Jonathan Demme's 'The Silence of the Lambs' (1991)

With the Hopkins-as-Lecter triumvirate of films, I did not make my usual efforts to see the films in their correct order. I saw Hannibal and Red Dragon on TNT before I watched The Silence of the Lambs. I’m not certain why I watched the sequels — I never thought that I would have the gumption to watch one of the crime thrillers based on Thomas Harris’ novels, let alone three of them. The original film of the series is lauded by the critics as the greatest and I agree. While I found the sequels hypnotic and engaging, the 1991 film is even more so.

The film’s assets:

  1. Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins delivers his most effective and most chilling portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in this film. In Clarice’s tension-filled walk down the cell block, she passes several creepy convicts, which culminate in the very obviously insane Miggs who handles the bars of his cell in an almost simian manner and hisses at Clarice that he “can smell [her] cunt.” (I hear “guts” when I watch the film, but I’ll trust Jodie Foster.) But none of them manage to be as terrifying as Lecter, who is merely standing in his cell. By his posture and carriage, Hopkins manages to convey Lecter’s refinement, insanity, confidence, and a million other intricacies of Lecter’s character. Speaking of refinement, I was disappointed that a man supposedly as refined as Lecter pronounced “Chianti” as “key-ann-tee” instead of “key-awn-tee.” I think the latter sounds more educated.
  2. Jonathan Demme. Of the three directors, Demme seems most adept at handling the tone of the film, given the subject matter. Demme demonstrates his obvious trust in his actors by using long, uninterrupted close-ups. Given the psychological nature of this film, these sustained shots allow the audience increased contact with the characters so that the audience may enter their psyches. And the direction of the night vision goggles scene is absolutely brilliant.

Jodie Foster’s performance was highly lauded by critics and she won an Academy Award. While I wouldn’t call her performance embarrassing, I did not find it as impressive as I expected. I’ve seen her deliver better performances in films like Nell and even A Very Long Engagement. Even though she was dealing with a less meaty script, I found Julianne Moore’s performance as Clarice Starling in Hannibal more compelling.

As with the other Lecter films, the villain of the film seemed underdeveloped. I realize that Lecter should be the most compelling criminal in the film, but I wish that Buffalo Bill had received a little more attention.

I’m so happy that I finally saw this film. Not only was it a cinematic treat, but now I understand some cultural references that I previously did not, like the Buffalo Bill section of and Stewie’s comment of “It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again” before he is lowered into a well in an episode of Family Guy.