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A Selection from My Collection: The Silence of the Lambs

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By Chris Kavan - 07/16/11 at 10:48 AM CT

It’s hard for me to believe it has been over 20 years since this movie was released. Jonathan Demme crafted a harrowing story and had the added bonus of a stellar cast. Despite the rather gruesome subject matter, it took home all the big awards on Oscar night, and I think the Academy got it right.

**Quid pro quo – spoilers below.**

There is little I can find fault in this film. Anthony Hopkins is brilliant as Hannibal Lecter. In fact, I would say his portrayal makes him one of the top contenders for best movie villain. His introduction in the film is memorable – after running past a motley group of psychos, here Lecter is standing perfectly straight, clean room, polite even charming. Yet he goes from charming to cunning in the blink of an eye, the mock accent, the biting words – this is a highly intelligent, remorseless man and Hopkins makes the role his own.

In the other role, Jodie Foster (looking ever so fresh-faced) played the soon-to-be FBI agent Clarice Starling. Like Hopkins, she is another fine choice. She radiates strength and vulnerability – a woman in a man’s world who has to deal with some inner demons of her own. A highly emotional role that calls for a long of swings, and Foster pulls it off without a hitch.

The other roles are likewise good: Ted Levine as the serial killers Buffalo Bill who skins his victims so he can change himself. Anthony Heald as the snarky head of the insane asylum Dr. Chilton – although he doesn’t have much screen time, he makes the most of things. Scott Glen is also rock solid as Jack Crawford, the leader of the Buffalo Bill investigation and Starling’s mentor/boss.

You might think a movie about serial killers and cannibalism would be quite violent, but besides one memorable breakout scene, and some gristly crime photos, the movie relies more on the psychological horror aspect rather than flat-out gore. This is a film that crawls around inside your head and worms its way deep inside. The longer you think about things, the more it gets your hooks in you. If you haven’t seen it before, this is one of those films that will linger long after the credits roll and even after you’ve seen it, it leaves a mark.

The story is pretty simple – a serial killer is on the loose skinning women and the FBI needs help on a profile. Their efforts hitting a dead end they turn to another serial killer – Hannibal Lecter – a brilliant, deadly psychologist – to help them. Clarice Starling to interview him and despite not being an agent, soon develops a bond with Lecter. When a senator’s daughter goes missing and Buffalo Bill is suspected, the agents must race against the clock to rescue her before she loses her skin as well. Lecter brokers a deal with Chilton to get transferred, then makes his escape before Starling pieces together a few clues and ends up taking down Buffalo Bill.

The theme of transformation: Buffalo Bill seeks to transform himself from a man to a woman – and his calling card, the pupa of a deaths-head moth, hearkens back to this need to transform from what he sees as ugly to something beautiful, in his mind anyway. Likewise, Starling also goes through a change. She not only becomes a full-fledged agent but in talking to Lecter faces her past. Does Lecter change? One has to wonder if his dealings with Starling had an effect. He’s obviously found a connection – that brief caress on the finger – but by the end of the film as he’s “having an old friend for dinner” it’s obvious he’s still the calculating killer he always was.

Silence of the Lambs also made its mark on pop culture. From the numerous lines is spawned: “I ate his liver with some fava beans and nice Chianti” “It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again.” “Good evening, Clarice.” – Plus it seemed everyone from The Simpsons to SNL aped that Hannibal mask get-up at one time or another. Even years later on South Park, Eric Cartman had a good time playing “lambs” with his dolls. Something only Trey Parker and Matt Stone could make funny. Did some of these get old? Yes – but you know you’re movie is doing well when you see the gag for the umpteenth time and groan (just ask bullet-time Matrix slowdown how it felt).

I don’t think I have a soft spot for serial killers in films, but I do seem to have a fair share of them around. From Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer to S7EVEN, and, of course, all the sequels (and prequels) to Silence of the Lambs (none of which can approach to original) – it’s a genre that’s easy to imagine but hard to get right. Silence of the Lambs does both and is one of the greatest thrillers out there.

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