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“Well, Clarice - have the lambs stopped screaming?”
There are characters who make their entrance in the movie world in such a spectacular way that the actor or actress which played that character risks to be associated with him/her for the rest of his/her career. It's notably the case for Clarice Starling, but especially for Hannibal Lecter. From the moment they appeared for the first time, it became evident that Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins would forever be remembered for their iconic roles.
I have to say that it's Hannibal Lecter who impressed me the most. And that's not only the case for me. I allow myself to tell you that anecdote which happened to me. A friend of mine is some kind of horror buff and I decided to test him by showing him "The Silence of the Lambs". He passed the test successfully but I'll always remember his reaction during the famous ambulance scene. When Lecter puts off his mask to reveal his face, my friend instantly gasped. This demonstrates without any doubt the formidable power of Dr. Lecter. His only very presence is frightening. We see him and we are afraid, period.
"The Silence of the Lambs" is the first horror movie in history to be rewarded with the Academy Award for Best Picture. And believe me that it deserves that prize. The Oscars for Foster and Hopkins' acting roles also are. We often associate horror films with ghosts, demons, monsters and other creatures which come from the imaginary and the supernatural. But nothing is more horrifying than what appears real and very plausible. Alfred Hitchcock has already shown that in "Psycho" and director Jonathan Demme raises the bar with this adaptation of Thomas Harris' novel.
The story involves Clarice Starling (played by Foster), a student at the FBI Academy who is also a specialist in serial killers. One of her superiors, Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn), asks Clarice to interview the terrifying psychopath Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter (immaculately played by Hopkins) who is also a brilliant psychiatrist, so he could deliver clues which would lead to the capture of Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), another serial killer actively searched by the FBI.
Lecter accepts to help Clarice, but only to the condition that she feed Lecter's sordid curiosity by confessing herself about her childhood's worst souvenirs. Why is Lecter interesting himself to Clarice's worst days? Does he want to weaken her? Does he want the bad guy to win? Or is he only a sadist and a pervert? I would go with the latter affirmation.
I think that it is useless to specify that, of all the characters, Hannibal Lecter is by far the best and the most fascinating. The other characters describe him in such a frightening and horrible way that we fear him well before we see him for the first time. And when we see him for the first time, we instantly remark his cold and menacing eyes, as well as his disturbing grin. Himself a serial killer, we can consider Lecter as one of the worst (or best, depending on how you read it) villains in the history of cinema, even if we see him killing only once. And precisely, his attack is very stylish. He kills both policemen on the strains of Johann Sebastian Bach's "The Goldberg Variations" and once he accomplished his work, we see him stained with blood, just like a painted how has just finished from making a new painting. That scene establishes a shocking parallel between murder and art.
But Lecter is only one side of this story. In fact, he's only a sub-plot. The true story involves Buffalo Bill's actions. Bill, brilliantly played by Levine, acts in nearly the whole Midwest, but his victims always are rather fat young women. Unlike many movies which hide their killer until the very end, we often see Bill in this film, even if we don't know his true identity, nor the frightening motives of his crimes until the end. The only thing we can discover about Bill is his appearing mental problems which push him to kill.
The horrors of the film aren't limited to the killers themselves. The movie is strewn with blood-chilling naturalistic images, especially the images of corpses who got parts of their skin removed. And how could we forget this unbearable image of the dead policeman with an open abdomen posing like an angel who is about to take off?
There's also a good dose of suspense, especially at the end when Clarice is chasing Bill in his labyrinthine basement. The climax of the pitch-black room while Bill is wearing his night goggles to see in the absolute darkness is breathtaking and holds suspense until the conclusion. At this moment, we're totally absorbed in that cat-and-mouse game at the point that we totally forget Lecter's existence.
"The Silence of the Lambs" is an excellent example of the horrors of the criminal acts and of psychological horror aroused by childhood traumas. Overall, the film is an immense metaphor about the horror of modern world and wants to get sure that the viewer leaves weakened and less in security than before he got inside the theater. The sinister soundtrack of Howard Shore adds to the already sordid atmosphere and the Q. Lazzarus song "Goodbye Horses" adds even more with its broken notes which resonate and give goosebumps. Personnaly, each time that I hear that song, I start thinking about Buffalo Bill who cross-dresses in front of the camera with that song playing in the background.
"The Silence of the Lambs" is a grandiose spooky symphony well-carried by Foster and Hopkins whose roles are already a part of the legend. The numerous references of the movie in the popular culture keep it well alive more than fifteen years after its release. Everybody, at least those who are able to stand horror images, should watch this movie at least once in their life… 10/10


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