Silence of the Lambs (1991) | BFI Thriller Series | Oct-Dec 2017
Dir. Jonathan Demme; Cast: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Jame Gumb, Anthony Head, Brooke Smith; USA 114′
Jonathan Demme, who died this April at the age of 73, made some excellent films such as Philadelphia (1993) and Swimming to Cambodia (1987). But he will be best remembered for SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, which won Oscars for Best Film and Best Director. Based on the novel by Thomas Harris and written by Ted Tally, SILENCE is one of the few feminist thrillers of its era.
Centred around FBI agent Clarice Starling (Foster) who is sent by her boss Jack Crawford (Glenn) to interview imprisoned mass murderer and psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins). The idea is to get his imput with a new case: a serial killer, called Buffalo Bill, who skins his female victims. In a cat and mouse game, Clarice gets Lecter to tell her the name of the killer who once his patient. After having kidnapped Catherine Martin (Brooke Smith), the daughter of an US senator, Buffolo Bill (Gumb), is tracked down by Clarice.
Clarice is much more emancipated woman than she appears in the film. She is well aware that the older Crawford has an Electra crush on her but still calls him “Sir”, knowing she has the upper hand emotionally, slipping out of his command even though she is just a trainee in the last stages of her studies. Howard Shore’s score provides a foreboding undercurrent, reminiscent of Bernhard Herrman, throught her prisom encounters with Lecter which plays out as a cat-and-mouse game. Crawford has warned her never to disclose any personal information to the psychiatrist, Clarice makes a bargain with Lecter: she answers his questions, while he has to answer hers regarding the identity of Buffalo Bill. The outcome justifies her strategy, since Lecter is extraordinarily vain and fancies himself as her Svengali.
Buffalo Bill has a long history of childhood abuse, and is not happy in his body; he tried for a sex change operation, but was rejected because of his violent nature. He dresses as a woman, but feels only contempt for the female species. Catherine is held prisoner in a well, and her captor talks to his poodle about her, objectifying her with the impersonal ‘it’. He takes great pleasure in making her use skin cream and starving her: all necessary for the skinning operation, which is his way of keeping a trophy. The use of a moth, which he pressed down his victims throat, brings Clarice closer to his whereabouts: a moth is a symbol of transition, something the killer wanted for himself. The American flag is a freqently occurring motif through the film: Clarice always finds one in Buffalo’s former dwellings. The last flag, which she discovers in the lair where he has killed and skinned his victims and skinned is small version, made for a child. AS
ON RE-RELEASE at BFI Southbank and cinemas UK-wide on 3 November 2017 to headline their THRILLER SERIES | BFI THRILLER: WHO CAN YOU TRUST October – December 2017
Photo Credit: Photo by Everett Collection / Rex Features ( 411879fv )
‘THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS’ – Anthony Hopkins – 1991