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The Silence of the Lambs (1991) Movie Review


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Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs as Hannibal Lector

Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs as Hannibal Lector

Silence of the Lambs’, released in 1991, is the movie that propelled Anthony Hopkins to well-deserved superstar status and gave him his first Oscar for Best Actor and the movie itself scooped up Oscars in all five categories.

Directed by Jonathan Demme,  its’ worldwide box office success was phenomenal.  Truly a shocking, suspense thriller, where Hopkins gives a powerful performance, opposite an equally superb Jodie Foster.  It is a dark film with the ominous background music helping to build the element of suspense, difficult to watch at times with its’disturbing scenes, yet impossible to switch off and an ending that leaves many doors open.  A modern masterpiece.  It is hard to believe Hopkins only has a total of 16 minutes film time in this movie but that is what Hopkins is so skilled at, with him less is definitely more.

The Silence of The Lambs‘  movie was adapted from a novel by Thomas Harris, Anthony Hopkins plays the notorious Dr Hannibal, (the cannibal) Lecter, a former brilliant psychiatrist who turned into a psychopathic serial killer and is serving a life sentence in a high security Baltimore jail for his gruesome crimes.  Jodie Foster plays the FBI fledgling agent, Clarice Starling, who is assigned to a case to track down another dangerous serial killer.  Agent Starling is keen to prove herself to her boss Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) and believing that Dr Lecter holds the clue to catch the killer, Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), on the basis that ‘it takes one to know one’, she embarks on a journey to try and gain Hannibal’s confidence, visiting him in jail.  A dangerous and fascinating relationship develops between Dr Lecter and Clarice, one of mentor-student, where Lecter always has the upper hand ironically, despite being behind bars.  Mind games between the two are central to the film, with the attractive Clarice embodying naivety and vulnerability along with her determination and ambition to succeed in her male dominated professional life.  Hopkins portrayal of the infamous Dr Lecter is most entertaining, he manages most convincingly to retain Lecter’s dignity in the solitary, spartan prison cell where he is confined for his horrific crimes.  His ‘matter-of-fact’ air, witty sarcasm and charismatic charm enthralls as he slowly manipulates the young FBI cadet, always keeping one step ahead of her, delving deep into her psyche.   Hopkins once said ‘I am able to play monsters well.  I understand monsters.  I understand madmen’.

Hannibal Lecter chillingly reminds Clarice Starling of his cannibalistic tastes, saying unblinking “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti”.  This is undoubtedly the best remembered quote from ‘The Silence of The Lambs‘ movie.

The Transvestite Serial Killer

The other monster in this horror movie is Buffalo Bill, the serial killer sought by agent Starling.  Buffalo Bill is a transvestite killer who skins his female victims.  Dr Lecter was a former doctor of this disturbing character.  There is one particular scene where you are guaranteed to be on the edge of your seat rooting for agent Starling as she is pursued by Buffalo Bill.

Jodie Foster as Agent Starling

Jodie Foster as Agent Starling

You may wonder about the title of the movie, ‘The Silence of the Lambs‘ – it sounds so innocuous but here is a dialogue extract from a scene between Hannibal and Clarice:

Hannibal: I will listen now. After your father’s murder, you were orphaned. You were ten years old. You went to live with cousins on a sheep and horse ranch in Montana. And…?
Clarice: [tears begin forming in her eyes] And one morning, I just ran away.
Hannibal: No “just”, Clarice. What set you off? You started at what time?
Clarice: Early, still dark.
Hannibal: Then something woke you, didn’t it? Was it a dream? What was it?
Clarice: I heard a strange noise.
Hannibal: What was it?
Clarice: It was… screaming. Some kind of screaming, like a child’s voice.
Hannibal: What did you do?
Clarice: I went downstairs, outside. I crept up into the barn. I was so scared to look inside, but I had to.
Hannibal: And what did you see, Clarice? What did you see?
Clarice: Lambs. The lambs were screaming.
Hannibal: They were slaughtering the spring lambs?
Clarice: And they were screaming.
Hannibal: And you ran away?
Clarice: No. First I tried to free them. I… I opened the gate to their pen, but they wouldn’t run. They just stood there, confused. They wouldn’t run.
Hannibal: But you could and you did, didn’t you?
Clarice: Yes. I took one lamb, and I ran away as fast as I could.
Hannibal: Where were you going, Clarice?
Clarice: I don’t know. I didn’t have any food, any water and it was very cold, very cold. I thought, I thought if I could save just one, but… he was so heavy. So heavy. I didn’t get more than a few miles when the sheriff’s car picked me up. The rancher was so angry he sent me to live at the Lutheran orphanage in Bozeman. I never saw the ranch again.
Hannibal: What became of your lamb, Clarice?
Clarice: They killed him.
Hannibal: Well, Clarice – have the lambs stopped screaming? You still wake up sometimes, don’t you? You wake up in the dark and hear the screaming of the lambs.
Clarice: Yes.
Hannibal: And you think if you save poor Catherine, you could make them stop, don’t you? You think if Catherine lives, you won’t wake up in the dark ever again to that awful screaming of the lambs.
Clarice: I don’t know. I don’t know.

This movie is the first of the trilogy where Anthony Hopkins plays Dr Lecter, the other two being ‘Hannibal’ (2001) and ‘Red Dragon’ (2002), although ‘Red Dragon’ was actually the first of the three books written by Thomas Harris in 1981, which was originally turned into a movie called ‘Manhunter’ released in 1986, a thriller film written and directed by Michael Mann, it features Brian Cox as Hannibal Lecter. The sequel being ‘Silence of the Lambs’ published in 1988 and then ‘Hannibal’ in 1999.  The book ‘Hannibal Rising’ written again by Harris, in 2005 was also made into a film, about the formative years of Dr Hannibal Lecter, in which Hopkins did not participate.  There are however, rumours of another Hannibal role for Sir Anthony Hopkins.  Watch this space!

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Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster – The Silence of the Lambs