Oscar Movie Month: "The Silence of the Lambs" Review

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A psychopath known as Buffalo Bill is kidnapping and murdering young women across the Midwest. Believing it takes one to know one, the FBI sends Agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) to interview a demented prisoner who may provide psychological insight and clues to the killer's actions. The prisoner is psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant, murderous cannibal who will only help Starling if she feeds his morbid curiosity with details about her own complicated life.
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Oscar Movie Month: "The Silence of the Lambs" Review

-- Rating: R (strong violent content, disturbing images, language, sexual content)
Length: 118 minutes
Release Date: February 14, 1991
Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Genre: Drama/Crime/Thriller

Arguably one of the creepiest movies ever made, "The Silence of the Lambs" is still a favorite among those who love a good psychological thriller. The movie stars Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling, a rookie FBI agent who is given a special assignment. She is supposed to interview infamous serial killer Hannibal Lecter, who is played by Anthony Hopkins. The interview turns into a riddle that leads to another serial killer and begins a story filled with mind-games, clever dialogue, and numerous ick-factor moments.

Ick-factor aside, "The Silence of the Lambs" was incredibly popular with both critics and viewers when it debuted in 1991. The film is the third to sweep the Big Five at the Academy Awards, winning awards for best picture, director, actor, actress, and screenplay. The first two films to receive such accolades were "It Happened One Night" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." At this time, no other films have won in all five categories. In addition to sweeping the awards, "The Silence of the Lambs" was the first film considered to be a horror movie to win for best picture.

Although much of the action in the film hinges on Clarice's pursuit of Buffalo Bill, who is played by Ted Levine, and the political machinations associated with working within the FBI, it is the on-screen chemistry between Foster and Hopkins that make the film so iconic. A young Foster is able to bring simultaneous vulnerability and strength to her role, and Anthony Hopkins delivers a brilliant performance as the wickedly genius Dr. Lecter. It is interesting to note that neither individual was the first casting choice for this film. Gene Hackman was originally offered the role of Lecter and Michelle Pfeiffer was asked to play Clarice. Both turned the offer down due to discomfort with the material in the screenplay.

Once Lecter begins to provide Clarice with information about Buffalo Bill, the plot really starts to roll. Lecter tries to use his skills at profiling to secure better accommodations. Clarice offers a fake deal and is backstabbed by a deceitful Dr. Chilton, who makes an arrangement of his own with Lecter. Clarice and Lector engage in conversations and she reveals personal information, even though she has been warned not to do so.

"The Silence of the Lambs" has created controversy over the years, due in part to the graphic and deranged nature of the killings. Although the movie is heralded as an artistic thriller, there is a large amount of shock value in the subject matter. Clarice is chasing a serial killer that skins his victims and wants to become a woman. She is seeking advice from a killer who ate the people he killed. Naysayers have spoken out against the director, actors, and writers for being anti-gay and sexist.

Controversy created something else over the years, however. There are iconic scenes from "The Silence of the Lambs" that have been recreated in numerous movies, referenced in literature, and satirized on television. The slurping noise Anthony Hopkins created for Hannibal Lecter's character and Buffalo Bill's insistence that his victim put lotion on her skin are just two of the motifs that have made their way into modern pop culture. Modern homages to the film include scenes in television's animated series "Family Guy" and the David Spade comedy "Joe Dirt."

Perhaps one of the most surprising things about "The Silence of the Lambs" is that Anthony Hopkins, who is often credited with the movie's success and who won the Oscar for best actor, is featured onscreen in the film for less than seventeen minutes in total. The fact that he brought the character to life in such a memorable way, inspired numerous satires and copies, and compelled filmmakers to create a sequel in just over a quarter of an hour is a testament to his acting ability.

"The Silence of the Lambs" is certainly not a movie for all audiences and is rated R for very good reasons. However, the clever dialogue, phenomenal acting, and breath-holding storyline offer plenty of reasons to give this classic thriller a try. Even viewers who are not fans of traditional horror may enjoy watching this crime drama unfold, although anyone with a queasy stomach may want to look away from time to time. Individuals looking for a unique DVD option on a Friday night may want try "The Silence of the Lambs" and find out why the movie is still gaining fans today.

Rating: 4 out of 5