The Silence of the Lambs

The Silence of the Lambs

 

 

The Silence of the Lambs

1991.  Directed by Jonathan Demme.  

Using a restrained presentation to deliver a tightly constructed horror film, The Silence of the Lambs is Demme's masterpiece.  Bolstered by outstanding lead performances, terrifying visuals, and  a smart script, The Silence of the Lambs is a juggernaut cinematic experience that imparts a deceptively surface level crime story with an unforgettably creepy veneer. 

A serial killer known as Buffalo Bill is terrorizing the eastern United States.  Rookie FBI agent Clarice Starling is brought in to question the notorious killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter, who may hold the key to catching Bill.  As Starling and Lecter's relationship evolves into a dangerous symbiosis, Bill kidnaps a senator's daughter, setting off a pulse pounding manhunt whose iconic conclusion is a clinic on tension based storytelling.

Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins both won Oscars for their performances.  Foster's Starling presents as a woman in a man's world who uses her tragic life experiences and intelligence to outwit and outclass in the dog eat female environments that pervade Ted Tally's minimalist script.  Her scenes with Hopkins are fantastic, with Foster eclipsing Hopkin's maniac gentleman with poise and resolve.  Her transition in the final sequence is stunning, enacting a euphoric release of her meticulous training and unbridled fury, a violent byproduct of childhood trauma and endless chauvinistic scrutiny.  

Hopkins offsets the film's grounded atmosphere by portraying Lecter as a larger than life monster, brilliantly refined and ruthlessly violent.  His theatrics border on absurd in certain scenes, but Hopkins manages to reign it in before drifting into caricature territory.  Lecter is a psychological myth, a potpourri of mental discord that is dangerously elusive.  Hopkins's chemistry with Foster is both revolting and sincere, a feat that only a master of the craft could pull off and it's this hypocrisy that pulls the basic plot elements into darker territory by simulating a very real Beauty and the Beast dynamic that echoes some of the films more disturbing themes.  

Howard Shore's score has an Alice in Wonderland quality that chronicle's Starling's descent with wonder and terror.  Tak Fujimoto's cinematography echoes Demme's conservative approach with simplistic compositions and muted blues and grays.  This is a sad world populated by lost souls who are preyed upon by the wicked, and every frame is a somber reflection of these truths.  Karen O'Hara's sets create a distinct divide between the two worlds of the film.  In the light, every setting is sterilized and stagnant, while in the dark, the prison and Bill's house are torture chambers devoid of hope, with the killer's lair being a treasure trove of unsettling ideas and unspeakable trophies.  

Available now for digital rental, The Silence of the Lambs is one of three films to win Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress.  When viewing these pieces as a whole, it's easy to see why, as each element is essential.  Demme's command of the the remarkable tools at his disposal is evident throughout.  Featuring two unforgettable performances and one of the most memorable climaxes in film history, if you're looking for a psychological thriller to put into rotation this Halloween season, look no further.  

Highly.  Highly Recommend.  

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