiar. The fast, slurping-type sound ad-libbed by Hopkins (that Lecter does) is as fascinating as it is chilling (something that even annoyed Director Jonathan Demme initially), and Lecter's infamous "Good evening, Clarice", is as enthralling as it is vicious. It’s also worth mentioning that Anthony Hopkins's performance is the shortest ever to win an Oscar in the leading category. Hopkins as Lecter is incontrovertibly and incredibly at the top of his game and it is his brilliance that gets the best out of the other actors, especially Jodie Foster. Hopkins ad-libs the lines in which Lecter mocks Starling's southern accent, thereby eliciting a reaction of horror (on Starling's face) that's  totally genuine; Foster felt personally threatened by Hopkins' cheeky improvisation, however she later acknowledged her mistake and thanked Hopkins for itIt won't be a hyperbole to say that Anthony Hopkins's portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs and more so in its sequel, Ridley Scott's Hannibal (2001) (which is my favorite of the series as the story completely revolves around Lecter, thereby giving him more exposure) is one of the best that the American Cinema has ever seen or offered. 
 
Jodie Foster as clarice starling, Anthony Hopkins as hannibal lecter in The Silence of the Lambs
Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs
Overall, The Silence of the Lambs serves to be an unforgettable cinematic experience that's simply not meant for the faint-hearted. In spite of having some of the most gruesomely disturbing and viciously graphic sequences, The Silence of the Lambs remains one of the most decorated and enthralling movies of all time, one that undoubtedly redefined the term: Psychological Thriller. A must watch for the cineastes worldwide. 



Note: This post is a part of Oscar Blogathon being conducted at Outspoken & Freckled. The Silence of the Lambs swept the 1992 Oscars, becoming only the third movie—the previous two being It Happened One Night (1934) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)—to win in all the top 5 categories i.e. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screen play, Best Actor, and Best Actress.

P.S. The review of Ridley Scott's Hannibal (2001) can be read here 

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your feedback is highly appreciated!  

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18 comments:

  1. its truely baap f ol thrillers...nyc review indeed

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    1. Without a shadow of a doubt... Thanks a ton, mate!!!

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  2. Nice Review!!! One of the all time best character-studies... Hopkins as Lecter is sublime but unfortunately we get to see him only in a handful of scenes and that's precisely why I share your liking for Hannibal, where Lecter is present in almost every scene. However, in my personal opinion, both the movies are equally brilliant.

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    1. Thanks a lot for sharing your valuable thoughts! I completely agree with your opinion about the two movies. The only complaint that I have about Hannibal is that it's not completely true to the movie, especially with regard to is ending.

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  3. It is one of the best film I have ever seen, So wickedly bewildering! Especially the closing sequence was beautiful "I am having and old friend for dinner" charming.

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    Replies
    1. Indeed!!! Brutal, Bewildering and Brilliant: The three words that repeatedly come to my mind when I think of The Silence of The Lambs! Thanks a lot, Rupert for sharing your precious thoughts :-P

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  4. Hopkins is the best...
    Nice review. :)

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    Replies
    1. Indeed... he is in a league of his own! Thanks a ton, Vinay!!!

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  5. review is super. i am very eager to see a movie....thanks a lot

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  6. Thanks Muni for those kind words. I am glad that you are eager to watch the movie and hope that you would share your experience once you are done with it.

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  7. Excellent review! I'm reviewing this movie for my Book Vs. Film series.
    http://randomfilmbuff.com/category/book-vs-film/
    Anything I should prepare myself for? :)

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  8. It's a lovely blog that you have. I have already become a great fan. I just can't wait for your latest issue of Book Vs. Film!!!

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  9. I've never seen this film - have been too afraid! (I am a big chicken.) But, after reading your review, I've changed my mind. Hopkins and Foster are fantastic actors and not to see them practicing their craft together on screen would be a shame.

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  10. Bravo! For both the film and your accolades celebrating it. I agree wholeheartedly. An unforgettable film and theater experience as I have never been put in a position to replicate the feelings of chilled doom I felt as I watched Clarice in the dark with Bill at her heel with the night vision glasses. And of course, all the scenes of Hannibal that you mention.

    Great addition to the blogathon!

    Aurora

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  11. Thanks!!! I am glad you changed your mind... the movie is a must watch for any cinephile. Also, you should try out its sequel, Hannibal, which is even more daring as a movie... something that makes it a touch more challenging to watch!!! :-)

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  12. Thanks... I am flattered!!! It's been a real pleasure getting associated with the Blogathon.

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  13. Thanks!!! I am glad you changed your mind... the movie is a must watch for any cinephile. Also, you should try out it's sequel, Hannibal, which is even more daring as a movie... something that makes it quite challenging to watch!!! :-)

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