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The Silence of The Lambs: Film Critique
Midari Marrero
ENG 225 Intro to Film
Instructor: Julie Pal-Agrawal
June 25, 2012

It is uncommon in our day to find horror movies that can compare to the critically acclaimed film of Jonathan Demme's 1991 The Silence of the Lambs, starring Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the infamous and psychotic cannibal psychiatrist. This movie, along with Alfred Hitchock's Psycho (1960), is one of limited horror/suspense films recognized by movie critics as one of the greatest American films ever made. Critics had much to say about the “commercialization” of one of the most horrifyingly amazing characters in the history of American theatre, but even more interesting is the change that is specified through the character's approval in mainstream culture. Hannibal Lecter is a different type of monstrous cannibal than those formerly seen in horror films, as shown through his criminal activities, and has been acknowledged by its viewers as an “anti-hero” as opposed to the adversary or antagonist of the movie. The story line behind this movie captured the audience to want to watch this disgusting anti-human film, which included cannibalism. Everyone that was involved in the creation of this film from the film director, cinematographer, art editors, sound directors, the costumes the staging everyone had to be in that same dark place in order to make this a captivating need to watch film. In the following pages I would like to describe scenes of the film and by using specific traits of each character describe why this film received Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay in 1991.
The Silence of the Lambs begins by introducing the audience to FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), one very intelligent student who has just been chosen by Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn), the head of the FBI’s Behavorial Science Unit, to aid in the in the capture of a vicious serial killer called Buffalo Bill, who skins his victims after he murders them. Crawford instructs Clarice to approach the infamous Dr. Hannibal Lecter, or “Hannibal the Cannibal” as he is well known, and persuade Lecter to provide a profile of Buffalo Bill. Since Clarice is a woman, Crawford believes that Lecter will be willing to open up to her and he is correct. The inquisitive doctor propositions Clarice for a quid pro quo deal. He will share information about Buffalo Bill, but for every piece of information he provides she must provide the doctor with one detail about her past. Lecter anticipates that by helping Clarice get closer to Buffalo Bill, he is also making his way into her psyche. Surprisingly enough, however, Clarice may be doing the same to him. (Berardinelli J., 2000) This film does not revolve so much around the serial killer himself, it focuses mainly on the female cop in training that is assigned to find out more about a serial killer at large by an ex cannibal/Doctor who is now in prison. He is the police only hope in trying to find the killer before he claims his next captive.
The character played by Jodie Foster is not in any way as high-profile as Anthony Hopkins’ work, but the movie could not have been viewed the same without her performance. In her quiet manner, Foster owns her character Clarice and creates of Clarice a human anchor, allowing the audience to travel into the grotesque world and the insane mind of Hannibal Lecter. Clarice represents a woman trying to make it in a man’s world, she is traumatized by memories of the loving father she lost while very young and she is intrigued by the twisted knowledge of Lecter. There is no doubt that the most memorable scenes in the movie are those in which Clarice and Lecter are paired together, the sound is vaguely heard and the intensity of each shot is able to catch all expressions shared between the two characters. One instance is where Clarice’s expression on her face begins to crumble almost immediately when Lecter emotionlessly picks apart every detail of her life. In my opinion, Foster deserves much more credit than given for the success of this film. The combination of her personality and Hopkins experience made the film mesh as well as it did.
The film made the star of the movie Lecter but gave much less attention to the actual murderer that was the point of capture, Buffalo Bill. He is not much of an original murder and because the movie does not go into detail about this characters pathological demented personality, he almost seems to look like an amateur when compared to Lecter. This film was quite unique when compared to prior films as we see that the personality of Ed Gein is split in two different characters. One is the well-known cannibalistic prisoner, Hannibal Lecter and the other the mad man on the loose, Buffalo Bill.
The director of this film, Jonathan Demme, is helped immeasurably by the work of the cinematographer Tak Fujimoto, the production designer Kristi Zea and the editor Craig Mckay. (IMDB, 2000) The Silence of the Lambs is a well crafter film in which every scene looks good, creates suspense, and does not drag on forever. Many lengthy horror films and thrillers have what is called dead patches, but that is one not the case for this film. Demme did not settle for the easily scare effect by using fake scares, he used what he calls “deceptive cutting” to enhance the tension. There are also little bits that hint at bigger scares, for example when Clarice pricks her nail while sliding under the almost closed door to the garage/storage where she finds Buffalo Bill’s first victim.
The acting in this film was brilliant! There is a reason this film took so many awards the acting in each scene was impeccable. The writing was put together with some incredible actors who were able to involve the audience into each scene. Together, Anthony Hopkins and Jodi Foster created a relationship, an eerie bond that intrigued the audience and made the viewer’s hungry for more. Each scene was well lit, well-rehearsed and well-acted; every prop correctly placed in order to create the eerie, creepy atmosphere that was needed throughout this film.
One of the creepiest scenes in the movie is the scene where Clarice is slowly moving through a dark area that is populated by mannequins. The use of sound here definitely gives more thrill to this scene, as shown in the original cut, the rats running across the piano keyboard create a creepy little song. Another unforgettable moment is Clarice’s descent into the pits where she first meets Lecter. When she arrived at the lowest level, the reddish glow of Dante’s hell surrounded her. In this cut Demme uses a point-of-view shot as she makes her way down the long hall to Lecter’s cell, putting the audience in her position and point of view. The director also makes use of effective editing and reflections to put emphasis on the relationship that Clarice and Lecter shared. There is another instance where the camera puts focus on Clarice while Lecter’s face appears to hang, ghostly, in the air alongside her. Another, Clarice tells the story of the lambs; here Demme shifts back and forth between close-ups of Clarice’s strenuous appearance and Lecter’s impatient one. This scene creates the strongest ties between the two. Lecter now realizes that Clarice needs to save an innocent lamb, or Buffalo Bill’s latest victim, to redeem herself, and he provides her with the information that will let her to do just that.
Another brilliant aspect is the conversations that went on between Hannibal and Clarice. Each time that Hannibal went into the brain of Clarice and was able to pick at her so much so that it created the sense of familiarity between the two. From the day the two meet, it is almost like he’s known her for a while like she is an old friend from the past and they have just reunited. The segments of between these two characters are what make this such a well-crafted psychological thriller.

The scenes with “Buffalo Bill” are the more twisted and horrifying part of the film. Buffalo Bill is seen creating his flesh fashion dresses and cross-dressing as a woman as he torments his female victim by making her submit to all of his demands. His cross-dressing and dancing in front of the mirror are also graphically displayed. The director wants us to see what this serial killer is about and why he is so grotesquely amusing to watch and want to catch.
That isn’t the only grotesque scene shown in this film, the graphic realism of the autopsies shown are incredible. From the missing flesh, to the dissected little surprises lodged in the victim’s throats, everything is displayed with no details missing. This film is probably one of my favorite movies of all time because these film makers actually did their homework and created a psychotic thriller that can be matched.
Since this film was originally a book, Demme wanted to be true to Thomas Harris’ text and worked closely to his screenwriter Ted Tally to keep the true identity of the book present in the film. Although there weren’t any crazy stunts, the traditional bad guy good guy chase and no sexual content or nudity the movie still embraced great suspense like no other film. This is credited to everyone involved in production beginning with Demme to Foster to Hopkins to all actors and technical staff. It was a written story brought to life!
In conclusion we can see how Hannibal Lecter was not the adversary per se in this film, as the main “villain” of the film was Buffalo Bill, but a lot was learned about the cannibalistic psychological prisoner that he was. Thomas Harris was so intrigued by the characters, Hannibal Lecter and Clarice that he wrote the sequel, Hannibal, which soared into the top spot on the best seller lists countrywide as soon as it was released. (Berrardinelli, J. 2000) There is no doubt that the filmmakers, actors, directors and cinematographers did an incredible job at putting this film together and creating such an amazing psychotic thriller for its audience.
Even though the movie was not about a gory monster that had fangs and killed everyone by slashing their throats, it was a movie that dug into your psyche and that inner darkness that lingers in all of us. I would definitely recommend this film to all who like dark psychological thrillers, there is no romance, no comedy but the thrill is a ride you won’t be able to resist.

REFERENCES

Berardinelli, J. (2000) Silence of the Lambs Film Review, Reel Views, Retrieved June 12, 2012 from: http://www.reelviews.net/movies/silenceofthelambs.html

Goodykoontz, B., & Jacobs, C. P. (2011). Film: From Watching to Seeing. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc. https://content.ashford.edu

Phillips, K. R. (1998). Rhetoric Society Quarterly, Unmasking Buffalo Bill: Interpretive Controversy and “The Silence of the Lambs” Vol. 28, No. 3 pp. 33-47, Published by: Taylor & Francis, LTD. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3886379

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