As long as the art of storytelling has been around it has become clear that people are utterly fascinated with villains. If I were to ask all of you to name off some characters from Star Wars and Batman it is a safe bet that many would begin their lists with Darth Vader and the Joker. It is small wonder then that horror stories have given us such memorable villains that remained viable in the ever changing tides of pop culture. It is a little tricky to pin down the fascination with characters such as Jason Voorhees or Michael Meyers. Certainly not because of their charming personalities. On the other hand, the fandoms for Freddy Krueger and killer doll Chucky are likely due in large part to their penchant for dark humor. And then we have someone like Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs.
For most people, this book (and subsequent film adaptation) served as their introduction to the character of Hannibal Lecter but he originally appeared in Thomas Harris’ first novel, Red Dragon. These two stories are actually quite similar in that they both feature Lecter in his cell helping an FBI agent to apprehend a killer. On the surface, the biggest difference between the two is that Silence features a female protagonist and Lecter is fascinated by her.
Unlike many thriller movies, The Silence of the Lambs does not begin with the bad guys doing something evil but rather with Clarice Starling making her way through an FBI Academy obstacle course. Back in the daay I didn’t think much of this scene but now I interpret it as Clarice mastering the physical obstacles in her way which is a sort of preparation for overcoming the obstacles within herself during the rest of the film.
Starling is pulled from the Academy for a special assignment. She is to make contact with a captured killer known as Hannibal Lecter who has a penchant for dining on his victims and get him to fill out a questionnaire for an FBI study on criminal behavior. When she approaches his cell Starling is confronted by a number of similarly depraved individuals engaging in uncouth behavior which serves as a nice contrast to be greeted cordially by an impeccably polite Lecter. Poor Clarice doesn’t realize it yet but the real purpose of this contact is to get Lecter’s insight about a serial killer called Buffalo Bill who is targeting overweight women and skinning their bodies after he kills them.
Thanks to a mesmerizing performance by Sir Anthony Hopkins, Lecter comes across as self assured and confident; always one step ahead of you and powerful enough to harm you even when confined in his cell. He in fact does exactly this later by causing an inmate in the next cell over to kill himself by choking on his own tongue. He later agrees to help Starling with little clues that she has to solve.
The stakes are raised when Buffalo Bill abducts a young woman named Katherine who is the daughter of a state senator. The senator agrees to a deal to transfer Lecter out of his facility while Starling continues to investigate Buffalo Bill.
Normally I talk about older movies completely to the end but I am going to hold off here. Much of the enjoyment of this film lies in the superb pacing of the story as the mystery of Buffalo Bill is unraveled along with the fate of Dr. Lecter. Clarice Starling does not come out of this movie unscathed. Her conversations with Lecter force her to confront some ugly truths about herself and she can never be sure she will be completely safe from the murderous doctor.
If you want to watch The Silence of the Lambs, you won’t have much difficulty. The film has enjoyed many releases on physical media and is widely available on most digital film platforms. As of this writing you can watch it on Amazon Prime Instant Video if you are a subscriber but hurry – it will leave the service on November 1st.