THE 100 GREATEST FILMS OF ALL TIME – 55: THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

by Brek the David


The Silence of the Lambs (1991)  – Director: Jonathan Demme   Adapted Screenplay: Ted Tally  Starring: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn  OSCAR COUNT (5) – Best Picture, Best Director (Demme), Best Leading Actor (Hopkins), Best Leading Actress (Foster), Best Adapted Screenplay (Tally) – One of only three films to have won all big five Oscar awards.

Hannibal Lecter: First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself? What is its nature? What does he do, this man you seek?
Clarice Starling: He kills women…
Hannibal Lecter: No. That is incidental. What is the first and principal thing he does? What needs does he serve by killing?
Clarice Starling: Anger, um, social acceptance, and, huh, sexual frustrations, sir…
Hannibal Lecter: No! He covets. That is his nature. And how do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet? Make an effort to answer now.
Clarice Starling: No. We just…
Hannibal Lecter: No. We begin by coveting what we see every day. Don’t you feel eyes moving over your body, Clarice? And don’t your eyes seek out the things you want?

The Silence of the Lambs is more than just a horror/thriller.  It delves into the dark places of the human psyche.  What’s dug up is disturbing yet fascinating.  On the one hand there is Hannibal, a brilliant genius, yet his genius is horrifically diabolical.  Yet he has his own strange sense of morality, a morality that is utterly alien.  On the other is the bizarre Buffalo Bill, a tormented man whose mind still firmly clutches to the beast within us all, a predator who wears the skins of his prey.  Bill would be better suited as some ancient priest of a long lost culture.  In modern society, he is out of place, terrible to even contemplate, and needs to be brought to justice.  Buffalo Bill’s actions probably sound and look familiar.  That’s because like Norman Bates and Leatherface, he’s partially based on real life monster Ed Gein.

I’m not sure who is creepier Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter or Ted Levine as Buffalo Bill.  One thing is for sure, Jodie Foster was never better as Clarice Starling.  The performances are among the best of all time and both Hopkins and Foster both won Academy Awards.  In fact, The Silence of the Lambs is one of the few films that won Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, and Best Director.  It’s an amazing achievement by everyone involved when a person as wicked as Hannibal Lecter almost gets sympathy and empathy from the audience.  The man is a murderer, a cannibal, a manipulator, but his code of honor with people he deems worthy of it almost…almost now…almost redeems him.  Hopkins puts forth the performance of his lifetime, and there is no question he drives the action of this film.  Every scene with he and Foster is incredible to behold.

While the subject matter is incredibly enthralling and the pace of the film builds tension well, The Silence of the Lambs is flawed.  There are a few shots in which one wonders why they were kept.  Some of the shots look like they were made for an 80s made for TV movie.  They seem so out of place since at other times you get an amazing shot of Starling with Lecter’s reflection in the glass over her shoulder.  Almost all films never have the actors look directly as the camera, but Silence sometimes has parts of the conversations with the actors looking directly into the camera, as if the characters are looking into one another’s eyes.  In possibly any other film this would be laughable, but here it works and fits amazingly well.  The good here by far trumps the few odd poorly shot scenes.  The last few minutes of the film are some of the most tense and chilling ever filmed.  Ultimately though, once again it is the scenes with Lecter and Starling that drive The Silence of the Lambs and catapult into the realm of timeless classic, one of the greatest films ever made.

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2 responses to “THE 100 GREATEST FILMS OF ALL TIME – 55: THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

  1. Great film and also one of my favourite books. As far as all out creepiness goes though I think Tom Noonan’s portrayal of The Tooth Fairy in Manhunter is the most unsettling.

  2. I love this movie. Good pick, Brek. Good review as well.

    I’m not sure what scenes you are talking about that are off in the movie. I’m sure once you tell me it’ll hit me like a brick. Do you care to expand on those scenes you’re talking about? I’m very curious now! :p

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