#23: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

When and how did I watch this?

April 23rd, 2017, on Amazon.

Had I seen this film already?


What did I know about the movie before watching it?

I vaguely remember its release in my youth, but only familiar to me by pop culture references.  In Living Color did a parallel sketch on it, and Dwight Schrute of The Office makes a referential joke in one scene (though I didn’t draw the connection until thereafter).

What do I know about it now?

Clarice Starling (Foster) is a budding FBI academy trainee who is offered a job doing some homework on a serial killer named “Buffalo Bill”.  Officials believe another incarcerated serial killer Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins) has some information, and Starling is assigned to draw out details. She almost blows it in her naivety, but manages to win him over and begin at the case. Starling begins overstepping her boundaries, to the chagrin of her superiors, and a pushing and pulling occurs within the department to discover evidence and find Buffalo Bill, who has recently abducted a senator’s daughter. But this is merely the backdrop to a psychological undercurrent between Clarice and Hannibal. There is something unbearably tense in their encounters, despite physical barriers between them. Clarice is standing in front of a monster, an intellectual superior who is both genius and primal, and the prison cell seems a lot thinner during their conversations. When they’re face to face, the camera often shows Hannibal’s face filling the screen, “too close”, while Clarice is seen at a distance, “too far away”, reflecting their respective perspectives and desires. This close/far method is used often in the film; one scene in particular has great effect as Clarice stands before several male officers in a funeral home, all towering over her and all undressing her with their eyes, while she hesitates to ask them to leave the room. All along, we’re holding our breath as we’re forced to see their expressions for prolonged periods. The film is notoriously gruesome, but only at moments, and not gratuitously but for maximum effect. The film is stunning and occasionally horrifying, propelled by fantastic performances by Foster and Hopkins.

What are some themes in the film?

Psychopathy, sexism, quid pro quo, pride

Did this affect me personally?

It’s difficult not to be affected by a film like this. The “revelation” of Hannibal in the ambulance, the display of a slain guard, the subsequent elevator scene, and the final extremely tense sequence are all unforgettable scenes in the film. But one moment that stands above all others is tame in nature but indelible: the first revelation of Hannibal in his cell.

Why is this ranked #23?

Silence of the Lambs is a titan of a film, winning the big five Oscars (Picture/Director/Actor/Actress/Screenplay) and setting up Hannibal as the archetype horror character. It has made an impression on pop culture.  There are no films like it.

Did my wife watch/like it?

She avoided this film altogether.

Would I watch it again?

Possibly, but only for further analysis.  It’s a challenging film and probably a few ticks above what I can stomach.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

This is not a film for the weak or sensitive. However, on an objective level, it’s easily one of the best films ever made. If you say you like film, this is a movie that shouldn’t be skipped.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

Yep.  A dramatic, gripping thriller that takes on some difficult subjects and handles them masterfully, Silence of the Lambs is an easy pick for one of the greatest ever made. Hannibal and Clarice are interesting and deep characters played to perfection. Meanwhile, the cinematography almost seems inspired, playing with angles and closeups like a professional musician would handle their instrument, even utilizing night vision effectively.  This is a universally spectacular film.

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