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Silence of the Lambs (1991)
"I do wish we could chat longer, but I'm having an old friend for dinner." Dr. Hannibal Lecter
FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), part of FBI's Behavioral Science branch, is sent to interview notorious killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in hopes that he can provide a clue to help find current serial killer Jame Gumb, AKA Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine). "Whatever you do, don't tell Lecter any personal information. You don't want Hannibal Lecter inside your head," cautions supervisor Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn - The Right Stuff). Nevertheless, the interview, by providing clues to the killer's identity and Starling's back story, cleverly ferreted out by the brilliant Lecter, provide grist to fuel the rest of the story, a combination of the detective, horror, and coming of age genres.
As important as Hopkins' star performance as the grisly Dr. Hannibal Lecter is, and he seems omnipresent, despite only occupying part of the running time, it is important to remember that this film is about Clarice Starling, and shows her various trials and tribulations trying to prove herself to the FBI, herself, and stay alive long enough to catch serial killer Buffalo Bill. In this, director Jonathan Demme (Married to the Mob) succeeds admirably, with the help of Jodie Foster, both of whom received Oscars for their fine work, as did Hopkins, the screenwriter, Ted Tally, and the film itself for a total of five 1992 Academy Awards.
Based on the Thomas Harris novel of the same name, Silence follows in time Harris' earlier novel "Red Dragon" which was brought to the screen in 1986 as Manhunter by Michael Mann (Last of the Mohicans, Heat). "Manhunter" involves a hunt for another serial killer by Special Agent Will Graham (William Peterson) who also uses the aid of Dr. Lecter (Brian Cox) in catching his man.
The heart of Silence involves several conversations between Starling and the horrifying but genteel and cultured Hannibal "the cannibal" Lecter, a genius who shows his utter contempt for rude people by eating selected body parts. "I ate his liver with fava beans and a nice chianti, he muses in one of their riveting scenes.
We see the grit beneath Foster's vulnerable surface as she rebuffs the lecherous Dr. Chilton, head of the psychiatric unit where Hopkins is imprisoned. Interviewing Dr. Lecter, she again shows gumption as she shares intimate and embarrassing details without blinking. Why is he called "Buffalo Bill?" the doctor inquires. "They call him that because he likes to skin his humps," is her unabashed reply. After passing her FBI questionnaire to him through the food slot, he contemptuously asks, "Do you think you can dissect me with this blunt little tool?" Lecter then gives her a scathing but eeriely accurate psychological profile of herself, gleaned in the few minutes they've been in contact. After several more humiliating moments, Hannibal tosses her a clue about a former patient of his. "Look inside yourself," he urges. The clue leads to further conversations and discoveries as Hopkins' and Foster's relationship deepens...
Apart from her dealings with the diabolical Hopkins, Foster investigates clues and interacts with her FBI counterparts. Several flashbacks are inserted at key places to indicate her relationship with her long dead father, of which Hopkins and FBI supervisor Crawford (Scott Glenn) are obvious surrogates. Foster participates in an autopsy where an exotic moth cocoon is found in the victim's throat, as well as patches of skin missing from her back...
A visit to a pair of geeky bug scientists reveals that this is a rare insect imported from Asia - a Death's Head moth. An interview with Lecter reveals the moth represents "change," - transformation. With these several clues, Starling is able to get closer to the serial killer, but will she catch him, or end up as just another victim? You'll have to watch the rest of the film, as I want you to see it for yourself!
Silence of the Lambs is a gritty, intense experience, particularly the bravura performances of Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster. The cinematography is dark, in keeping with the dark heart of the various pyschopaths and the criminal investigation. The music is moody and does not detract from the visuals which is an added bonus. The one con I see is the portrayal of Buffalo Bill has some comic elements that unintentionally detract from an otherwise extremely horrifying story, but that is minor.
The MGM Special Edition DVD contains a 1.85:1 theatrical format anamorphic transfer of the 118 minute Silence of the Lambs as well as several extras, including a one-hour feature, "Inside the Labyrinth,' a shorter featurette, deleted scenes, goofs, subtitles, language choices, and an informative 8-page booklet. All in all, it is a great DVD package, considering the paucity of extras of the usual MGM DVD release.
I heartily recommend Silence of the Lambs to your viewing pleasure.
Those interested in the genre might like to also see:
Manhunter, the prequel to Silence of the Lambs
and the wonderful, underappreciated story of another female detective against a serial killer: Copycat
While those who wish to know more about specific serial killers might enjoy
Enjoy a good film tonight. Thanks for viewing!
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