The Silence of the Lambs Movie Review

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The opening image of The Silence of the Lambs is a claustrophobic one: a young FBI trainee named Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) maneuvers herself through an obstacle course at Quantico, pulling herself up a hill by rope and scaling a vertical cargo net. The scene sets the tone for the film, which is a study in survival. Throughout, Starling’s mind races as she navigates a series of obstacles—some in the form of a repressive organization like the FBI, others in the form of insane criminals.

The Plot

The film centers around an unstoppable heroine. Unlike Hollywood’s standard FBI agents or the damsels in distress who populate slasher franchises, Starling is an assertive and defiant heroine who refuses to be victimized by her nemeses. Her confrontations with Buffalo Bill and Jame Gumb demonstrate her tenacity, as well as her capacity to analyze the psyche of a predatory human being.

Another reason why The Silence of the Lambs is regarded as such a benchmark in horror movies is its remarkably high level of suspense. The 123movies film builds suspense through a combination of thematic elements, a great script adapted from Thomas Harris’s taut novel and marvelous direction by Jonathan Demme.

The Cast

In addition to a masterful performance from Hopkins and Demme’s brilliant direction, The Silence of the Lambs also features an excellent supporting cast. Scott Glenn is outstanding as her superior, Chris Isaak gives a memorable cameo as the leader of a SWAT team, and even Roger Corman makes an appearance in a brief but effective role as a corrupt G-man. Despite some minor weaknesses, including some tacky flashbacks and a sequence lifted from Wait Until Dark, The Silence of the Lambs is largely successful at creating an atmosphere of fear. In the end, it’s Hopkins’s portrayal of Lecter that carries the movie into true phenomenon territory. It’s a performance that has become synonymous with the phrase, “You eat with your mouth open.” —Jonathan Demme

Review

What elevates The Silence of the Lambs above your typical studio-produced serial killer thriller is the way in which Demme and screenwriter Ted Tally double down on the more subtly conveyed themes of feminism found in Harris’ novel. As Amy Taubin’s 1991 cover story in Sight & Sound explains, the film “recasts the conventional hero as a woman.” And, more importantly, by centering the movie around inner conflicts—a theme that emerges in both visual and thematic motifs.

To do so, The Silence of the Lambs uses a more realistic approach to forensic pathology and criminal profiling than previous films like Hitchcock’s Psycho or Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This heightened realism helps to create an experience of true terror for the audience, rather than simply a sensationalized exploitation of gore and nudity.

Conclusion

A key aspect of this suspense is the characterization of Hannibal Lecter, played by Anthony Hopkins. Lecter is an intellectual predator who relishes assessing his prey’s mental mettle. His interactions with Clarice are witty, intelligent and suspenseful, and the result is a powerful movie that stands the test of time.

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