Title: The Silence of the Lambs
Release Date: 31 January, 1991
Oscar Ceremony: 30 March, 1992
Director: Jonathan Demme
Starring: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Lawrence A. Bonney
Nominees: Beauty and the Beast, Bugsy, JFK, The Prince of Tides
“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” – Hannibal Lecter
Oh man, the 90s are off to a strong start. The Silence of the Lambs is everything you hope for in a thriller and more. It’s really exciting to see such a dark movie get recognized by the Academy… Enough with the rainbows and butterflies; it’s time to get down to business. The meticulous direction, stellar acting, mesmerizing suspense, captivating story, and pretty much everything else about this movie, make it an instant classic.
Jodie Foster plays Clarice Starling, a young FBI agent-in-training determined to succeed. One day, her superior Jack Crawford assigns her to visit a famous incarcerated psychiatrist, who also happens to be a cannibalistic serial killer. His name is Hannibal Lecter, and thanks to Anthony Hopkins, he is officially one of the most terrifying movie villains out there. He looks relatively normal when you see him, but he instantly manages to get under your skin and traumatize you psychologically. The idea of cannibalism alone scares the s**t out of me; I spent quite some time Googling what would prompt someone to become a cannibal.
It would have been very easy for Hannibal to steal the show, but that doesn’t happen. He is obviously still one of the most perplexing and captivating parts, but this is still Clarice’s story. It doesn’t take long for her to figure out that she has been sent to interrogate Hannibal in the hopes of uncovering more information on “Buffalo Bill,” a serial killer who kidnaps large-sized women, starves them, and skins their corpses. The FBI is currently pursuing him. I can’t imagine why.
Clarice develops a strange relationship with Hannibal and uses him to find Buffalo Bill, who has just kidnapped his latest victim Catherine Martin, a U.S. Senator’s daughter. Conversing with Hannibal is not easy, especially when he asks her to reveal personal information about herself, but Clarice is strong-willed and does not give up.
The Silence of the Lambs graces us with one of the greatest villains AND one of the greatest heroines in the world of thrillers. Anthony Hopkins is a crucial part of the story, and it’s largely thanks to his quietly terrifying performance that this movie is so hard to forget. When you see a classic bad guy onscreen, they’re scary in a traditional sort of way, but everything about them fits into a specific mold. What’s so genius about Hannibal is that you have absolutely no idea what he is going to do next and how he’s going to go about it.
As for Jodie Foster, she completely nails the role of Clarice even if it isn’t so outright obvious. Sometimes, the most impressive acting masquerades as normal. Sometimes it’s easy to give a great performance when it involves playing a caricature and transforming yourself in a radical way or evoking extreme emotions; however, it’s not so easy to give it your all when you have to play a normal person. When you play a normal person, you have to pay much more attention to all the subtleties of human behaviour and you have to make sure you don’t fall into the trap of just playing your awkward self. On top of being completely natural and convincing, Foster also manages to empower her audience, especially all the young women watching.
Many actresses refused to consider the role of Clarice due to the very dark subject matter of the film. Sure, it’s not easy witnessing the atrocities that the female victims had to endure, and it’s also not easy watching the way some of the male characters treat Clarice. However, the film outwardly condemns misogyny and in order to do that there’s no time to beat around the bush and soften the truth. Clarice’s character is intelligent, independent, resourceful, brave and strong. She does not let herself get weakened or offended when others undermine her. She speaks out when something bothers her. While she has many obstacles to overcome, her attitude makes her triumph, and in the end she gets the recognition she deserves.
It’s exciting to have a female protagonist in a thriller because the journey becomes that much more complex. You rarely see thrillers with a woman at the center, and even less with a woman that is given such agency. Clarice has no vital sidekick, no romantic interest, and she’s not the damsel in distress; she’s the one rescuing the damsel in distress, and boy is it ever badass. Who needs Wonder Woman when you have Jodie Foster?
Overall, I was so satisfied with this movie. It’s gripping, it’s entertaining, it’s compelling, it’s psychologically scary, AND it’s of high caliber. This is a quality thriller, and we need more like it. I’ve seen it on multiple occasions, and I still get stressed every single time. That says a lot about the way it’s made and I can’t think of a better choice to win Best Picture (even if Beauty and the Beast was nominated that year).