The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane. —Marcus Aurelius
To quote a colleague, ‘I don’t know what it is about serial killers, they’re just so fascinating.’ Well, at a guess I would say that it is perhaps the motivations behind pursuing a hobby that involves methodically exploiting another person’s body for your own pleasure or need before or after you kill them. Simply because we cannot empathise with wanting our lamp shades to be made of human skin, we are curious as to what the world did to a mind to mould it into something so malicious.
Directed by Jonathan Demme and released in 1991, Silence of the Lambs is about the hunt for a serial killer, with the help of a terrifyingly ingenious psychiatrist/serial killer and a young, highly principled detective. The movie opens with Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) on the training course for the FBI when she is called into Crawford’s (Scott Glenn) office. From thence onwards all the steps taken by Starling are leading her deeper and deeper into a maze of methodical madness so indifferent to the universal plight of humanity that its witnesses fail to find a word other than ‘monster’ to describe it. Clarice is given an assignment to do a profile on one of the most renowned psychopaths and serial killers in custody; Hannibal Lecter or Hannibal the Cannibal (played with unparalleled ferocity and finesse by Anthony Hopkins). The beauty of his performance can be understood by the fact that it leaves first timers and addicts of this film (like this writer) completely mesmerised and slightly obsessed, hence why people cant find enough ways to keep his character alive and kept us engaged with Red Dragon, Hannibal and Hannibal Rising. There can be little doubt that the show Dexter borrows heavily from the fascination drawn in by Lecter. However, if we start going into what this film and especially the character of Hannibal inspired then this will become a thesis.
One of the marks of a good movie is to what extent it makes its audience empathise with its characters. If you watch this film as obsessively as some unnamed persons have then you will start to notice little tricks that subconsciously force you to feel and see what Starling is. She is forewarned at the beginning that Lecter simply amuses himself by toying and insulting those who try to dissect his psyche, which is a step up from him completely dismissing their existence and not responding at all. When our protagonist, a young FBI trainee, is being prepared to face one of the most lethal minds known to man, we are given hints as to what exactly he is capable of and how inhumane his utter control is. Frederick Chilton, (Anthony Heald) the sexually harassing psychiatrist in charge of the Baltimore State Hospital where Lecter is held, explains to Starling -after unsuccessfully coming on to her and successfully insinuating that the only reason she is interviewing Dr. Lecter is because she will be a ‘turn on’ for him – how “(Lecter’s) pulse never got above 85, even when he ate her tongue”.
Keeping all this in mind we follow Clarice as she walks towards Hannibal, crossing the most criminally insane minds in captivity, held behind bars. All, except the most dangerous one. He is kept behind bullet proof glass, which adds to the perception that there is indeed nothing between you and the epitome of evil that is shaped like Anthony Hopkins. It is immediately evident that he is of high culture, he is sophisticated and polite, infinitely curious about Starling and exceedingly apprehensive of why she has come to visit him. When you watch this movie you can understand how one can win an Academy Award for best actor for just 16 minutes of acting. Despite being in captivity and quite literally at the mercy of the institution he is in, his persona is exceptionally dominating as he simply is not someone who will let a situation get out of his control. It goes to Hopkins’ credit that he spontaneously came up with the idea to attack Jodie Foster’s southern accent during their first scene together, to which she reacted with real horror and hurt and the results are visible on screen.
The way she earns his compliance or his good humour is by challenging him, confronting him. She makes herself his equal and he encourages that when he says quid pro quo (meaning this for that) which is what fuels so much of the movies narrative. What I like about Starling is that she uses the uncivil arrogance of men against them, such as when she turns Dr Chilton’s sexual harassment back on him by using her own sexuality to get as much information on Lecter before she goes to him and by bringing down Lecter himself when he suggests that there is something sexual between her and Jack Crawford by comparing him to Miggs. Multiple Miggs (Stuart Rudin) incidentally is the same man murdered by Lecter for being rude to Starling. So we keep seeing parallels in their disposition, which is by no means accidental.
Around an hour of the film is devoted to the interactions between Clarice Starling and Lecter and when it’s not them you’re watching, you’re getting more information about serial killers and how they work, think, manipulate and dominate a situation. However in the second part the roles of Cathrine Martin (Brooke Smith) and her captive whose name may well be a spoiler (Ted Lavine) hold their own. The absolute hysterical horror, the compulsive screaming that is more than a scream because it understands that there is no hope, is what will jolt you every time.
Fiction adapted so impeccably from such a fruitful piece of literature rarely ever graces the screens and in that respect and in many others, this movie is a masterpiece.
The writer is a Multimedia Producer at Dawn.com. Pretentious hippie. Panda-phile. Promoter of hobo chic. ————————————————————————————————————————————————