It has been 30 years since The Silence of the Lambs was released, but it remains a benchmark for similar horror movies. Despite being a sleeper hit, no movie critic can curate a horror movie list without mentioning this gem. In 1999, it sweeped the Oscars and became the only horror movie to do so. What makes this movie such a brilliant classic?
Horror Movie With a Thrilling Plotline
The movie truly begins on an uncomfortable note; Clarice Starling and Dr Hanibal Lecter meet for the first time. The setting is a depressing prison cell, but the subject stands erect in almost serpentine grace before Starling. The prison is failing to take away charm, grace and intellect from Lecter.
Starling, a beautiful trainee agent, is sent to Lecter’s cell. She has to persuade him in aiding the FBI to find another serial killer – Buffalo Bill. This serial killer on the loose skins his female victims, and the FBI acts patiently until he abducts Catherine, a senator’s daughter. The movie showcases Starling’s determined pursuit of the serial killer. Buffalo Bill. It is filled with gruesome, malevolent and brilliant scenes, where Catherine is brutually beaten to unconsciousness and Lecter charges at his guards with his mouth as a weapon.
The thriller is methodical and so well-built, pangs of anxiety, anticipation and horror can be felt throughout the movie. It truly takes you in.
The Silence of the Lambs through a technical lens
Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins were both wonderful in the portrayal of their characters. Foster portrayed Starling with a delicate vulnerability; it showed she carried herself with more confidence than she actually had. The brilliant, passionate FBI agent regularly fought her way on top at her job while ignoring many stripping glares of men lusting after her.
Hopkins, on the other hand, comes with a chaotic calm. Collected, brilliant, eloquent and sinister, but you end up liking this character despite watching him kill his guards mercilessly. His presence on the screen and just the fact he is helping Starling makes him likeable. Here, all of Hopkins’ stage experience finally comes to life. The close-ups by director Jonathan Demme add to the thrill and anticipation building. During his close-ups, his delivery is calculated and lands just right with the visuals.
The Silence of the Lambs does one thing splendidly, and most would agree, it doesn’t present a cannibal to us; it builds up to him. And yet, viewers manage to have a love-hate relationship with him. This movie is a case through the eyes of an FBI agent. Lecter is merely a catalyst and holds less screen time than Starling, but he is integral to the plot and edge-of-the-seat thrill of this movie. Bill and Lecter both build up their potential, and when it finally comes out, it leaves the audience shell-shocked and impressed.
The music and background score of the movie is also a work of sheer genius! Howard Shore’s ominous, mournful music throughout the movie falls splendidly on this masterpiece. The score also has sighs, laments, cries and distant sounds at many points. The mix of Catherine’s cries, bill’s heavy breathing and the dog’s barks combined make for a great psychological impact on the audience.
An oscar movie with cultural ties
Jodie’s portrayal of Starling definitely puts her on the list of strong female characters in cinema. The character has literally paved the way for strong female characters fighting in a male-dominated workplace. Jodie pioneered an alternate portrayal of female characters with determination and fragility. This led to female characters with real workplace struggles instead of laugh-eliciting comedic ones.
Similarly, the movie paved the way for media about serial killers, which was a taboo coming from an era where stranger danger can be described as general public sentiment. And to date, you can see movies that are based on serial killers and abductors like the Netflix’s – Ted Bundy Tapes and Mindhunter.
Another cultural matter of significance mentioned in the movie was transgenders or the lgbtq+ community. While demme found himself clarifying that the movie does not show transgenders in a bad light, there were many long-drawn criticisms for its portrayal of the same. The portrayal of a serial killer as a transgender who happens to cross-dress has been called out for promoting transphobia.
The movie’s cultural legacy, although vast, has both sides to it. The film eventually ended up grossing $130 million at the box office, which was the highest at that time, except for Jaws and Exorcist. Not to mention being three decades old and yet withstanding its nightmarish, methodical, eerie appeal.
An oscar sweeper and a cult classic?
Whoever has read about the accolades of the movie will understand the classic cult aspect of it. It is the only movie to land a best actor and actress award for both its actors. The Silence of the Lambs remains the only horror movie to date to have won the Best Picture Oscar. Also, it is one among three movies to have ever achieved the big-five-O, i.e. leading actor awards, Best Picture, and Best Director award to Demme.
The movie constantly amazes us and ropes us in for a frightening sequence. Teeth-chattering scenes – where cops await the arrival of the lift, the discovery and extraction of the cocoon and the extended sequence of Buffalo Bill’s house – will always remain in the minds of horror movie fans. We are frightened and so totally engrossed in the movie because we have come to care for the ambitious woman that Sterling is. We want her to win, be safe and successful, just like Lecter does. The movie is complicated, anxiety-invoking and disturbing at the same time, and we love it.
A sequel to this movie titled Hannibal also came out in 2001, but like any other movie of this genre, it could not match the genius that The Silence of The Lambs was. The legacy of this movie cannot be denied; the work all the actors and director had put in literally shines through every time you watch the movie.