silence of the lambs
Orion Pictures

“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”

  • Clarice Starling is a top standout at the FBI’s training academy. Jack Crawford wants Clarice to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist who is also a violent psychopath, serving life behind bars for various acts of murder and cannibalism. Crawford believes that Lecter may have insight into a case and that Starling, as an attractive young woman, may be just the bait to draw him out.

Silence Of the Lambs. The classic psychological thriller crime drama that has transcended to iconic classic. It was also the movie public’s second introduction to the character of Hannibal Lecter, the first being in the movie Manhunter in 1986. I had no idea of any of this when I walked into the Cinema 3 theater back in my Junior year in high school, when this movie was originally released. I wasn’t even aware it was based on a novel that was written years prior. I went in completely cold. I walked out…well, I’ll get to that in a bit.

We begin with watching trainee Clarice Starling running through a calisthenics gauntlet at the FBI Academy, when she’s pulled by Jack Crawford of the Bureau’s Behavioral Science Unit. She’s assigned to interview Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter, a former psychiatrist with a rather gruesome gastronomical hobby. They’re hoping that she’ll be able to convince him to help catch a psychopathic serial killer that was nicknamed “Buffalo Bill”, the latest in the Ed Gein-style wackadoos (with a splash of Ted Bundy) who kidnaps young women and then removes the skin from their bodies. The latest kidnapping by Buffalo Bill happens to be the daughter of Senator Ruth Martin. After employing the scientific method of “playing with her head like a drunken kitten”, Lecter eventually agrees to provide information in exchange for a quid pro quo from Starling, offering clues about Buffalo Bill in exchange for personal information. Meanwhile, the Senator’s daughter is alive and kept in the pit of Bill’s basement, being starved to loosen her skin up, and beset upon with chilling catch phrases that will haunt the minds of everyone who has watched this when walking down the skin lotion isle at the drug store. There’s also what is famously known as a “man-gina” scene, so this movie is just chock-full of mentally scaring material. The FBI follow up some false leads, Hannibal Lecter manages to escape his imprisonment in the most gruesome way possible, and Clarice pretty much stumbles into her victorious nabbing of the Buffalo Bill killer and saves the day. Oh, and the Senator’s daughter is also still alive. Then, while celebrating her being made an official FBI agent, Clarice receives one last phone call from Dr. Lecter, who congratulates her, and mentions he’s having an old friend for dinner.

After first watching this movie in the theater, my first reaction was, “Huh. That was interesting.” I noticed I wasn’t as “disturbed” or “freaking out” like many of the other patrons at the movie that night, and when a couple of class mates noticed I was there as we were exiting the theater, one of ’em quipped, “Oh, crap, Case* was there. Were you taking notes?” This was probably my first personal suspicion that I may not normally view such horror and psychological terror the same way as “normal” people do. As a matter of fact, I was more amused by the gasps and little squeals of terror from the audience during that tense night vision stalking scene, than on the edge of my own seat.

Mind you, I was far from being that guy who was rooting for the baddies. I was firmly in the “Good Guy” party, rooting for Clarice to catch the guy. And I know that what Lecter did was bad, but I also had to admire his grace and style, especially his artistry and taste (no pun intended). And I also realize that this is starting to sound less like a movie review, and more like a psychological study on myself. I’m nothing if not self-reflective.

As far as the movie goes, yeah, I love it. I try to watch it every year or so. It’s one of my favorites. Also, this happens to be the one movie that I haven’t read the Thomas Harris-penned novel yet. Might have to remedy that, soon. Otherwise, Silence Of The Lambs is highly recommended, as it is a classic, in my not-so-humble opinion.

[*Case functioned both as my last name, and as a quirky nickname by my high school chums…ah, memories]