OBPC #64: The Silence of the Lambs, 1991

Rating:  3 stars (out of 4)

The Silence of the Lambs (1991): Dir. Jonathan Demme.  Written by: Ted Tally.  Based upon the novel of the same name by Thomas Harris.  Starring: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Ted Levine, Scott Glenn, and Anthony Heald.  Rated R for strong bloody violence, nudity, and language.  Running time: 118 minutes.

silenceToday, it’s unthinkable for an Oscar contender to be released in February of all months.  Yet somehow the unsettling psycho-thriller from Jonathan Demme managed to stay in voters’ minds, not the least because of Anthony Hopkins’s now iconic performance.

Following FBI candidate Clarice Starling, Lambs investigates a series of grisly deaths by a killer nicknamed “Buffalo Bill.”   Figuring it takes one to know one, Starling’s superior officer suggests she interrogate notorious serial killer (and cannibal) Hannibal Lecter.  Lecter has valuable information to be sure, but the price for that information may lie in Starling’s haunted past.

The film has all the verve and suspense of a well-written pulp novel. Demme does Hitchcock proud with the tension he develops in scene after scene, whether it be two people talking or a full-on duel to the death.  And he’s aided by an impressive cast; Foster pulls a tricky balancing act between courage and fear, resourcefulness and naiveté.  Hopkins shows remarkable control as the methodical Lecter, while Ted Levine as “Buffalo Bill” discovers the fragile interior of a pathological murderer.

Adding weight to the proceedings is the constant reiteration that Agent Starling is an abnormality—a woman in the male-dominated Bureau.  The script draws attention to her interactions with male characters (especially in her mental sparring matches with Lecter), and Demme makes effective use of close-ups to simulate the pair’s mutual claustrophobia.  Though I do wonder if Demme go over-the-top in his portrayal of Starling’s world—he wants to provoke with the primal nature of the material, but the results don’t so much disturb as merely shock.

Embedded in their somewhere is some psychological commentary, but I’m not sure the film probes deep enough to satisfy as a character study.  But as a pure adrenaline ride with a hint of psychological horror, Lambs still delivers thrills and crap-your-pants moments a-plenty.

Next film: Unforgiven, 1992

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