The Silence of the Lambs

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Clarice Starling (Foster) is pulled from her training at the FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia, by Jack Crawford (Glenn) of the Bureau’s Behavioral Science Unit. He tasks her with interviewing Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins), a former psychiatrist and incarcerated cannibalistic serial killer, believing Lecter’s insight might be useful in the pursuit of a serial killer nicknamed “Buffalo Bill” (Levine), who skins his female victims’ corpses.

Starling travels to the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where she is led by Dr. Frederick Chilton (Heald) to Lecter’s solitary quarters. Although initially pleasant and courteous, Lecter grows impatient with Starling’s attempts at “dissecting” him and rebuffs her. As she is leaving, one of the prisoners flicks semen at her. Lecter, who considers the discourtesy “unspeakably ugly”, calls Starling back and tells her to seek out an old patient of his. This leads her to a storage shed where she discovers a man’s severed head. She returns to Lecter, who tells her that the man is linked to Buffalo Bill. He offers to profile Buffalo Bill on the condition that he be transferred away from Chilton, whom he detests.

When Buffalo Bill kidnaps a U.S. Senator’s daughter, Catherine Martin, Crawford authorizes Starling to offer Lecter a fake deal promising a prison transfer if he provides information that helps find Buffalo Bill and rescue the abductee. Instead, Lecter begins a game of quid pro quo with Starling, offering comprehensive clues and insights about Buffalo Bill if Starling will give him information about her own past, something she was advised not to do. Chilton secretly records the conversation and reveals Starling’s deal as a sham before offering to transfer Lecter in exchange for a deal of Chilton’s own making. Lecter agrees and is flown to Memphis, Tennessee, where he reveals personal information on Buffalo Bill to federal agents.

As the manhunt begins, Starling visits Lecter at his special cell in a Tennessee courthouse and confronts him with her decryption of the name he provided (“Louis Friend”, an anagram of “iron sulfide”, also known as fool’s gold). Lecter refuses Starling’s pleas for the truth and forces her to recount her traumatic childhood. She tells him how she was orphaned and relocated to a relative’s farm, where she discovered a lamb slaughterhouse and even made a failed attempt to rescue one of them. Lecter gives her back the case files on Buffalo Bill after their conversation is interrupted by Chilton and the police who escort her from the building. Later that evening, Lecter kills his guards, escapes from his cell and disappears.

Starling analyzes Lecter’s annotations to the case files and realizes that Buffalo Bill knew his first victim personally. Starling travels to the victim’s hometown and discovers that Buffalo Bill was a tailor, with dresses and dress patterns identical to the patches of skin removed from each of his victims. She telephones Crawford to inform him that Buffalo Bill is trying to fashion a “woman suit” of real skin, but Crawford is already en route to make an arrest, having cross-referenced Lecter’s notes with hospital archives and finding a man named Jame Gumb, who once applied unsuccessfully for a sex-change operation. Starling continues interviewing friends of Buffalo Bill’s first victim in Ohio while Crawford leads an F.B.I. tactical team to Gumb’s address in Illinois. The house in Illinois is empty and Starling is led to the house of “Jack Gordon”, who she realizes is actually Jame Gumb. She pursues him into his multi-room basement, where she discovers that Catherine is still alive, but trapped in a dry well. After turning off the basement lights, Gumb stalks Starling in the dark with night-vision goggles but gives his position away when he cocks his revolver; Starling turns around just in time and kills him.

Some time later at her FBI Academy graduation party, Starling receives a phone call from Lecter, who is at an airport in Bimini. He assures her that he does not plan to pursue her and asks her to return the favor, which she says she cannot do. Lecter then hangs up the phone, saying that he is “having an old friend for dinner” and begins following a newly-arrived Chilton before disappearing into the crowd.

REVIEW:

For as much as I’ve heard about The Silence of the Lambs, it comes as a surprise to me that it was a sleeper hit upon its release. Just goes to show that sometimes films are ahead of their time, at least in terms of audience attraction.

What is this about?

In this adaptation of Thomas Harris’s novel, FBI trainee Clarice Starling ventures into a maximum-security asylum to pick the diseased brain of Hannibal Lecter, hoping the psychiatrist turned homicidal cannibal can help her catch a serial killer.

What did I like?

Impact. You know you have given a good, memorable performance when you are only on the screen for about 15 or so minutes and create a memorable character. A role that goes on to garner an Academy Award win. Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal is both one of those genius level intellectual that seems to know just about everything and a creepy individual, to boot!

Genre splice. It is hard to really pigeon-hole this into one genre. Mostly, it is a thriller/suspense flick, but there are some aspects that tend to lean more toward the horror side of things. There is something to be said about keeping strictly to one genre or the other but, every now and then, mixing and matching can work. Please don’t think that this film suddenly throws ghosts, monsters, and whatnot at you, but a few gory scenes will have you cringing. It is no wonder that Gene Hackman and Michelle Pfeiffer turned it down because of objectionable content.

Hello, Clarice. Last week, Jodie Foster won some kind of lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes. This is the role that is mostly responsible for her career. Sure, Clarice Starling is a the cold, career driven female we’ve seen all too often, but she needs to be, given the vast intellect and psychiatric experience of Hannibal and the random insanity of Buffalo Bill.

What didn’t I like?

Killers. Both Buffalo Bill and Hannibal are barely on-screen. Yes, Hannibal is the subject of 3 or 4 other films that make up for it, and you can say that not having them chewing up scenery makes them better characters. On the hand, you can also say that they aren’t really given enough time to be developed, especially Buffalo Bill. I felt we could have used a bit more, not much, but a bit.

Comic. Buffalo Bill is supposed to be some kind of weird wannabe transvestite killer who was making a suit of his victims (all female). That’s some sick stuff, right? My issue with him, though, is how he seemed to be some sort of comic relief. I won’t deny that this flick sure could’ve used a bit of levity, but it seemed out-of-place, especially coming from your antagonist. It isn’t like this guy is some kind of incompetent supervillain or insane mastermind that was monologing his master plan. It is a small thing, but I just didn’t feel it was necessary.

I am still dumbfounded by the fact that The Silence of the Lambs was not a huge hit when it was released. By all accounts, this should have been a huge success. It surely has been in the years since its release, that’s for sure. This is a really great film, though, that is a must-see for anyone that is into these kind of films, so check it out!

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

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