#24: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Jodie Foster plays Clarice Starling, a trainee FBI agent whose former lecturer asks her to seek the aid of psychopathic cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in finding and capturing the serial killer Buffalo Bill (played by a convincingly manic Ted Levine). What could possibly go wrong?
“Billy”, as Hannibal affectionately terms him, has been kidnapping, killing and skinning women, and the FBI have no idea who he could be. But the stakes are soon raised when he abducts a senator’s daughter; not that he realises this - he just likes a size 14. Starling and her boss Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) are under considerable pressure to find the girl before its too late, and Hannibal relishes the increased opportunity for mind games.
I sat down protestingly with my family, who all but dragged me into the living room to watch Silence of the Lambs: horror isn’t really my thing. By the end, however, I wasn’t nearly as disturbed as my dad thought I would be (he’d all but banned me from watching it - there has been a lot of debate in my house over this). There aren’t many out and out scares in the film - no lunging figures out of the darkness. Rather, director Johnathan Demme subjects the audience to a more elongated sense of foreboding. For example, the most “scary” scene for me was when Dr. Lecter meets the Senator face to face (strapped up and muzzled, of course) and I had to cross the room and sit on my mum’s lap, convinced he was going to somehow escape and eat her face. It was the tension rather than any actual violence that terrified me, and (minor spoiler) nothing even happened anyway.
Besides being far less graphic than I was expecting (although faces do get eaten after all), I think I found Silence less terrifying than I was expecting because of the incredible effort put into the characterisations. This is most certainly a character-driven film; there’s no faceless psychopath chasing you through the forest. Instead, the psychopath is safely behind a glass screen in an asylum, and the encounter is sinister rather than scary, per se. You know what he has done, what he is.
But then, I suppose that’s just down to what scares me. Yes, Lecter is a terrifying figure in that he’ll happily eat your tongue out of your screaming mouth without his heart-rate pushing above 85, but there’s something more human in his affection for Clarice. He wouldn’t hurt her, ‘he’d think it rude’, and for some reason for me that makes him a more reasonable, and so a less frightening cannibal. 

For a similar reason I found Buffalo Bill a morally deplorable, but not terrifying psychopath. We learn too much about him and his psychological makeup for him to remain a horror figure, cloaked in evil and darkness. Again, I suppose this is personal to me - once someone is understood and analysable they lose their horror factor. Although, I’d probably change my mind if I was standing in front of that glass-walled cell.

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