Classic Film Review: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

And the Oscar Goes to:

The Silence of the Lambs, 1991

Directed by: Jonathan Demme

Starring: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine

 

The Silence of the Lambs picked up five Oscars at the 64th Academy Awards, but it did something special in doing so: it became only the third film of all time (and the first in this series) to pick up the ‘big five’ accolades at the Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay (the other two films being It Happened One Night and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest).

Based on Thomas Harris’ novel of the same name, The Silence of the Lambs sees Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), an FBI trainee, get given an assignment to interview convicted cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), and hope to gain information on Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), a nickname for a serial killer of women. What follows are a brilliant series of back-and-forth conversations with Hannibal and Clarice as he only reveals what information he knows for either benefits for himself or for personal information on Clarice’s life.

Foster and Lecter play their roles brilliantly, and the on-screen chemistry they have together comes across. Clarice, a young FBI trainee and nervous at the prospect, and Lecter, a doctor who can manipulate people into doing shocking things (a fellow prisoner is convinced to kill himself due to Lecter’s talking). But the film is not centred around their association, as we also have Buffalo Bill kidnapping women (he keeps them alive for three days before dumping them into a body of water with a butterfly/moth inserted into their throat). This added to Lecter’s behaviour as the novel progresses and Clarice’s determination to capture the real Buffalo Bill all blend together brilliantly to fully create a gripping horror film full of suspense and psychological terror.

The director’s decision at times is brilliant: without spoiling anything there is a scene later on where you suspect Buffalo Bill will be caught, but it’s a brilliant trick played out by the director in how it’s filmed. And in the final chase scene between Buffalo Bill and Clarice there is this brilliant moment where the lights are out and Clarice, unaware of Buffalo Bill’s presence, is feeling her way around the basement. We then move to a first-person viewing from Buffalo Bill as he’s using night-vision goggles. This constant switching from darkness to night-vision adds a much stronger layer of creepiness to Buffalo Bill’s character as he comes across as a genuine stalker: slow, patient, stalking. He reaches his hand out a few times and all the while Clarice is non-the-wiser to his presence.

As a film as a whole there really isn’t much wrong with The Silence of the Lambs: maybe, perhaps, its writing could have been a bit clearer, at times, to how they were solving the real identity of Buffalo Bill and his locale, but that’s picking at a small needle. Brilliant acting, a brilliantly put-together plot, a script that brings out the best in the characters’ relationships, and it does so authentically and brilliantly. It’s unusual to see a horror movie win the Oscar for Best Picture (and in a year where Beauty and the Beast became the first animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture), but this one is fully deserving.

 

Plot: * * * * *

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Writing: * * * *

Presentation: * * * *

Overall Rating: * * * * ½

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