500 movie project The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Disclaimer: I started this project of watching the Empire Australia movie magazine’s top 500 movies of all time, many years ago in 2012 and I absolutely didn’t make it. Life happened, it became clear it was a rather flawed list, the world moved on. However I have a number of unpublished blog entries for the higher part of the list so I’m gonna go ahead and publish them. Enjoy!

Silence of the Lambs
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Written by Ted Tally based on the novel by Thomas Harris
(number 130)

I was 11 when this movie came out, but even at that age I was well aware that this movie had come out, that it was generally acclaimed for the performances of Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins and that it was about a serial killer called Hannibal the Cannibal. I was never brave enough to watch it.

I remember hearing stories, people having heart attacks in the theatre, and Anthony Hopkins sitting behind someone in a cinema and leaning forward to say ‘don’t worry, I won’t hurt you,’ to someone who was freaking out. There was a lot of media around the film, a lot of myth as well, and it all added up to making me not want to watch. A lot of it has become cinema cliche at this point ‘some fava beans and a nice chianti,’, ‘quid pro quo’, the ‘ff-f-f-ff-ff’ mouth noise, ‘it puts the lotion on its skin,’ and on and on. Until much more recently it became a hit TV show about (as far as I can tell) how lovely and charming the pyschopathic cannibal is.

I don’t enjoy watching things about serial killers, I’m not interested or intrigued by watching men kill women. I will not watch Dexter or Hannibal the TV shows. But there is a certain fascination I suppose. I enjoyed the book ‘I am not a serial killer’ from the POV of a sociopathic teenager obsessed with serial killers.

I really had never watched this film before. It wasn’t easy to watch and although it’s fascinating and well made, I don’t think I could say that I enjoyed it. I was pretty tense all the way through and I was almost at the stage of jumping at shadows and noises in my house. I had to watch it while Anna was out because it’s really not her kind of thing.

You can’t say that this movie started the fascination in modern media with killers, because that must have started with Truman Capote back in the fifties, right? But this certainly brought it all into the spotlight I think. In a sensible, psychological intelligent way that slashers and horror movies don’t.

It’s an extraordinarily white movie. Almost all of the speaking roles are white, certainly all the main characters are. It’s a bit of a drag but not particularly surprising.

Also there’s some confusing stuff about transgender people. Clarice says that Buffalo Bill cannot be transsexual because transsexuals are calm and non-violent? And then of course, the inextricable link of this guy who’s wanting so much to be a woman that he’s attacking, kidnapping and killing women so that he can become one?

I found this article about transphobia in this movie if you want to read more intelligent breakdown than I am capable of.

Does it make me love the people? It does, and I think that’s this film’s absolute success. You love Clarice because she is shown from the start to be not your standard screaming final girl in a horror movie – she’s introduced working herself hard on the Quantico training track, sweating visibly, grunting as she excerpts herself. When she first meets Hannibal you are afraid for her, and she is victimised by the other inmates.

Hannibal well, I don’t think you can say he’s loveable, but he’s shown to be such a gentleman; a well spoken man who is logical and respectful to Clarice. Except, of course, for how he’s entirely sexually fixated on her as well, and apparently on the senator he meets later as well. He’s calm and cool and totally happy to make it all about women’s physical sexual characteristics. It’s pretty gross.

Bechdel test: Early on Clarice runs quiz questions/tests a friend of hers on their classes. Ardelia is her name, and they speak again later on to talk about Hannibal but yes, it passes. Ardelia is also a woman of colour, so yay for Ardelia. She’s also shown to be smart and capable, concerned about Clarice and the two are totally comfortable with each other. How nice if they’re FBI trainee girlfriends. (Goes off in a little dream about nicer things than happen in the movie.)

Best line:
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.

State of Mind: One cannot be too sad about the implication of who Lecter is going to kill at the end of the film. I won’t be watching this movie again though, I find it very uncomfortable and unpleasant to watch.

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