Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Thrill me with your Acumen: The Silence of the Lambs

What a perfect film!
Directed by Jonathan Demme, based on the novel by Thomas Harris.

This is suspense writing at its finest. Certainly it was directed well, acted well (there would not be a picture without Tony and Jody), scored well, and so on. But the build ups are tense, intelligent, and in the end, they do not disappoint. The film is filled with anticipation. When it's not showing us Clarice Starling having to fight her way through virtually every encounter by proving she can piss with the big boys, the film is leading us eerily down some hall, laying steps one at a time, and revealing just enough unpleasantness to keep us engrossed and on guard for whatever the monster (Multiple Miggs, Benjamin Raspael's head in a bottle, Jame Gumm's torturous basement, etc.) might be, and it's a new fright each time!

And what of Hannibal Lector? Because Clarice is made to trust him we somehow begin to trust him, too. But never forget that first image we got of him, standing there, erect, poised, and with an almost amiable grin. . . (shiver). He's smarter than any of us. And all the smelling? Seriously.

And at the risk of sounding like a film theorist, this film is also about knowing. Who knows what, who lets who in on what they know, and whether the knowledge is real. Clarice is sent in by Jack Crawford to talk to Lector, who knows things. Jack Crawford also knows things, but he wants to know what Lector knows, and he knows that Clarice will "stimulate" Lector. Clarice knows things, not about the case, but about death and sacrifice, her way of knowing isn't helpful to Jack Crawford but it piques the interest of Lector. Lector wants to know about Clarice. Jack Crawford depends on getting the Lector's knowledge, but Lector figures it out and feeds him garbage instead. Then, drawing on everything she's picked up, Clarice, the seemingly rookie know-nothing, busts it all open and saves the day.

I saw this in the theater, in March of 1991 with my cousin, Heidi, in Duluth. And I was terrified. I can watch it now without fear, but the moments that get me each time are the camera noises in the funeral parlor, the anticipation of what Lector plans to do to the two sergeants, and the night goggles at the end, showing the hand reaching out to touch Clarice.

If you see no other film on this list (despite it not being a horror film by definition), see this one. It's the smartest, scariest thing out there.