Friday, 22 November 2013

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

"Quid pro quo. Yes or no?"

This is another film from the shocking list of films-you-must-see-before-you-die that I hadn't fully seen before watching it for this blog. I hang my head in shame. And it's an excellent thriller. Perhaps I was expecting something artier, given all the Oscar nominations, but Anthony Hopkins' performance is certainly a work of art. And I'm glad this film was made in 1991, and not now: these days it would be in danger of falling into the niche of "torture porn". Well, "torture porn lite". Instead, plenty of mainstream filmgoers got to see Hopkins be magnificent.

Of course, we don't see him for a while, and his first appearance is a big event which is built up. Instead we follow Clarice, the film's actual protagonist, who suffers both class prejudice and acute gender prejudice in the very masculine world of the FBI. That Crawford is a right bastard.

Buffalo Bill, the actual villain, is a bit of a cartoon figure in contrast to the far more nuanced and interesting Hannibal Lecter, and hardly a positive Hollywood representation of a transsexual, but he serves perfectly well in driving the plot and the element of mystery in a plot sense. Meanwhile we, assuming Clarice's point of view, get to explore the psyche of Lecter, a mystery in a much more character-based sense, as she tries to get him to cooperate. 

Certainly, the relationship between them is fascinating. Clarice is used to being belittled on grounds of gender, but the wedge Lecter uses to keep her in her place is class, for he is a posh and cultured chap who quotes Marcus Aurelius and she is the daughter of a West Virginia coal miner. She is supposed to be the psychologist, but it is he who gets inside her psyche; indeed, the title of the film refers to her childhood trauma.

Hannibal is the only ultimate winner here, of course, gaining his freedom at the end, but he always appears to be the one in control on all the various mind games here: with Clarice, with the prison director, with the senator whose daughter is in the hands of Buffalo Bill, and indeed with Bill himself.

His escape is exhilarating to watch, being both fiendishly clever and bloody exciting viewing. Interestingly, his escape attempt doesn't come until after he's got Clarice to open up, which makes him seem even more in control.

It's surprising, though, how Lecter then vanishes from the film until the epilogue; contrary to popular belief he is not the protagonist in a film which is chiefly about Clarice's pursuit of Buffalo Bill and the gender issues of a film which concerns make violence to women, workplace misogyny and transsexualism. Great though Hopkins is, I was disappointed, perhaps unfairly due to the popular perception of the film, by his lack of screen time in this excellent thriller,

This is, of course, based the middle novel of a trilogy, and there is both a sequel and a prequel starring Hopkins to blog. -
And then there's a certain Brian Cox, who featured so prominently in yesterday's blog post...

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