Based on the disturbing psychological thriller novel originally written by Thomas Harris, Jonathan Demme’s film adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs is by far one of the most unique, yet horrifying stories I have ever come across. This film follows the efforts of FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) as she attempts to track down a serial killer known as “Buffalo Bill,” whose tactics are particularly grisly. However, in order to truly gain insight into the mind of this psychopath, Starling must form a reluctant alliance with another serial killer, Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), who is in the FBI’s custody. An incredibly gifted psychiatrist, Lecter is the FBI’s best shot at capturing Buffalo Bill. Yet, there is a singular question that drives the story forward: Can Hannibal be trusted, or is this just a manipulative scheme?
As the story progresses, the character development of Starling and Lecter respectively is outstanding. Starling is a relatively young female surrounded by older, “stronger” men, but she displays her capability in her profession as she is tested physically, mentally, and emotionally (Man vs. Man, Man vs. Society, Man vs. Self, and Man vs. Unknown character conflicts). Many of her male co-workers and superiors don’t believe her to be fit for the duty she is called upon, but Jack Crawford, Starling’s boss in the FBI Behavioral Sciences Division, has more faith in her than most others. Crawford asks Starling to go interview and observe Lecter in his cell, with the possibility of gaining clues into Buffalo Bill’s psychology. This particular scene gets the ball rolling on the primary focus of the film’s story, becoming the inciting incident. Throughout the trials and tribulations that Starling encounters during her journey, she is molded and strengthened into a well-rounded character, with weaknesses that make her more relatable to the viewer. She is in training to become a specialist in behavior sciences, so one might expect her to be completely stoic and unphased by the ghastly situations she confronts. Yet, this is far from the case. She is empathetic and visibly shaken on quite a few occasions, but continues to do her job. She is bent, stretched, and expanded, but she never breaks. Clarice Starling is remarkably represented as a strong female lead, with incredible depth that goes beyond the detached, unemotional character that we might expect in a film like this. She is a true modern hero, struggling through a multitude of obstacles and hardships that she did not expect to find so quickly.
In looking at the character of Hannibal Lecter, his development is equally as notable as Clarice Starling. From the very first scene as Starling interviews him, the audience gets an idea of his intense creepy, eerie nature. Lecter appears to have “good manners,” but then he says something vulgar and disgusting. This stark contrast perfectly portrays what one would expect from a serial killer as brilliant as this man. Lecter is a borderline genius in psychology, but he is also mentally disturbed. Under a set of conditions, he agrees to help Starling and the FBI with the investigation of Buffalo Bill, but time is of the essence as a high-profile victim is believed to be held captive by Bill. Although Lecter is clearly deranged and psychotic, it seems that he is going to follow through with his promise to aid in Bill’s capture. Yet, as the film continues, the true nature of Lecter is revealed. He is undoubtedly a monster, but one with a de facto set of rules and morals. He is always going to take the selfish route, but he establishes a great respect and admiration for Clarice Starling. Personally, I would have to say that Hannibal Lecter is one of the most fascinating characters in cinematic history, falling into the category of anti-hero. He is charismatic and intriguing, with the audience almost rooting for him in certain cases, despite the atrocities he commits.
After examining the story details and characters, it is also crucial to note the technical aspects of this film. The main elements that stood out to me were the effective uses of music, ambient sounds, and camera angles. The music created palpable emotion and suspense during tense scenes, with recurring themes that provided a sense of mystery and strangeness. Other scenes had no music, but were distinguished by background noise and ambient sounds that further established the eerie mood. In looking to the camerawork, close-ups on the facial expressions of the characters created even more emotional impact. This was especially the case with Hannibal Lecter. His facial features and aspects synced up with the horrifying words coming out of his mouth in certain scenes. We were also shown close-ups of one of Buffalo Bill’s terrified kidnap victims, as well as zoomed-in scenes on the demented maniac himself. These various technical details gave support to the outstanding foundation laid by the story and characters in this film.
As far as my personal views go of The Silence of the Lambs, I thought it to be an exceptional work of cinema. The perfect casting, phenomenal acting, and excellent cinematography and music all worked together to form an emotional connection with the audience. While this film certainly is not one for families or children, any mature adult who loves a thrilling, mind-bending mystery would appreciate The Silence of the Lambs.
Overall Grade: A