The Silence of The Lambs is 118 minutes long, Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter is in just 16 of those. In that short time on screen, he not only secured himself an Oscar for Best Actor in a ‘Leading Role’ but also imbued the viewing public with such an indelible impression that Martha Stewart had to stop dating him because she couldn’t stop associating him with a brain-eating lunatic.
The fact that 30 years on people still regurgitate lines that the mind-walloped-psychopath snarled out, is a testament to an unforgettable performance in an unforgettable film. Below, we’re revisiting the iconic film in all its glory.
Although there’s a multitude of assets and adjectives available to explore and describe, “Hannibal” and “unforgettable” seem by far and away the most apt. In truth, that is because the explorative depth of the movie is often pooled to the surface. The overtones of workplace misogyny that Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) endures throughout are often deployed a little heavy-handedly and simply raise a pejorative eyebrow to the issue and nothing more.
Likewise, the isolating impact of Clarice’s childhood trauma broods in the undercurrent from the get-go as she tackles the FBI assault course on her lonesome with a battling melancholy score, but the reverberations of trauma on the rest of the unspooling action is played fast and loose thereafter. Similarly, the strange idiomatic kinship that the trauma provides as an unspoken base between Lecter and Starling is a little more High-School Freud than a diploma depth dissection on the part of legendry director Jonathan Demme. However, on this occasion, the all-consuming exhilaration unfurling from the colossal front and centre of the piece, make these interpolated details much welcome nods as opposed to half-baked subplots. A full interpretative examination of the acknowledged nuances is for another film to take on without such overbearing leads.
They’re paradoxes aplenty in the piece, not least that the only character Clarice seems at home around is an embodiment of totally dissociated cartoon evil. However, the most notable paradox is that everything is overplayed, but to a gloriously effectual degree; for once, ‘over-the-top’ can genuinely be used as a glowing appraisal. Although the two madmen in the film, Buffalo Bill and Hannibal Lecter, may only enjoy brief screen-time, their almost slapstick portrayals lend a fabulously thrilling miasma of terror throughout, right down to the grotesque semen slinging specifics.
When penning a classic review piece like this, watching the film with a beer and notebook in hand, on a small screen TV 30 years after the fact, it can be easy to forget the impact the film made when it first hit cinema screens. The innovative use of night-vision camera aesthetics deployed by Demme during the movie’s scintillating climax, no doubt produced the sort of literal audience embalming reaction that made ‘edge-of-the-seat-stuff’ enter the cinematic cliché cache. Every similarly jarring technique utilised is done so to unforgettable effect etching moments like: “I’d do me, would you do me?” onto the consciousness of those that watched forevermore.
The face peeling shocks are all perfectly interspersed to allow for the necessary swells of build-up in between. The writing that won Ted Tally an Oscar for his adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel source material is intelligent and concise, conjuring the best of the book’s dialogue into truly memorable movie epithets and even summoning some darkly comic embellishments to the oeuvre (“I’m having an old friend for dinner”). The small details in design are purposefully crafted like the sexualised slightly too tight overalls that Lecter sports or the Nazi paraphernalia featured throughout, adding mystique and multitudes. But the shiniest jewel in the thriller’s crown is that it ties all of these details together, to the point that they’re almost unnoticed amidst the glut of the films surging whole. It is the type of picture that yearns for the critical eye to sheath its pen and get swept right up in it; to hell with breaking down the plot, it’s been 30 years and if you’ve seen it at any point in that time then you will no doubt remember it. In short, let’s just say that it is all superbly well done.
Although some critics in retrospect have criticised the movie for not percolating right to the necessary depths of the issues that it half-raises regarding social problems, there is clearly never any intent to do so. This sets the film aside as an exhibit of electrifying entertainment and nothing more. Perhaps the bigger issue is when films do intentionally dip more than a toe and get it wrong, just as David Fincher dismissed Joker as a betrayal of mental health issues, The Silence of The Lambs acknowledges societal snags but spares anyone who has suffered the symptoms directly by overblowing them to a point beyond resonance.
The hammy horrors actually offer escape from the rather more macabre details of society as sometimes Friday-night-style cinema should.
That is not to say that there is no place in film to tackle society robustly and mirror or dissect uncomfortable truths — that is an aspect of cinema that stretches beyond necessary and becomes essential. The Silence of The Lambs offers just enough of this essential cinematic element to get away with sequestering it, for the most part, in favour of pure entertainment, and in doing so it masterfully schemes a soaring, suspenseful sensation, centring two joy-riding nutcases around Fosters fantastically grounding lead, crafting a gilded piece of Hollywood magic that is etched firmly into the scratched armrests of chairs in screening rooms the world over.
If you’re coming across the word ‘Chianti’ and not thinking of Hannibal then you’ve surely never seen the film, how many big-screen outings can claim to be as memorable as that?