The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
August 27, 2022 4:36 PM - Subscribe

A young F.B.I. cadet is asked to interview an incarcerated and diabolically manipulative cannibal murderer in an effort to enlist his help to catch another serial killer.

Box Office & Critical Reception

The Silence of the Lambs was released on February 14, 1991, and grossed $272.7 million worldwide on a $19 million budget, becoming the fifth-highest grossing film of 1991 worldwide. It premiered at the 41st Berlin International Film Festival, where it competed for the Golden Bear, while Demme received the Silver Bear for Best Director. It became the third and most recent film (the other two being 1934's It Happened One Night and 1975's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) to win Academy Awards in all the major five categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It is the only horror film to win Best Picture.

The Silence of the Lambs is regularly cited by critics, film directors and audiences as one of the greatest and most influential films. In 2018, Empire ranked it 48th on their list of the 500 greatest movies of all time. The American Film Institute ranked it the fifth-greatest and most influential thriller film while Starling and Lecter were ranked among the greatest film heroines and villains. The film is considered "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant by the U.S. Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2011. A sequel, Hannibal, was released in 2001, followed by the prequel films Red Dragon in 2002 and Hannibal Rising in 2007.


Jodie Foster claims that during the first meeting between Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling, Sir Anthony Hopkins's mocking of her southern accent was improvised on the spot. Foster's horrified reaction was genuine since she felt personally attacked. She later thanked Hopkins for generating such an honest reaction.

After Lecter was moved from Baltimore, the plan was to dress him in a yellow or orange jumpsuit. Sir Anthony Hopkins convinced director Jonathan Demme and costume designer Colleen Atwood that the character would seem more clinical and unsettling if he was dressed in pure white. Hopkins has since said he got the idea from his fear of dentists.

In preparation for his role, Sir Anthony Hopkins studied files of serial killers. Also, he visited prisons, and studied convicted murderers, and was present during some court hearings concerning gruesome murderers and serial killings.

When Jonathan Demme filmed the scene where Lecter and Starling first meet, Sir Anthony Hopkins said he should look directly at the camera as it panned into his line of sight. He felt Lecter should be portrayed as "knowing everything".

One of the inspirations from whom Sir Anthony Hopkins borrowed for his interpretation of Dr. Hannibal Lecter was a friend of his in London who rarely blinked when speaking, which unnerved anyone around him.

During location scouting for the house in which the serial killer Jame Gumb was living, Ted Levine (Jame Gumb) was amazed to discover that the house being considered was not only in the town where he grew up, but was literally next door to the house of his high school girlfriend.

The real-life FBI's Behavioral Science Unit assisted in the making of this movie. The production received full cooperation from the FBI, as they saw it as a potential recruiting tool to hire more female agents.

Jodie Foster spent a great deal of time with FBI agent Mary Ann Krause prior to filming. Krause gave Foster the idea of Clarice Starling standing by her car crying. Krause told Foster that at times, the work just became so overwhelming that it was a good way to get an emotional release.

When Sir Anthony Hopkins's agent called him in London, to tell him that he was sending him a script called The Silence of the Lambs, Hopkins immediately thought he might be going up for a children's movie.

Sir Sean Connery was Jonathan Demme's first choice or the role of Hannibal, but he turned the part down. Sir John Hurt, Christopher Lloyd, Dustin Hoffman, Sir Patrick Stewart, Louis Gossett Jr., Robert Duvall, Jack Nicholson, and Robert De Niro were all considered for the role of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Jeremy Irons was asked but turned down the role, as he had just played Claus von Bülow in Reversal of Fortune (1990), and didn't want to play another dark character.

Gene Hackman bought the rights to the novel. He planned to direct this movie, and play either Dr. Hannibal Lecter or Jack Crawford. He withdrew after watching a clip of himself in Mississippi Burning at the the 61st Annual Academy Awards in 1989, which made him uneasy about taking more violent roles.

After Jodie Foster first read the Thomas Harris novel, she tried to buy the rights herself, only to find Gene Hackman had beaten her to it.

Sir Anthony Hopkins viewed the film as a last ditch effort to really break out in Hollywood. Although he had acted in movies and on television since the 1960s, he had not reached A-list status, nor had he attained the prestige for which he had been hoping with his screen acting career. He went on to say that if the film hadn't garnered the career boost he was seeking, he would have then quit his acting career in Hollywood and focus all his efforts instead on the British stage. Ultimately, the film was a major critical and commercial success, instantly making him a household name. His performance in the film earned him his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, which he won, immediately launching him into A-list status in Hollywood. As of 2021, Hopkins has received five more Academy Award nominations, and won another for The Father (2020).

When Ted Tally was writing the screenplay for this movie, he suggested Jodie Foster for the role of Clarice Starling. Foster had been lobbying hard for the part, but when Jonathan Demme was hired to direct, he wanted Michelle Pfeiffer instead. Pfeiffer turned it down, as well as Meg Ryan. Demme then agreed to meet Foster. He hired her after only one meeting, because he said he could see her strength and determination for the part, and he felt that was perfect for Clarice.

The pattern on the moth's back in the movie posters is not the natural pattern of the Death's-head hawkmoth. It is, in fact, Salvador Dalí's "In Voluptas Mors," a picture of seven naked women made to look like a human skull.

The first moth cocoon found in one of the victim's throats was made from a combination of Tootsie Rolls and gummy bears, so it would be edible if swallowed.

Notoriously private and shy, author Thomas Harris declined the opportunity to be involved in this movie in any way, though he did wish the cast and crew the best of luck with the adaptation. Then, to everyone's surprise, he sent all of the Oscar recipients a case of wine.

Brooke Smith entered in and out of the pit her character was in by crawling through a small door that was half her size. It was then covered with dirt to keep it out of sight of the camera.

The Tobacco hornworm moths used throughout this movie were given celebrity treatment. They were flown first class to the set in a special carrier, had special living quarters (rooms with controlled humidity and heat), and were dressed in carefully designed costumes (body shields bearing a painted skull and crossbones).

The tune played by the music box in Mr. Bimmel's (Harry Northup's) deceased daughter Fredrica's bedroom is from the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart opera "The Magic Flute". In that opera, the tune is played by a music box which magically protects the female protagonist from another character who covets her body, by mesmerizing him and his henchmen so that they dance and sing in a blissful trance instead of capturing her.

A copy of Bon Appétit magazine can be seen in Dr. Hannibal Lecter's temporary cell.

With the exception of what was found in the old limousine, no dummies were used for the dead victims and the photos depicting them. They were all done with real actors in realistic make-up, often while undressed and out in the open.

Sergeant Pembry's (Alex Coleman's) tie pin is a tiny pair of handcuffs.

When Jame Gumb grabs the gun in his bed, right after Catherine captures his dog, you can see that the bed sheet has two stitched Nazi swastikas. Sometime after that, there is yet another swastika half hidden by a picture on the wall, showing another layer of the killer's character. The production design team made sure that the house was littered with memorabilia from many different places and organizations, indicating that Gumb has such an identity disorder that he has tried to be part of many walks of life and ideologies, just to find a place where he fits in.

The position of Lieutenant Boyle's body after Dr. Hannibal Lecter has disemboweled and hung him from the cell was inspired by the work of painter Francis Bacon.

Dr. Hannibal Lecter's drawing of Clarice (shown in his temporary cell in Memphis, Tennessee) features three crosses in the background, with only one showing a man crucified. The drawing purposefully makes Clarice look older with jowls, creases under her eyes, and a gray streak in her hair. Of course, in her arms is the lamb she had tried to rescue. In essence, Dr. Hannibal Lecter is trying to suggest the statue The Pieta, which features Mary holding the body of Jesus (the Lamb of God) in her arms.

When Clarice Starling first discovers Catherine Martin in the well in Jame Gumb's basement, Martin's gown, wide-eyed fear, and holding of Gumb's white, curly haired dog can be seen as a direct mirror of Starling's own childhood memory of trying to save a lamb. Catherine refuses to give up the dog after being rescued.

Crawford tells Clarice that Miggs died by swallowing his tongue after Hannibal said something that made him cry. Literally swallowing one's tongue is impossible unless the tongue has been severed, and in that case it would not be fatal. However, an unconscious person's tongue may sag backwards and block their airway, leading to suffocation. This is what is usually referred to by the phrase. It is not a voluntary act.


Dr. Frederick Chilton: [to Clarice, as he escorts her to Hannibal's cell] I am going to show you why we insist on such precautions. On the evening of July 8th, 1981, he complained of chest pains and was taken to the dispensary. His mouthpiece and restraints were removed for an EKG. When the nurse leaned over him, he did this to her. [pulls out photo and shows it to Clarice] The doctors managed to reset her jaw more or less. Saved one of her eyes. His pulse never got above 85, even when he ate her tongue.

Hannibal Lecter: Now then, tell me. What did Miggs say to you? Multiple Miggs in the next cell. He hissed at you. What did he say?
Clarice Starling: He said, "I can smell your cunt."
Hannibal Lecter: I see. I myself cannot. You use Evyan skin cream, and sometimes you wear L'Air du Temps, but not today.

Hannibal Lecter: A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.

Hannibal Lecter: [to Clarice] You know what you look like to me, with your good bag and your cheap shoes? You look like a rube. A well scrubbed, hustling rube with a little taste. Good nutrition's given you some length of bone, but you're not more than one generation from poor white trash, are you, Agent Starling? And that accent you've tried so desperately to shed: pure West Virginia. What is your father, dear? Is he a coal miner? Does he stink of the lamp? You know how quickly the boys found you... all those tedious sticky fumblings in the back seats of cars... while you could only dream of getting out... getting anywhere... getting all the way to the FBI.
Clarice Starling: You see a lot, Doctor. But are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at yourself? What about it? Why don't you -- why don't you look at yourself and write down what you see? Or maybe you're afraid to.

Hannibal Lecter: Why do you think he removes their skins, Agent Starling? Enthrall me with your acumen.
Clarice Starling: It excites him. Most serial killers keep some sort of trophies from their victims.
Hannibal Lecter: I didn't.
Clarice Starling: No. No, you ate yours.

Hannibal Lecter: First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself? What is its nature? What does he do, this man you seek?
Clarice Starling: He kills women...
Hannibal Lecter: No. That is incidental. What is the first and principal thing he does? What needs does he serve by killing?
Clarice Starling: Anger, um, social acceptance, and, huh, sexual frustrations, sir...
Hannibal Lecter: No! He covets. That is his nature. And how do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet? Make an effort to answer now.
Clarice Starling: No. We just...
Hannibal Lecter: No. We begin by coveting what we see every day. Don't you feel eyes moving over your body, Clarice? And don't your eyes seek out the things you want?

Hannibal Lecter: Jack Crawford is helping your career isn't he? Apparently he likes you and you like him too.
Clarice Starling: I never thought about it.
Hannibal Lecter: Do you think that Jack Crawford wants you sexually? True, he is much older but do you think he visualizes scenarios, exchanges, fucking you?
Clarice Starling: That doesn't interest me Doctor and frankly, it's, it's the sort of thing that Miggs would say.
Hannibal Lecter: Not anymore.

Jack Crawford: Starling, when I told that sheriff we shouldn't talk in front of a woman, that really burned you, didn't it? It was just smoke, Starling. I had to get rid of him.
Clarice Starling: It matters, Mr. Crawford. Cops look at you to see how to act. It matters.
Jack Crawford: Point taken.

Jame "Buffalo Bill" Gumb: It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again.

Hannibal Lecter: Well, Clarice -- have the lambs stopped screaming?

Clarice Starling: Where are you, Dr. Lecter?
Hannibal Lecter: I've no plans to call on you, Clarice. The world is more interesting with you in it.

Hannibal Lecter: [on telephone to Clarice] I do wish we could chat longer, but... I'm having an old friend for dinner. Bye.
posted by orange swan (37 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
A fantastic post, and I just wanted to point out one thing:

It became the third and most recent film (the other two being 1934's It Happened One Night and 1975's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) to win Academy Awards in all the major five categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It is the only horror film to win Best Picture.

ISTR that when Jordan Peele was hinting that Get Out might benefit from a little Oscar push, he was told by the studio, “Forget it: movies released in February never win Oscars.”

Two of the three movies to go five for five were released in February.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:53 PM on August 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

One improvement of the film over the book is the matter of Lecter's riddles. In the film, he uses wordplay and anagrams. In the book, he gives the "Tooth Fairy's" name as William Rubin, a joke I picked up immediately. (Bilirubin is a form a bile that gives human excrement its characteristic brown color. "Billy Rubin" is an old medical school joke which wouldn't have fooled a serious investigator for a second. Might as well have named him "Ben Dover".)
posted by SPrintF at 5:48 PM on August 27, 2022

The Silence of the Lambs is a perfect movie. One of the best. One of the greatest. One of the most influential. Careers were made. A franchise was born. Countless imitators followed. For me, there was no better time to watch Silence than in the long hours before dawn.

On a side note, I wish The X-Files had taken a season to have Mulder recalled to Behavioral Sciences to work a case with Jack Crawford. :D
posted by Stuka at 6:14 PM on August 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

This is one of the films where if it shows up on the tv, I pause what I'm doing and watch. It's absolutely mesmerizing to watch everyone in almost every scene. From the cops in the morgue, to the Senator bargaining with Lector, to the women in the pit, there's this wonderful hypnotic power that looms over everything.

"Hannibal Lecter's (Anthony Hopkins) looming presence is felt throughout even though his screen time fills only 21% of the 1 hour and 58-minute"
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:14 PM on August 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

I’ve noted on the blue before that it is one of the great introductions to a character in a film and helps make him instantly mythic: he is like a creature out of mythology, held in the depths of the earth behind seven gates and seven guards.

As Brandon B points out, it is nearly perfect. It largely erased Brian Cox’s portrayal of Lecktor’s [sic] debut five years earlier in Manhunter. A decent and stylish film, that, but outflanked in almost every way by this one.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:40 PM on August 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

I love Silence of the Lambs and I have often called it my favourite film. (I swap between this and Before Sunset because I contain multitudes.) But the character of Buffalo Bill is hugely problematic, regardless of whether the film explicitly says he only thinks he's trans.

This piece, by trans writer Harmony Colangelo, is excellent. The follow-up conversation on the podcast "You Are Good" is essential listening, too.

A lot of my faves from the early 90s are problematic and I recognise that, even though SOTL is still one of the greatest films ever made. In another world, where trans representation was wide instead of narrow, the portrait of Jame Gumb wouldn't be so much of a problem. I still hope that Bryan Fuller can continue his TV show Hannibal one day and maybe tackle this story in a more nuanced progressive way. (Especially now that the Clarice TV series is dead, he might be able to get the rights to the character and the story.)

I often list this as one of those (not actually rare) situations where the film is better than the book - the riddles, for example, as SPrintF said above, but also the performances make these characters more whole than Harris' text manages to. (I like his first two books and loathe all the later Lecter novels.)
posted by crossoverman at 7:10 PM on August 27, 2022 [7 favorites]

crossoverman hit a couple of the points that I wanted to make; the controversy over Buffalo Bill at the time of the movie's release wasn't trivial, and that it is in fact better than the book. Hannibal wasn't just an awful book, it led me to reconsider all of Harris' other work, but I have to remind myself that the movie isn't the book. Jodie Foster was pretty much perfect as Starling; she seems so small and vulnerable compared to a lot of other people around her (this piece, which is a good overview of the film's complicated legacy, leads with a screenshot that illustrates that well), but she's got that spine of steel that both lets her stand up to Lecter and eventually take Buffalo Bill solo.

And, as much as some of his portrayal has been lessened, both by parodies and by subsequent installments, Hopkins' Lecter is profoundly unsettling, not just in the teeth-sucking and whatnot but in the silent moments. The Hannibal Lecture [TVTropes] was never again done anywhere near as well as it was in this film, despite some remarkable tries, including superhero movies such as The Avengers and The Dark Knight. (If posting this movie wasn't prompted by the TSotL reference in the latest She-Hulk episode, it's a remarkable coincidence.) The problems with the film--Buffalo Bill, Lector escaping because the Memphis guards choose to tote the idiot ball rather than follow a simple, straightforward procedure for a few days--aren't really minor, and the subsequent installment was far worse. (Even that wasn't as bad as Harris' book, and at least got rid of the clownish detail of the villain literally making a martini out of a child's tears.) But I think that I could rewatch this without a lot of pain.

Another bit of trivia: although Jeremy Irons passed on the part of Lecter, he did play the character on an SNL sketch with Phil Hartman playing his cellmate. I can't find the sketch online, but it was both unsettling and hilarious.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:49 PM on August 27, 2022

Here's the scene of the Lecter's escape by misleading the cops and man, those cops! Even when I saw it the first time, I thought they breaking all sorts of procedures and protocols, but there's a lovely humanity to them, especially in the face of evil.

They're ordinary characters, but the dialogue and direction gives them a human side. There's like a dozen of them heading up to Lechter's cell and it seems like complete overkill, but at this point we know that it may not be enough. The way the cops work together, yet are clearly terrified, especially after the discover the scene is quietly amazing. And the leader agonizing over the one officer, Jim Pembry, is a great touch and really sells the scene, despite the ridiculous moustache.

Thinking about it, Lecter was one the earliest "super" villains that are so popular today, one's that are so smart and always a step ahead of the hero. But because he's one of the first, Lector's role is more iconic and believable. That and later villains are taken to absurd degrees of genius aka The Joker in the Dark Knight, who had a ridiculously god like ability to think ahead. Lector comes off as more believable because of the smaller scale.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:56 PM on August 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Also, the movie is currently streaming on on CALIFORNIA TV BOX, Prime Video, Spectrum TV, The Roku Channel, SHOWTIME, Showtime Anytime, Redbox., VUDU, Vudu Movie & TV Store or Apple TV on your Roku device.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:58 PM on August 27, 2022

Hannibal wasn't just an awful book, it led me to reconsider all of Harris' other work

I've read that he wrote it to kill the franchise. Don't know if that's true or not.

Unfortunately, Gumb exists in the context of hideous tropes you can't wish away, even if Harris went out of his way to say that he wasn't actually trans (and I don't think he was just bullshitting). A smirch on a really great film.
posted by praemunire at 9:37 PM on August 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

I've read that he wrote it to kill the franchise. Don't know if that's true or not.

He still went and wrote Hannibal Rising a few years later, a book nobody wanted or asked for.
posted by crossoverman at 11:44 PM on August 27, 2022

I saw this on opening night in New York. You cannot imagine the tension in the audience during the scene in the basement near the end. When the lights went out people were gasping and screaming. It is why I still go to see movies in the theater — for the chance of having that group experience.

I have seen it countless times since and it never fails to draw me in.
posted by profreader at 2:51 AM on August 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

Watched this again last night because of this post. First time seeing it again since I saw it in a theater at release.

What a fantastic movie. Demme was a great director. So many closeups of the actors actually acting. The deliberate editing pace let the film breathe and built tension. The world looked grimy and lived in—real. Even the FBI HQ looked like a real place where real people worked and not some clean, shiny, glowing computer-world.

Foster was excellent. Hopkins was excellent. I remembered the basic ending and I was still gripped by the way the film played out. Bill's basement was a masterfully realized horror show descent into Hell. Starling is determined and competent, but still trembling and shaking down there in the dark. She kicks his gun away—and the monster doesn't come back to life ONE MORE TIME before it's over.

Great film!
posted by SoberHighland at 4:42 AM on August 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

I agree that the Buffalo Bill part is problematic and I get it if people can't look past that, and I feel like it mars an otherwise excellent film. That said, I have seen this movie more times than I can count, and I have even watched it muted just to force myself to pay attention to the film grammar, the framing, the editing ... it's really masterful work.

Re: the Jim Pembry bit, I have watched the film with two different people who were seeing it for the first time, and when Sgt. Tate says "That's Jim Pembry" both of them said "No it's not," immediately surmising that humans would phrase it differently but a screenwriter might get a character phrase it like that to trick you.
posted by johnofjack at 5:00 AM on August 28, 2022

I hadn't seen this film yet when the Oscars rolled around that year. I'm surprised to see that it wasn't nominated for Best Score - because I definitely remember a moment during the Oscar Awards Broadcast when they played a sample of the score at one point, and I had an instant visceral "this is dangerous, get away" reaction just to the score.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:06 AM on August 28, 2022 [4 favorites]

It's been a while since I read the book but what I recall from it, which the movie didn't reference at all, was a lot of backstory about Jame Gumb's mother. They had a strange relationship which factored significantly in terms of his sexuality and other personality aspects. I remember feeling bothered, almost cheated, at the end of SOL when the sunlight streaming in through the broken basement windows illuminated symbols and signals of Vietnam-type items, seemingly to indicate that wartime trauma had shaped him into what he was now. Nothing about parent-child abuse in any form. This felt like a cop-out to me and it still bugs me to this day. (Anyone whose memory of the book is more recent than mine, feel free to check me on this.)
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:19 AM on August 28, 2022

I_Love_Bananas: my memory is a little rusty, but I think all of the (grand?)parental abuse is in "Red Dragon". In SOTL his mother(?) was the dressmaker, which is how he meets the first victim (Bimmel?).
posted by techSupp0rt at 7:04 AM on August 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

This was a really good movie to see in the theater without knowing much about it. I rewatched it earlier this year with my wife, and it has mostly stood up.

What i mostly came to say is somehow I never realized that Jame Gumb is the same actor who played the Chief on Monk.
posted by Horselover Fat at 8:43 AM on August 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

Yeah, Ted Levine is pretty good; outside of this movie, he's somewhere between a higher-mileage Thomas Jane and a lower-mileage Rip Torn.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:49 AM on August 28, 2022 [5 favorites]

The decision to originally release TSOTL on Valentine's Day was so clever. I suppose there is a species of romance between Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter.

I also admire the portrayal of Lecter in this film, which completely eclipsed his portrayal in Manhunter. The character in TSOTL was written so well and characterized perfectly by Anthony Hopkins. It's difficult to portray such keen intelligence so verbally, and most portrayals would rely more on implication. Watching this film I really got the feeling that Sir Anthony is a super genius himself.

It's unfortunate that the film indulged in transphobia. At the time, I was oblivious to that, but watching it again today, the Buffalo Bill portrayal is cringeworthy in the worst way. It's also regrettable, to me at least, that Goodbye Horses got so intimately associated with the character. RIP Q Lazarus.
posted by abraxasaxarba at 11:25 AM on August 28, 2022

One of the many cool things about Heat is that the killers from Manhunter and Silence of the Lambs are both in the movie.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:42 AM on August 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

It's been a long time since I read the book, but I recall there's a beautiful part about Jack Crawford and his terminally-ill wife Bella.

The Silence of the Lambs: 10 Things Only Book Readers Know About the Story
posted by kirkaracha at 11:47 AM on August 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

Hopkins' Lecter is profoundly unsettling, not just in the teeth-sucking and whatnot but in the silent moments.

Very much this. The "fava beans" line became the cliché that it's remembered for. But his performance as Lecter is very much physical: he's almost always preternaturally still -- as he is when we first see him, standing motionless in his cell as Clarice approaches. Hopkins plays him as a man who is always very tightly in control of himself and this makes it all the more shocking when he does break composure and spring into motion: the escape, yes, but also his urgency to Clarice after the unfortunate incident with Miggs and at her last visit to him at the courthouse cell in Baltimore.

The comparison to Brian Cox's Lektor is interesting. Lektor's energy radiates outwards, he's always filling the space he's in; Lecter's energy is all turned inwards, he's a void that energy falls into.

(Colin Robinson, the energy vampire in What We Do In the Shadows, has quite a bit of Hopkins' Lecter to him I think.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:18 PM on August 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

Leaving Buffalo Bill aside, the one really bum note for me is the doorbell switcheroo between Jack's agents ringing at Gumb's old address versus Clarice at his new address. It's too much of a cheap ah-ha!-gotcha! trick.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:21 PM on August 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

I suppose there is a species of romance between Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter.

Lecter admires Clarice's intellect and her resilience. And that stands in pretty stark contrast to how men treat her in the outside world which is always shown as very male-gazey and condescending: the elevator at Quantico, the police at the funeral home; she's continually being under-estimated by men except Lecter.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:32 PM on August 28, 2022 [5 favorites]

also, this is a fascinating what-if:
Sir Sean Connery was Jonathan Demme's first choice or the role of Hannibal, but he turned the part down. Sir John Hurt, Christopher Lloyd, Dustin Hoffman, Sir Patrick Stewart, Louis Gossett Jr., Robert Duvall, Jack Nicholson, and Robert De Niro were all considered for the role of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Jeremy Irons was asked but turned down the role.
I cannot imagine Connery in the role in the slightest; but all the rest are like, yeah, I could see it.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:41 PM on August 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

In every class at Quantico, there's always one joker who thinks that he's smarter than me. In this class, that happens to be you. Isn't it, Clariceonnaise?
posted by kirkaracha at 3:34 PM on August 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

Leaving Buffalo Bill aside, the one really bum note for me is the doorbell switcheroo between Jack's agents ringing at Gumb's old address versus Clarice at his new address. It's too much of a cheap ah-ha!-gotcha! trick.

I love this moment. This is clever filmmaking, which has been copied many times in other films and TV shows. This is using the visual language of cinema against the audience. Fascinating that something I see as poetry you see as a cheap trick.
posted by crossoverman at 5:09 PM on August 28, 2022 [9 favorites]

I've rewatched a few scenes and man, those close ups of Hopkins and Foster are just stunning. Beautifully lit and directly, with both of the actors on their A game. At some points Hopkins doesn't even look like himself, he literally looks like some otherworldly creature with a human form as a thin disguise.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:28 PM on August 28, 2022 [5 favorites]

As far as I remember, all of the clichés that appear in Silence of the Lambs were done here first. It was honestly a startling film full of things I'd never seen before.

I've wondered whether the extraordinary skill Demme made the film with was developed in things like Stop Making Sense and Swimming to Cambodia, where the material being shown is not cinema (and in the latter case is tiny), but the results are something hugely cinematic, and it's interesting that he came into the 1990s doing an overfamiliar genre in a radical new way, and it's always seemed to me that he brought the techniques he'd used for those smaller films to this blockbuster .
posted by Grangousier at 11:08 AM on August 29, 2022 [2 favorites]

It’s odd to me how thoroughly Demme faded away: the eighties and nineties saw, as Grangousier mentioned, features several great smaller films from him and then this huge success. After this he did Philadelphia, also a sizeable hit, and then... he seems to wander off into music videos and TV episodes. The Agronomist ? The Truth About Charlie? Ricki and the Flash? His twenty-first century oeuvre for feature films is not that inspired.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:05 AM on August 30, 2022

Besides being a hell of movie, with remarkable performances, this is also one of my absolute favorite film adaptations. Ted Tally did a great job figuring out what to keep and what to let slide from the book - there's a lot of great stuff in the novel that's mostly really internal (class issues and Clarice's background, for instance), and rather than try to fit that into a feature-length film, he focuses on the more external stuff that keeps the same dramatic notes, and it makes for a better movie.

And, yeah, the close-ups of them staring at the camera as they converse is just fabulous cinema.

I also find the exterior establishing shot fake-out with Clarice meeting Gumb vs the FBI raid annoying. The film has shown the audience a set of rules about how they're giving us information and what a sequence of shots means, then it breaks them because it's convenient for a plot twist. Just straight up "every time I show you an exterior establishing shot followed by an interior shot, I'm doing this... HA HA HA PSYCH!" I'm not sure how to do the same type of reveal in a way that feels less like cheating and more like "oh, hey, I didn't see that in advance but it makes sense in retrospect", but I wish they'd managed it.

The film and the book have some pretty heavy transphobia. I think a lot of that is based on when it was written and the conservatism underlying a lot of crime fiction, but even with a few lines here and there about how Bill isn't "really" trans, it definitely had a negative societal impact on the perception of trans folks.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:23 PM on August 30, 2022

I first saw this movie on video within a year or so after it came out. I don't think I'd seen it again until I rewatched it just before posting it here.

I remembered it pretty well and it was still an absorbing watch with compelling performances from Foster and Hopkins, but from everyone else too. It stands up quite well except for the transphobia, and I don't think that would have been problematic if there was more positive representation of trans people in the media -- after all, Buffalo Bill was not trans, but rather a psychopath who hated himself so much and was so fragmented he wanted to be someone else entirely. But when there was so little, and certainly nothing positive, about trans people in the media at the time... yeah, ugh.

It does well in terms of highlighting the kind of sexism Clarice had to deal with day to day. I liked the little moment when Clarice tells Jack his little ploy to get the sheriff out of the room was not the harmless playacting he thought it was, and he takes her point like an adult.

Chilton and those two guards were appallingly careless around Hannibal, and they paid for it with their lives.

I was amused to see that the pen that Chilton accidentally leaves on Hannibal's bed is identical to one I have in my nighttable drawer. It's a stainless steel Cross that I've had for well over 20 years, and I no longer remember where I got it -- I know I didn't buy it, nor did anyone intentionally give it to me.
posted by orange swan at 2:37 PM on September 1, 2022

On Amazon Prime atm, fwiw.

On rewatch, two things: Lecter's fava-beans line still stands out as hammy and out of character. It's him trying to put a theatrical scare on Clarice, and I think she sees right through it; it's hokey, and she knows Lecter doesn't really do hokey:
STARLING: I thought the "yourself" reference was too hokey for Lecter, so I figured he's from Baltimore and I looked in the phone book and there's a "Your Self" storage facility right outside of downtown Baltimore, sir.
Also, a nice symmetry between Lecter calling out Clarice's "ham-handed segue":
LECTER: Memory, Agent Starling, is what I have instead of a view.
STARLING: Well, perhaps you'd care to lend us your view on this questionnaire, sir.
LECTER: Oh, no, no, no, no. You were doing fine. You had been courteous and receptive to courtesy. You had established trust, with the embarrassing truth about Miggs. And now this ham-handed segue into your questionnaire. It won't do.
versus him pulling a very similar segue on Clarice later:
LECTER: "Plum lsland Animal Disease Research Centre." Sounds charming.
STARLING: That's only a part of the island. There's a very nice beach. Terns nest there. There's beautiful...
LECTER: Terns? If I help you, Clarice, it will be "turns" with us too. Quid pro quo.
He knows the offer is bogus, no? but he's playing along because (a) he's interested in Clarice's trauma and (b) it'll provide him an opportunity to get out of his rigidly-controlled Baltimore environment and into something he can exploit for escape.

The entire Starling/Lecter dynamic is mutually exploitative: in all their encounters they're both warily circling each other to see what they can get out of it. Lecter says he wants a view, but he really wants his freedom; and he very early identifies "advancement" as what Clarice wants. And watch: she's given rules by both Crawford and Chilton about how to/how not to interact with Lecter and she breaks them all in pursuit of it.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 10:49 PM on September 11, 2022

And, yeah, the close-ups of them staring at the camera as they converse is just fabulous cinema.

Also, the way the shots steadily tighten during their conversations: from over-the-shoulder shots that put distance and the cage bars between them into tight direct-to-camera closeups in which both emotional distance and physical separation are gone.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 10:53 PM on September 11, 2022

the one really bum note for me is the doorbell switcheroo between Jack's agents ringing at Gumb's old address versus Clarice at his new address.

I've been thinking about this comment a lot and watched the movie again tonight. The thing is, the cross-cutting between Jack's agents at Gumb's old address versus Clarice at his new address marks the second time the film misled us with an establishing shot and the third time it has misled us with cross-cutting.

There's a general (and reasonable) assumption that establishing shots set an accurate expectation for what follows; I can think of two exceptions to it offhand (the openings of Toy Story and Team America: World Police) where an establishing shot leads into a deceptive closer framing, but those both occur in the first few minutes of the film and are both for comic effect. There is also an establishing shot towards the middle of The Silence of the Lambs which is a rug-pull, but for dramatic effect rather than comic: after Clarice is pulled out of her physical training (she's holding the whatsit for a sparring partner to punch), the film cuts to outside with a car racing towards foreground and making a sharp turn, sirens blaring from another car following it. As Clarice and the FBI instructor walk into shot, we realize that this isn't an actual car chase but a training exercise on the FBI campus.

As for deceptive cross-cutting, after Clarice's first interview with Lecter (the one with Miggs's assault at the end) Clarice leaves the psychiatric hospital and the film cuts to a POV shot of a police cruiser pulling up to a rural house. Then it cuts to adult Clarice, and when it cuts back to the rural area we see a young Clarice coming to meet her father as he arrives home from work: this scene is not contemporaneous with Clarice's interview, but a flashback.

Then, just before the autopsy scene, Clarice hears the organ and we see an adult Clarice walking through the funeral room, approaching an open coffin. On getting close to it, the reverse shot shows a young Clarice looking down at her father's body. When Clarice is jarred out of her memory she is not standing before an open coffin but is back in the room with the body of one of Buffalo Bill's victims.

I've seen this film dozens of times, and I can understand why someone might be bothered by the cross-cutting leading into that climactic scene, but I feel like it was foreshadowed enough with other bits of subtle trickery that I'm willing to forgive it.

And all that's without getting into Gumb's basement, which seems like another bit of studio trickery (I'd love to see a floorplan of that basement compared with the floor above it; I feel certain they've gone beyond the realistic into psychological metaphor).
posted by johnofjack at 6:31 PM on September 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

That is the most solid defense of that switch-up shot I've seen, and now I have to go think about it and watch the movie again.

As for the basement, yeah. It's not Overlook Hotel levels of "that can't work", but definitely a peculiar maze.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:41 AM on September 20, 2022

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