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The Silence of the Lambs

November 29, 2010

837. The Silence of the Lambs
Directed by Jonathan Demme
USA, 1991
IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Rachel
First viewing

Synopsis:

Serial killer Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) has been kidnapping, killing and skinning women for his own sadistic pleasures. His latest kidnap victim is the daughter of a Senator. The FBI send young agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) to talk to ex-psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in an attempt to understand Buffalo Bill’s mindset and personality. Clarice’s meetings with Lecter start to resemble psychiatric sessions as he insists on Clarice sharing her personal stories in exchange for his information and professional opinions on Buffalo Bill.

Essential Scene:

At the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, Clarice prepares to go down a short corridor containing a handful of prison cells. Her destination is a chair at the end of the corridor, which is in front of Hannibal Lecter’s cell. Lecter hasn’t yet been introduced but he is already infamous to us:

Insane. Monster.

Clarice stays to the right, steering clear of the cells. Each prisoner is more sinister than the last. One smiles. One glares. The prisoner in the cell next to Lecter’s jumps around like an animal and whispers breathlessly:

“I can smell your c*nt!”

How bad must Lecter be if this disgusting man’s cell has the lesser security?

The camera and Clarice turn to face Lecter’s cell. Rather than bars, Lecter is behind a big pane of glass with small air-holes neatly dotted at the top and bottom.

Lecter is standing in the middle of his cell. Perfect posture. Open and friendly face. Slicked back hair.

Dr. Lecter: Good morning.

Thoughts:

Recently I reviewed The Night of the Hunter, in which Reverend Harry Powell got away with murder on several occasions because nobody would suspect a kindly priest. Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter’s ability to appear genteel, intelligent and calm is similarly sinister. Terrifying adjectives are used to describe Lecter, and his insane persona is built up so dramatically that it is a confusing shock when we see a well-groomed mature gentleman.

The power of Lecter is that, despite the extreme measures the prison has taken to keep him under wraps, he is still powerfully manipulative. The impression is that he could easily convince someone to let him out. His own expert knowledge of the human mind meant that he could not only kill, but he could work out his victim’s deepest fears and neuroses. Despite his calmness, he could do more damage than each of the raving lunatics with whom he shares a prison wing.

It was a wise choice, however, to make Lecter the secondary serial killer. It was not him the police were after, which allowed the writers to bring out his character in one-to-one sessions with FBI agent Clarice Starling. It was also wise because it allowed the film to showcase another type of psychopath in Buffalo Bill. Psychopaths do indeed come in all shapes, sizes and guises.

Anyone could be a psychopath. Even one who reviews 1,001 films… [she grinned]

(That’s a joke, don’t take me to court!)

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