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The Silence of the Lambs

January 8, 2021

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Director: Jonathan Demme
Actors: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn

Feminist Forensics in The Silence of the Lambs | The Current | The  Criterion Collection

Synopsis: Trainee FBI Agent, Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), is commissioned to interview famed cannibal and imprisoned serial killer, Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a man who may just know the identity of at loose serial killer, ‘Buffalo Bill’. There follows a game of ‘cat and mouse’ as Lecter toys with the authorities while giving Starling subtle clues that may enable her to catch ‘Buffalo Bill’.

Review: Approaching its 30th anniversary, Jonathan Demme’s stellar The Silence of the Lambs stands the test of time. It’s one of the finest crossovers of a genre project into a genuine prestige film, it’s one of the few Best Picture Winners at the Oscars to genuinely warrant that award, and, quite simply, it’s one of the finest American films, period.

Typically, Anthony Hopkins’ scene-stealing performance has garnered the most column inches in consideration of the film’s impact, and I’m not here to either condone or dissuade that viewpoint. But it’s the intense, concentric brilliance of the whole ensemble that centres the film’s storytelling and gives it its soul. Jodie Foster, in particular, anchors the film. The simultaneous dichotomy of vulnerability and gritty determination that she essays provides the film its necessary conduit through all its schlocky twists and turns, and the insalubrious personnel she comes across.

Equally effective is the way director Jonathan Demme realises the film. Although, in essence, it could be considered a police procedural work, Demme films it like an arty horror, always cloaking the action in an air of non-omniscience – never telegraphing where the direction of the story may be heading. Demme aestheticises the film via its central theme of dread and voyeurism, and even makes Starling’s breakthrough understanding of the concept of ‘coveting’ a literal stylistic affectation of the camera throughout the film.

All Demme’s clever doctoring of the camera and his story achieves its pay-off in the masterly structural feat in the closing moments when Scott Glenn’s FBI chief approaches what is assumed to be Buffalo Bill’s hideout in Illinois. This cross-cuts with the seemingly more mundane investigations of Starling, on a fact-finding mission in Belvedere, Ohio – the residence of Bill’s first victim – before she stumbles across a more disquieting presence at one of the houses she goes to visit. (January 2021)

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