The Silence Of The Lambs

Year: 1991
Director: Jonathan Demme
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster 
Written by Nick Deal

I will soon be undergoing a house move, which means there has been ample opportunity for me to have a root around in my DVD collection whilst packing stuff into various boxes. I saw the iconic DVD case for ‘The Silence Of The Lambs’ and I thought a reunion with Hannibal Lecter was long overdue. It had been a few years since I’d seen the film and I had always remembered that the film creeped me out significantly when I had originally seen it. I thought that with age now on my side that a re-visit would leave me slightly less disturbed, but this harrowing and unsettling film left me with the same impression severals years on.

The film’s plot revolves around the tracking down of a serial killer who is named by the media as Buffalo Bill. Struggling for leads and ideas, the FBI turn to a group of imprisoned, deranged psychopaths to fill out questionnaires to try and get into the mind of a serial killer. Their main point of information, ex-psychiatrist turned cannibal Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) decides that he is going to be non-compliant in their investigation. As a last resort, the FBI turn to rookie agent, Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) to try and get information out of Lecter to help them locate the whereabouts of Buffalo Bill. Whereas the investigators think they are making ground with the help of Lecter’s information, he is simply stringing them along in his sickly game with the hope of securing his own escape from imprisonment.

There isn’t a lot to talk about in this film in terms of special effects or anything aesthetically pleasing or revolutionary. This films relies solely on its actors and performances to achieve the level of success with fans and critics alike that it so deserved, with both lead roles taking home Oscars. It’s success lives through the performances of three individuals in particular. Firstly, Anthony Hopkins as our flesh-eating psychopathic killer. As far as I am aware, he still holds the record for winning a Best Actor Oscar with the least amount of screen time; and what  a performance it is. He is cold and completely devoid of human characteristics; from his devilish appearance through to his monotonous and chilling voice. He has all the makings of a super villain. Not only is he powerful and callous, but he also has a brain – something that a lot of villains seem to lack in various films. Hopkins adopts the role so well that it becomes believable that we are face to face with a serial killer – I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing though?

Secondly, is the performance of the brilliant Jodie Foster as Agent Calrice Starling. She is a motivated woman, focused on her self-progression through the ranks of the FBI. She does however have a visibly soft and delicate side to her and of course this is something that Lecter sees and uses to his own advantage. Foster perfectly achieves the balance of extremely driven obsessiveness against fragility. She is the film’s hero, but that heroism comes at a significant personal cost. The third and final performance that is worthy of note is that of Ted Levine as Buffalo Bill. I think his performance gets forgotten about, purely because it is alongside Hopkins’ portrayal of Lecter. Levine’s villain requires a different set of characteristics, but he delivers them with the same aptitude as Hopkins does. Whilst Lecter is in control of his actions, there appears to be a bit of a haphazard, impulsive nature to Buffalo Bill’s actions. As much as I appreciate and marvel at Hopkins’ performance (don’t get me wrong, he is incredible), I am still of the belief that Levine was and continues to be undeservingly ignored in his portrayal of the deranged serial killer. 

I’ve now watched this film a couple of times, and it still gives me the chills. The way that Lecter is portrayed, combined with his surroundings, make him one of film’s great villains (so great that they went on to make another three films and a TV series out of him). The claustrophobic and stark corridors of the maximum security mental institution perfectly support his cold and emotionless character. Brilliantly put together as a film, we think we witness certain things that are happening before our very eye, but it is not until they are later explained that we realise that what actually happened is something completely different. Not a film to put on with your other half for a quiet Friday night in, but a brilliant film that I urge you to make time in your busy schedules for.