By Philip Newton (England)
The Silence of the Lambs is a thoroughly engrossing thriller which is successful due to its skilful direction from Jonathan Demme which keeps audiences on the edge of their seat, and two powerhouse performances whose scenes together are equally powerful and chilling.
The story of this classic Oscar winner for best picture centres on FBI student Clarice Starling played by Jodie Foster whom receives a special assignment from her superior played by Scott Glenn. The mission is to interview the brilliant psychiatrist Dr Hannibal Lector whom is incarcerated for being a violent psychopath who committed acts of murder and cannibalism. What Clarice is sent to find is information about vicious murderer Buffalo Bill who kills young women and then removes their skins and suspect that Lector may have information about Bill, his patterns of behaviour and his potential whereabouts. Lector is promised various rewards if he accepts which he does with one exception, he will only grant information about Bill in exchange for details of Clarice’s troubled childhood which leads to a crucial link between her current predicament and her past.
What I loved about this film was the core relationship between Clarice and Lector and the scenes they have together, both Hopkins and Foster help create this sense of unease. Hopkins is convincing as a master of manipulation slowly picking his prey apart psychologically, the camera work adds to this by close ups of Lector through the bars always keeping that barrier between him and us as an audience however the glare he gives and that slow articulate voice is so controlling it’s like he could get under anybody’s skin at any given time.
Foster is equally brilliant showing a woman who is carrying huge guilt and weight from her past, the most interesting scene is about her failing to silence the lambs from screaming as a child and how the saving of the young woman held by Buffalo Bill is her way of silencing the lambs and ridding herself the weight of that guilt she has carried all those years. You feel that in her performance as well as Lectors admiration for Clarice throughout the film almost appreciating her courage and determination. This is reflected at the film’s conclusion when Lector speaks to Clarice on the phone stating whether she had silenced the lambs and that the world is more interesting with her in it, definitely the heart of the film.
The Buffalo Bill killer side of the film is not as interesting as the Lector scenes, however, they are tense and well paced especially in the final ten minutes with Clarice tracking down Bill in the house, and the character of Bill himself makes good viewing being both unusual and aggressive making him a dangerous presence. I also admired the film’s symbolism with reference to the butterfly throughout typically used by Bill on his victims by being put down their throats and then used as the indicator that lets Clarice know she has found Bill. There is also a close up of a butterfly in a jar of some sort nearing the end of the film which again displays the importance and symbolism of this in the film.
The Silence of the Lambs was fully deserving of its Oscar success by being both a suspenseful thriller and an effective psychological study.