Psychopath Buffalo Bill is taking and killing women across the American Midwest. Under the impression that only a psychopath can catch a psychopath, Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) sends Agent Clarice (Jodie Foster) to parlay with the worst of the worst, ex-psychiatrist Dr Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), an intelligent cannibal who will only help Starling if she feeds him gossip on her personal life, including all the morbid details. This odd relationship forces her to make peace with her demons, as well as come toe to toe with Buffalo Bill himself, an animalistic killer who is nothing shy of pure evil. The question is, can Clarice stop him before he kills anyone else?
Even to this day, The Silence of the Lambs is the only horror movie to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Though, I’d argue there are many out there that deserved it, including Hitchcock’s Psycho and Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Yet, Jonathan Demme’s horror movie made history at the start of the 1990s when it cleaned up in the five major categories: Best Picture, Leading Actor/Actress, Adapted Screenplay and Director. Yet, I believed it deserved recognition for musical score as well. It’s very Twin Peaks (1990) and the score throughout sends chills down my spine every time I hear it. And then you listen, and there’s that Midwestern breeze at your heels.
English war poet Wilfred Owen wrote a poem called Dulce et Decorum Est in which he says “And watch the white eyes writhing in his face/His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin” in a description of a soldier. This same description can be lent to Hannibal’s victims. Anthony Hopkins brings a performance like no other to his chilling depiction of Hannibal The Cannibal. If this is what we get from a film, I shudder at the thought of what the character is like in Thomas Harris’ original novel. Anthony Hopkins is one of the greatest actors of his generation, and this is only one of his many incredible performances to leave you both in awe and in a paralytic shock of epic proportions.
Jodie Foster is great as Agent Starling. She holds the film together with her fear of Hopkins hiding behind her eyes, whilst Hannibal revels in his victories as his “writhing white eyes” show how delighted he is at his accomplishments. He loves to play games. He loves stacking people and toying with the psyche and I guess this is what makes him such a good psychiatrist and subsequently (if I can say), what makes such a good killer. They need him more than he needs them. He takes that and turns the notch up to one thousand. He takes an interest in the “vulnerable” Clarice, feeds on her naivety and her secrets. He’s a man with no conscience.
The Silence of the Lambs is one of the greatest games of chess I’ve ever seen. Foster may be playing white, as she goes first, with Hopkins as black. Though, going second is no disadvantage. Hannibal is a step ahead of everybody, even from the confines of his isolated imprisonment. He has a taste for the finer things in life, including high art and high culture, but also a taste for human flesh. Whilst all that is happening, we have Buffalo Bill skinning his victims like he’s peeling vegetables as a side dish for a Sunday barbecue. Despite this film’s knack for the grotesque, it also leans towards the carnivalesque with its beautiful ugliness amidst all the bloody gore and horror.
Despite being a Hollywood movie (entertainment), this is not a fun film. This is evident with the scenes with Bill (Ted Levine). There is nothing fun about kidnapping and killing young women. These scenes are incredibly unpleasant to watch, with one scene where Foster examines a body, standing to be one of the most vivid body-examination scenes I’ve seen in any police drama in my life. Demme, with Foster and Glenn, have done well here. Not only is it harsh, it’s realistic and in your face. And despite my views on the unpleasantness, I would not have scenes like this done any other way. The more unpleasant it makes the audience feel, the better it is, in my opinion.
Pushing out Beauty and the Beast and JFK, two excellent films, to win Best Picture in 1992, Demme’s horror is still a brilliant movie to this day. Hopkins, Foster and Glenn still hold up in their roles and the the story is a ride. Just bloody watch this film.