It’s Halloween, so let us celebrate with what is a horror movie of sorts: The Silence of the Lambs. This classic is some excellent stuff, with the truly brilliant Jodie Foster on top form. Plus, Anthony Hopkins put in a career defining performance as Hannibal Lecter. Get ready to scream your way through this post, you morons, with this meaty (mighty) trailer!
The Silence of the Lambs
Johanthan Demme’s (1944-2017) masterpiece hit cinemas in 1991. On a budget of $19 million, it went on to earn $272.7 million worldwide. A smash hit. But it’s not exactly your popcorn face-stuffing type of easy viewing experience its success suggests. It’s a dark, twisted film with some bleak, inexplicable, existential themes running alongside a horrific crime story.
Anyway, the plot! Promising trainee FBI agent Clarice Starling (Foster) is taken from her training sessions by Behavioural Science Unit head Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn). The explanation doesn’t exist in the film – is it Crawford’s male fantasy? Or does he view Starling as a superlative talent? Whatever your reading, the result is she meets this chap.
Starling must interview former psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter, who is in jail for a series of cannibalistic murders. Highly intelligent, manipulative, and invasive, he immediately stalks her psychologically with prying questions.
Although taking a liking to her, in the more positive sense, it’s obvious his Machiavellian roots lie in furtherin his cause. A cell with a window is what turns his attention towards helping Starling.
For, you see, the FBI is on the case of a new serial killer, one Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine). They think Lecter knows who he is. It’s Starling’s job to try to get that information from him. But her involvement in the case continues to grow as she comes under the demented spell of Lecter’s nihilistic influence.
The film is an adaptation of Thomas Harris’ eponymous 1988 novel. Despite its complex plot of twists and turns, it’s essentially a simple set up of good versus evil. But the intricacies of the characters, particularly in the form of Starling and Lecter, make the film much more than some bombastic romp.
Foster is excellent as the young FBI agent finding her feet in life. And you really come to root for Starling as she takes on a horrible, but enthralling, assignment. Her portrayal is subtle but forceful – an intellect unsure of itself, but heading for greatness.
Meanwhile, Anthony Hopkins delivers (with the emphasis on liver) a career defining role as Hannibal Lecter. He’s only on screen for 16 minutes, but it was enough to land him a well-deserved Oscar. People like to think of criminals as bumbling morons, but Hopkins portrays a near genius intellect who can run rings around everyone – as with the brilliant escape scene below (spoiler heavy).
But this highlights the intricate, fascinating nature of the plot – as Lecter makes a break for it, providing the FBI with an even bigger problem than Buffalo Bill, his musings provide Starling with the evidence she needs to find her man.
The Silence of the Lambs is way above a predictable crime flick. It steps above all of this with a focus on disturbing revelations. And those revelations aren’t obvious. You can’t predict them. They’re too impossible to imagine. Lecter was there before you – he was there before you could wrap your brains around it.
As with Hannibal Lecter, Buffalo Bill is central to the film but has little screen time. Actor Ted Levine takes full advantage of every moment in his most memorable performance. As a screen villain he’s exactly what you want – creepy, disturbing, and amoral. Utterly believable. Goddamn terrifying.
It also culminates with the spoiler heavy clip below. Starling finds his home, confronts him, and Levine makes a break for it into his labyrinth cellar – killing the lights, his perverted psychology takes over as he gets kicks off Starling’s terror.
Such memorable moments are endless in The Silence of the Lambs. It’s a cinema classic, for sure, and its five Oscar wins show that that the Academy can get it spot on sometimes.
But much more impressive than its awards is its legacy – it made household names of the film’s stars and charaters, whilst the dialogue has become part of everyday language. And that, my dears, is more impressive than any Oscar. Fava beans, anyone?
Addendum: Goodbye Horses
On a final note, the song Goodbye Horses that Buffalo Bill is seen dancing to is something of an enigma. Q Lazzarus wrote and recorded the song with her band – the single hit the shelves in 1988; on first listening, many people think it’s a man thanks to her rather husky, contralto voice.
Despite her song appearing in one of the most famous films of all time, little is known about Q Lazzarus. She was working as a taxi driver in New York when, as the story goes, Johnathan Demme heard her song playing via cassette in her taxi. He used it in his film, asked her to record several other tracks (including a Talking Heads cover), and tried to get her a record deal.
But this led to nothing – music executives told her she wasn’t marketable. After the film became a sensation, and her song a cult hit, she nonetheless slipped into total obscurity.
Since then the internet has taken over. An online forum took on the task of breaking almost three decades of silence. In the summer of 2018, a claim went out she was a bus driver working in New York. However, these sources aren’t reliable and there’s no real documented footage to confirm the claim. Whilst the search continues, Q Lazzarus remains a mystery.