The Silence of the Lambs (1991) Directed by Jonathan Demme. With Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn and Ted Levine.
Film and television are often guilty of tonally sanitising subject matter dealing with murder. Think of TV shows like Castle or CSI. The emphasis of those shows is seldom to explore the psyche of the murderer. More often, they are disposable 50-piece jigsaw puzzles, with plenty of comic relief to water down the darker aspects of what murder entails. Tonally, they are often glossy-looking, easy to digest, murder-of-the-week exercises in tedium, bookended by bits of vague character development. Then you have films like The Silence of the Lambs.
Decorated winner of ‘the big five’ Academy Awards in 1992, Jonathan Demme’s adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel is a brutal, yet hauntingly unsettling experience that draws you in close and stays with you forever. It has become iconic for Anthony Hopkins’ stunning portrayal of Hannibal ‘The Cannibal’ Lecter, yet it also features another Oscar winning performance from Jodie Foster, as Clarice Starling, a young FBI recruit given the dubious responsibility of interviewing the incarcerated Lecter, with the view to getting his help on a recent murder case.
With Howard Shore’s ominous musical score building threateningly in the background, this is as much a horror film as anything else, though you never get the feeling that it’s reaching to put itself in that category. A film about murder and murderers should unsettle us, but Demme’s film is constructed in such a way that it is also thoroughly captivating and engrossing. Almost to the extent that you can’t look away, even if you want to.
Much of this is due to the relationship between Lecter and Starling. The meetings between the pair are beautifully written, staged and acted. They are undeniably the stand-out scenes of the entire film, yet that is not to take away from the deeply worrying character of Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) whose own performance as an unhinged psychopath adds layer upon layer of darkness.
There isn’t an easy way in or out of The Silence of the Lambs. Some of Hopkins’ sparring with Clarice offers a few moments of wry humour, but for the most part, the intensity vastly outweighs any brief moments of levity. 5/5