THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS






USA, 1991


Director: Jonathan Demme

Production: Orion Pictures, A Strong Heart/Demme Production; Technicolour, Panavision; running time: 118 minutes.

Producer: Edward Saxon, Kenneth Utt, Ron Bozman; screenplay: Ted Tally, based on the novel by Thomas Harris; photography: Tak Fujimoto; editor: Craig McKay; assistant directors: Ron Bozman, Kyle McCarthy, Steve Rose, Gina Leonetti; production design: Kristi Zea; art director: Tim Galvin; music: Howard Shore; sound editor: Skip Lievsay; sound recording: Christopher Newman, John Fundus, Alan Snelling.


Cast: Jodie Foster ( Clarice Starling ); Anthony Hopkins ( Hannibal Lecter ); Scott Glenn ( Jack Crawford ); Ted Levine ( Jamie Gumm ); Anthony Heald ( Dr. Frederick Chilton ); Brooke Smith ( Catherine Martin ).


Awards: Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Hopkins), Best Actress (Foster), Best Adapted Screenplay, 1991.


Publications


Books:

Kael, Pauline, Pauline Kael on Jonathan Demme: A Selection of Reviews Accompanying the Retrospective Jonathan Demme: An American Director , Minneapolis, 1988.

Demme, Jonathan, "Demme on Demme," in Projections , edited by John Boorman and Walter Donohue, London, 1992.

Falk, Quentin, Anthony Hopkins: The Authorized Biography , New York, 1993.

Garber, Marjorie, and Jann Matlock, editors, Media Spectacles , New York, 1993.

Bliss, Michael, and Christiana Banks, What Goes Around Comes Around: The Films of Jonathan Demme , Carbondale,1996.

Smolen, Diane, The Films of Jodie Foster , Secaucus, 1996.


Articles:

Variety (New York), 11 February 1991.

Seidenberg, R., American Film (Washington D.C.), February 1991.

Katsahnias, I., "La puritaine," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), April 1991.

Ross, P., "Papillon de mort," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), April 1991.

Rouyer, P., "Le complexe du papillon," in Positif (Paris), April 1991.

Jean, M., "Le sang de l'agneau," in 24 Images (Montreal), Spring 1991.

Bahiana, A.N., Cinema Papers (Melbourne), May 1991.

Taubin, A., "Killing Men," in Sight and Sound (London), May 1991.

Magil, M., Films in Review (New York), May-June 1991.

Francke, L., Sight and Sound (London), June 1991.

Caron, A., Séquences (Montreal), June 1991.

Garsault, A., "Du conte et du mythe," in Positif (Paris), June 1991.

Tharp, J., "The Transvestite as Monster" in Journal of Popular Film and Television (Maryland), Fall 1991.

Greenberg, H.R., "Psychotherapy at the Simplex," in Journal of Popular Film and Television (Maryland), Summer 1992.

Nevers, C., "A l'ombre des serial killers," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), November 1992.

Sundelson, D., "The Demon Therapist and Other Dangers," in Journal of Popular Film and Television (Maryland), Spring 1993.

The Silence of the Lambs
The Silence of the Lambs

Beller, J.L., "The Radical Imagination in American Film," in Creative Screenwriting (Washington, D.C.), vol. 1, no. 4, Winter 1994.

Redman, Nick, Tri Fritz, and Ted Elrick, "Lambs, Wolves and Carpenters," in DGA Magazine (Los Angeles), vol. 19, no. 6, December-January 1994–1995.

Reichman, R., "I Second That Emotion," in Creative Screenwriting (Washington, D.C.), vol. 2, no. 1, Spring 1995.

Kennedy, A.L., "He Knows About Crazy," in Sight & Sound (London), vol. 5, no. 6, June 1995.

Sihvonen, J., "Technobody Metamorphoses," in Lahikuva (Truku), vol. 3, 1995.

Stewart, J.A., "The Feminine Hero of Silence of the Lambs ," in San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal , vol. 14, no. 3, 1995.

Tally, Ted, in Scenario (Rockville), vol. 1, no. 1, Winter 1995.

Lippy, Tod, "Adapting The Silence of the Lambs ," in Scenario (Rockville), vol. 1, no. 1, Winter 1995.

Weis, E., "Synch Tanks," in Cineaste (New York), vol. 21, no. 1/2, 1995.

Wolfe, C., and J. Elmer, "Subject to Sacrifice: Ideology, Psychoanalysis, and the Discourse of Species in Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs ," in Boundary 2 , vol. 22, no. 3, 1995.

Negra, Diane, "Coveting the Feminine: Victor Frankenstein, Norman Bates, and Buffalo Bill," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury), vol. 24, no. 2, April 1996.

Bishop, Ellen, "Film Frames: Cinematic Literacy and Satiric Violence in Contemporary Movies," in Post Script (Commerce), vol. 16, no. 2, Winter-Spring 1997.

Fleck, Patrice, "Looking in the Wrong Direction: Displacement and Literacy in the Hollywood Serial Killer Drama," in Post Script (Commerce), vol. 16, no. 2, 1997.

Hantke, Steffen, "'The Kingdom of the Unimaginable': The Construction of Social Space and the Fantasy of Privacy in Serial Killer Narratives," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury), vol. 26, no. 3, July 1998.


* * *


The Silence of the Lambs is the most authentically terrifying movie since Psycho , and it is appropriate that Hannibal Lecter (as incarnated in the superb performance of Anthony Hopkins) should have established a position within our culture's popular mythology comparable to that of Anthony Perkins' Norman Bates three decades earlier. By "authentically" I mean that the terror the film induces is not merely a matter of contrived "shock" moments (though, as in Psycho , those are not lacking). The film brings us into intimate and disturbing contact with the darkest potentialities of the human psyche and, by locating the existence of the serial killer within a context of "normality," connects it to those manifestations of what one might call the "normal psychosis" of the human race which we read about daily in our newspapers: the practice of "ethnic cleansing," the protracted torture and eventual murder of a teenager by "peacemakers" in Somalia, the horrors of child abuse (sexual, physical, psychological) that are the product of our concept of "family" and the guarantee of their own continuance into future generations.

The humanity of Hannibal Lecter is clearly a central issue: if we see Lecter as only a monster, quite distinct from ourselves, then the film fails, becomes "just another horror movie"; as Jodie Foster says of Lecter in the laser disc commentary, "he just wants to be accepted as a human being." Therefore the filmmakers' problem lies in persuading us to do just that without ever becoming complicit in his obsessions (killing and eating other human beings): a difficult and dangerous tightrope to walk. It is their degree of success that distinguishes the film from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre , in which the fascination exerted by the monstrous cannibal family is not countered by any adequate positive force, the undercharacterized victims mere objects for torment, the film (for all its undeniable power) degenerating into an exercise in sadism.

The success is not complete: it seems to me that Jonathan Demme made two unfortunate errors of judgment. The first is the excision of a crucial sequence that was shot and is included in the supplement to the Criterion laser disc. This sequence includes Lecter's "psychological profile" of the serial killer, accompanied by evocative tracking-shots around Jamie Gumm's living quarters, in which he explains to Clarice Starling that a serial killer was a severely abused child (a theory for which there is a great deal of factual support), and that Gumm grew up with no sense of identity whatever, so that his attempts to construct one are unreal fabrications. The scene would have partly answered the widespread complaint that Gumm is presented as gay, reinforcing a malicious popular stereotype; it would also have linked the phenomenon of the serial killer to familial practices we now know to be all too common. I find the decision to suppress it inexplicable.

The second error (for which the screenwriter Ted Tally must share responsibility) is the film's famous last line, Lecter's "I'm having an old friend for dinner." Ironically, Tally complains at length (in the commentary on the laser disc's alternative audio track) about the appropriation of Lecter for "camp" purposes, that so many young people find him smart and seductive and even collect Lecter memorabilia: that last line precisely invites such a response, especially in view of the fact that Lecter's imminent victim Dr. Chilton/Anthony Heald is presented throughout as irredeemably despicable, enabling the audience to view his fate with equanimity and even satisfaction. The punch line is slick and funny: one can readily understand the temptation, but it is one that should have been resisted.

The film's distinction lies ultimately in its powerful and convincing embodiment of the force for life, in the character of Clarice Starling, Jodie Foster's performance matching that of Hopkins in its strength and vividness. There is another documented fact about serial killers too obvious for the film to have to state explicitly (it is enacted clearly enough): virtually all serial killers are male. Like the issue of child abuse, this reinforces the need to see the phenomenon not in terms of individual and inexplicable "monsters" but as intimately involved in the so-called "normal" actualities of the culture: the issue of gender-as-social-construction, of the cultural production of "masculinity" in terms of aggression and domination. The achievement of Demme and Foster is to create Starling both as a clearly defined and convincing character and as the embodiment of an ideal: the human being in whom the finest qualities traditionally associated with "masculinity" and "femininity" coexist in perfect balance. The film's title derives from Starling's definitive childhood memory: the young girl's unsuccessful attempt to save one lamb from those waiting to be slaughtered, whose frantic bleating distressed her. The "silence" of the lambs is brought about only by her rescue of Gumm's latest female victim, a feat of heroism requiring a fusion of "masculine" activeness, energy, reasoning and determination with the capacity for identification with the "feminine" vulnerability, sensitivity, empathy with the oppressed. If we recognize Lecter and Gumm as 'human beings' produced by the worst excesses of patriarchal culture, we simultaneously recognize Clarice as the fully human being of a possible future.

—Robin Wood



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