Insomniacs Unite for: Silence of the Lambs
By Bret Dorman
I’ve been to prison. A couple of times.
It was when I worked for The American Red Cross as a phlebotomist, still one of the strangest jobs that I have ever had (the job itself is not strange, but that I had it was). I used to do blood drives at the minimum security prison RIGHT next door to the now infamous Attica.
Our check-in process was pretty tame. Showing I.D., having our bags checked, making sure we didn’t have cell phones or cameras or weapons or cakes with nail files in them, having us sign in, getting a stamp that would glow under black light (which made me nervous to wash my hands after using the restroom, what if it washed off?! I’m one of the good guys! I SWEAR!).
I have to say, the guards who came in to get their blood drawn, were very stereotypical manly men who would basically just treat me like a horse would a fly. That is to say I was mostly ignored, even when trying to perform basic physical procedures like blood pressure or temperature and even when drawing actual blood. These guys were much more interested in joking around with each other and ‘flirting’ with the women who were working the drive. Luckily, the team I mostly worked with, consisted of women who could joke along while also putting them in their place.
But still there was something about being in the prison. A certain attitude and uneasiness everyone had. These guards had to develop general a-hole personalities because the people they were watching were always looking to test them. This may be the closest I’ve ever come to having a conversation with someone as scary as Hannibal the Cannibal, but luckily I have The Silence of the Lambs to safely escort me on the rest of that journey, even if it may not be safe for its characters.The Story: FBI Agent-in-training Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is sent to talk to Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in hopes of catching other serial killer Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine). Lecter toys with the young cadet while drawing her closer into his own warped mind. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking as Buffalo Bill has kidnapped another victim. Also, faces get eaten. (Yummy!)
Right from the opening shot we get the sense that this film has a “sloppy” edge to it. Most movies nowadays strive for a polished look and feel. With The Silence of the Lambs, director Jonathan Demme seems to be going for a more natural vibe. Something like you’d see in the 70’s, instead of trying to aspire to be a sharp product that is easily digestible. Sure you could say this is just him trying to inject some “grittiness” into the movie, full of gruesome images, but even that grittiness can be over-thought, over-planned, and over-done sometimes. I don’t mean to call this movie sloppy in a bad way, in fact, I think it makes the movie more genuine.Speaking of genuine, Jodie Foster as a small town hillbilly-ish girl forced to grow up and prove herself in a world dominated by men is worthy of the Oscar she got for her portrayal. Clarice is someone who is constantly at odds with her situation. She’s used as a tool by her superiors, underestimated by the male cops around her, and toyed with by Dr. Lecter himself. So why go on? Why continue her pursuit of the serial killer and his helpless victim? Even her and her fellow female student see past the kidnapped girl’s politically empowered mothers plea to get her daughter back. The answer comes in the form of Dr. Lecter’s prying into Clarice’s past. As Clarice talks about the screaming of the lambs, her honesty and courage to face her past demons, and determination to make the world a better place because of them, might even be enough to bring a tear to your eye. While Clarice’s best option with Dr. Lecter is to be honest with him, since he knows if or when she’s lying, the film also does not shy away from the brutality of real life crime scenes. Photos are displayed in full and crimes scenes discussed in detail. Decomposed bodies are examined and documented with the haunting click and flash of a Polaroid camera. Later, that same haunting click and flash is used in a disturbing night vision POV shot that stalks our main hero. And Lecter himself even takes extreme measures to try and escape, the brutality of which is both pure evil and classically cinematic.
When I first watched this movie years ago, I was under the impression it was a more respected version of Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th. Hannibal was right up there in discussions of horror icons like Krueger and Voorhees. At the time I thought I was watching a straight up horror movie. I was a bit bored, but still appreciative. However, now I see the wonderful balancing act of the script and how it focuses more on the more mundane details of a criminal investigation. Even though the movie clocks in at just under two hours, there are some pretty ballsy chunks where characters disappear. While Hannibal is most memorable as an intimidating antagonist, the main threat Buffalo Bill gets just as little screen time. Even Clarice is absent from one of the films most thrilling and bloody moments. Yet all these diversions interweave to make for one linear story that has its highs and lows.This review would be incomplete if I didn’t give Dr. Hannibal Lecter his own section. AFI even names him as the Top #1 Movie Villain (Clarice comes in at a surprising and respectable #6 Hero). And yes, Hannibal the Cannibal is a mean man who eats people and wears faces when need be. And yes, Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar for this movie for Actor in a Best LEADING Role even though he only has 16 minutes of screen time. But other than the performance and typical villain-y, what makes the doctor stand out so much? How about the fact that the movie builds up his presence before he’s on screen and then the first time we see him, he is waiting with supernatural foresight. He lives up to the hype put on him by immediately picking up on Clarice’s temporary agent status and even managing to kill with words alone. The truly terrifying thing about the man behind the glass is that he is so well spoken, so sharp, so observant, so cultured, so educated and always so… right. Yet, even though he knows all this, even though he is completely self aware, he chooses to be a murderer. He chooses his acts of evil in a very calculating way. He is not just a bad guy, he is evil incarnate.
Why This Movie Is Perfect For Insomniacs: There are a lot of scary places around. Especially prisons. Luckily movies allow us to visit these scary places and even experience some of the fear. The genius of The Silence of the Lambs is that it transcends its celluloid cage and brings us to the darkest places of all, our own minds. Bow-Tie at Reston Town Center though will bring you to the edge of madness, while also providing the most comfortable seats and delicious snacks. Fava beans and chianti? Why not a bag of popcorn and a pepsi.
Poster Asterisk 1* – Found here.
Poster Asterisk 2* – By Ken Taylor, found here.
Poster Asterisk 3* – Love the minimalist stuff! Found here.
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