Blog Directory CineVerse: Bringing in the sheep…

Bringing in the sheep…

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Twenty-five years since its initial release, The Silence of the Lambs doesn't fail to frighten or entertain: a testament to fantastic writing, direction, acting and technical artistry. It's also a picture overflowing with ideas, memorable visuals, unforgettable dialogue and complex themes. Here's our take on the movie as a film discussion group after careful dissection:

Unlike predecessors that depicted psycho killers and mentally deranged sociopaths, this movie attempts to employ a forensic psychology approach to better understanding the mindset and motivations for the criminals.
o Film reviewer Richard Scheib wrote: “Prior to The Silence of the Lambs, the psycho movie genre’s view of psychology and behavior had then routed in absurdly outmoded and melodramatic forms of Freudian trauma – Psycho (1960) and successors – or where killers were stripped of human motivation and seen as incarnate faces of evil – Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980) and various sequels. The forensic psychology psycho-thriller gave the psycho film psychological motivation – it took a glimpse inside the heads of psychopaths and what made them tick behaviorally.
While many earlier or films had already established the formula of the “final girl” – in which the last survivor is a vulnerable female who has been pursued and attacked by an antagonist – this picture refreshingly presents a strong female protagonist who is the hunter instead of the hunted, the hero instead of the victim, and the rescuer: Clarice presents an inversion of the “knight in shining armor” male archetype who has to rescue the fair maiden locked in the villain’s castle.
Interestingly, this horror film gives us two monsters – Buffalo Bill and Hannibal Lecter – each of which is terrifying and dangerous in their own ways. But the latter is depicted as a charismatic, likable personality because we see that he takes an interest in and sympathizes with Clarice, whom we suspect Hannibal would not harm, and also because he’s such an intelligently written character. Yet, he’s also capable of even more extreme violence and brutality then Buffalo Bill.
This movie’s influence was wide and vast: consider all the copycat films that came in its wake, including Beyond Bedlam, Nightscare, Just Cause, The Cell, Angel Dust, When the Bowel Breaks, Se7en, Copycat, Kiss the Girls, The Bone Collector, etc. it may also have inspired the forensic police procedural TV dramas that came a few years later, including CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds, Bones, Without a Trace, etc.
Additionally, the filmmakers compare and contrast Lecter and Clarice as parallel characters. 
o As Roger Ebert surmised: “Both are ostracized by the worlds they want to inhabit – Lecter, by the human race because he’s a serial killer and a cannibal, and Clarice, by the law-enforcement profession because she is a woman. Both feel powerless – Lecter because he is locked in a maximum security prison… And Clarice because she is surrounded by men who tower over her and fondle her with her eyes. Both use their powers of persuasion to escape from their traps… And both share similar childhood wounds.”

This movie is very effective as a gripping study in suspense and horror because we are forced to identify with Clarice on the start. We often see her point of view and are often reliant on her discovery of the facts to help uncover the mystery.
It’s also riveting because there’s a time limit involved: we know that Clarice only has three days in which to find Buffalo Bill or his newest victim will be killed.
It occasionally turns the tables on us as viewers with various techniques. For example, it utilizes the Kuleshov effect in which two shots juxtaposed back to back take on a different meaning than a single shot by itself would – consider the amassing of the SWAT team outside the house juxtaposed with a shot of Clarice ringing the doorbell. You instantly think that one of the SWAT team members is ringing the bell and that they have arrived at the right house. But we quickly learn that it is Clarice at the right house and she’s alone. Secondly, we are tricked by Lecter’s clever masquerading escape scheme – after that stunt, the audience isn’t sure what to trust with their own eyes.  Third, we are given Clarice’s POV as she nervously finds her way through Bill’s home, up until the lights go out; suddenly, we are given Bill’s point of view, which shows a terrified Clarice seen through night vision goggles – which makes us all the more fearful for her. Fourth, ponder the amazing sound design throughout the film – especially the climactic scene where Clarice enters Bill’s lair: we hear barking, yelling, rock music, flapping sounds, heavy breathing – all of which add up to an unnerving aural wallpaper.
Viewers also brought their own baggage with them to this film. It would have conjured up earlier memories of John Hinckley and his obsession with Jodie Foster prior to attempting to assassinate Reagan, as well as real-life serial killer Ted Bundy who donned a cast to appear benign and lure victims into his vehicle, as well as another true-life serial killer – Ed Gein, who also used the skin and human remains of his victims.
Controversially, it taps into fears and misunderstandings by heterosexuals of gay and transsexual people by depicting Buffalo Bill as a confused and disturbed homosexual/wannabe transgender who may or may not have come out of the closet. Many in the LGBT community despised this portrayal as stereotypical and damaging.

Repeated use of the colors red white and blue as well as American flags and additional symbols of patriotism – such as the Washington Memorial and the Capitol building as well as a cake sporting the seal of the Department of Justice. In a perverse subversion of the American Eagle, Lecter displays the spread-eagled body of one of his victims.
Multiple barred doors that Clarice must get past to enter the lairs of both Lecter and Buffalo Bill, respectively.
Gender bending: consider that bill is a seamstress while Clarice is a rugged and resourceful FBI agent.
Heavy breathing and sighs – which are heard at various intervals throughout the movie (including a sigh audible when the Gypsy moth is removed from Buffalo Bill’s first victim’s throat).
Recurrent shots of Clarice outnumbered or dwarfed by or leered at groups of men or – in the case of Lecter – a dominant male personality.
“Point of view shots to create the sensation that the movie is watching Clarice. For example: The camera which awaits and precedes her as she walks down the corridor toward Lecter. The camera inside the storage garage as she slides under the door. The camera inside the car as she tries to peer into it. The camera inside Bill’s house as he opens the door. All of the shots contribute to the impression that Clarice is not in command of her own space, but is threatened by others,” wrote Ebert.

Old-time horror movies, like Frankenstein, Nosferatu, King Kong, and Psycho – all of which contain monsters that, to some extent, Lecter resembles or makes us think of.
2001: A Space Odyssey – its villain, HAL 9000, inspired Hopkins’ performance, he revealed.
Aliens – another horror film which features a strong female protagonist who also hunts monsters and plays the part of a rescuer.

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