Make Room for Hannibal: “The Silence of the Lambs”

In this post, Jim Brymer serves up his thoughts on Jonathan Demme‘s multiple Academy Award-winning The Silence of the Lambs.

A serial killer is on the loose. Known by the FBI as “Buffalo Bill”, he has the habit of kidnapping young girls and cutting them up, removing certain body parts, primarily skin, before disposing of the bodies. Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), a young recruit, is given the task of interviewing Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a former psychiatrist who has been imprisoned because of his taste for human flesh and his propensity for killing his prey to quench his tastes.

The task is given to her by her superior and mentor Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn). John Kenneth Muir, in his book Horror Films FAQ, suggests that Crawford is in essence a surrogate father to Clarice, since she lost her father at an early age. He also suggests that on some level that Lecter is also somewhat of a surrogate father (sick as that may seem).

Clarice interviews Lecter, but Lecter gains the upper hand immediately, by demanding tit for tat: He will only talk about “Buffalo Bill” if Clarice reveals some intimate details of her own life. The most intriguing part of this movie is that tête-à-tête, as Clarice delves into her own past and psyche in order to appease Lecter and get him to open up about his insight into the current case.

Lecter also manages to convince Clarice that a “reward” is appropriate for his insight; that is he will tell her things to help her if she can manage to get him a better arrangement within the prison. Of course Clarice doesn’t have that kind of pull, but her boss does. But the deal is hampered by Lecter’s nemesis within the prison, the doctor/warden. Dr. Chilton (Anthony Heald) is reluctant to give any concessions to his prisoner. Chilton is a smarmy self-satisfied jackass, and despite the presence of Lecter and “Buffalo Bill” is probably the least appealing character in the movie. (It’s almost gratifying when his imminent end is hinted at in the ending of the film).

Through Lecter’s help and some luck, eventually Clarice is able to track down “Buffalo Bill”, although her luck may just run out, as the film descends into the “who’s behind the next door” sequence.

One must approach The Silence of the Lambs with a bit of an open mind. The fact is that Lecter is alternately disturbing and, at some times, even appealing as a villain. One cannot watch this movie and expect that all will be right in the end, even if one is an optimistic idealist. If you like your movies to be on the dark side, however, it can be a good experience. But don’t fool yourself into believing that it will be uplifting.

Jim Brymer, AKA Quiggy, runs the movie blog The Midnite Drive-In, check it out for more insights on other classic films.