Jonathan Demme's 1991 adaptation of Thomas Harris's psychological horror novel, The Silence of the Lambs, is hailed as one of the best films in film history, pushing the boundaries of its genre and landing well in the mainstream.
In the 1990s, having a woman in front of a thriller was not very common. Silence of the Lambs is filmed entirely from the point of view of Foster's character, who challenges the male sovereignty of his work environment and training and needs to prove his competence in every blessed scene. I graduated from UVA, doctor. This isn't a beauty school. Demme is subtle in putting us in the shoes of Clarice Starling. The male characters are always talking directly to the camera or staring at it uncomfortably, while it is the agent who sustains their looks and teasing sideways. This exchange of positions places the spectator intimately connected to the protagonist's feelings, reflecting her cloying discomfort and making us her allies.
And, in fact, the heroine's strength only got the proportion it deserved due to Jodie Foster's tough and resistant interpretation. Inside an elevator surrounded by men, Clarice looks up. In a room full of police officers, she raises her voice and asks everyone to leave. There is no way to compete with her protagonism. Her villains are far from limited to just psychopaths - it's Dr. Chilton reducing her beauty, it's Jack Crawford isolating her from an argument with the local police, it's every suspicious look from a co-worker. Even so, the character doesn't allow this to affect her perfect career performance; it imposes itself and makes them apologize.
Interestingly, it is Hannibal who understands her and helps her in her quest for self-acceptance. The psychiatrist treats her like one of her patients, demanding personal accounts in exchange for her help in discovering Bill's whereabouts. Quid pro quo. From the duo's first meeting, it's clear who Clarice's main partner is, no matter how morbid the situation is, and Jonathan Demme squeezes his actors' talent to the hilt to make every interaction between the character's spectacular. Not that it was a difficult task - Hopkins, for example, improvised the scene that mocks Starling's southern accent, which generated a genuinely offended reaction from the actress.
In the investigation against Buffalo Bill, the star of the show is the Department of Behavioral Sciences at the FBI. The inspiration for The Silence of the Lambs came from the same source as the basis for Mindhunter: interviews with serial killers conducted by John Douglas. The agent was the direct reference for the creation of Jack Crawford, even though Scott Glenn's character doesn't please him all that much. Thomas Harris, author of the book and former police reporter, followed closely the agency's routine to develop psychological profiles of criminals and arrive at its Hannibal Lecter, the starting point for portraying serial killers as contained, cool but cold figures. Extremely smart.
Anthony Hopkins was not content with just acting. He investigated real personalities, visited prisons and suggested changes to Collen Atwood's costumes to make the character appear more spiritual. All the actor's precision and dedication generated results: Hannibal, the Cannibal is today one of the most striking villains in Cinema - there are those who say the most striking. His mesmerizing figure left the production scared from the first take, which was marked by whispers more akin to hissing, a glazed reptilian gaze with a minimum number of blinks and that controlled and sullen posture. No wonder, his figure is the most talked about when you think about O Silêncio dos Inocentes. Even though Hannibal works as a tool for Clarice's trajectory, her influence and sobriety lull her right away, since, according to the descriptions of others, the agent expected some kind of out of control freak like Miggs himself in the next cell. Icy and unrepentant - Hopkins admitted that the direct inspiration for her interpretation of Lecter was the 2001 HAL 9000 computer: A Space Odyssey - Clarice elicits some sympathy from the psychopath, urging him to help her while he analyzes and plays with her with their lambs. So, Clarice, have the lambs stopped screaming?
Even though the balance of The Silence of the Lambs after 30 years is generally positive, Buffalo Bill's problematic representation remains a relevant agenda. Ted Levine's killer, who delivers a sixth Oscar-deserving performance for the film, kills and skins women to create his own fur clothing and, as the work itself characterizes, alters his identity. However, the use of the word transsexual is cited in the film as a doubt about Bill's condition, and despite being reinforced that the killer is not a trans person, his representation received harsh criticism from the LGBTQIA+ community - several movement activists protested on the outskirts of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the 1992 Oscar ceremony against this problematic in Hollywood.
Levine's character is delicately unstable, a jumble of feelings and expressions. Buffalo Bill, Jame Gumb's alter ego, has its story narrated in parallel. He deceives his victims, like young Catherine Martin, and chaotically dumps them in his basement so that their skin goes limp. However, the character's emotional out of control makes him fascinating, with Levine's pomp and outrageous screams that bespeak the unexplored depth his assassin offers. Gumb yearns for a change that will make him emerge from the cocoon as a new creature, more beautiful, freer. He doesn't notice Clarice on her trail until it's too late and, ironically, her beautiful moths are the missing piece of the agent's puzzle.
Another great triumph of the production is Craig McKay's editing. There is no scene more interesting than the moments before Clarice and Jame meet. Jack Crawford guarantees: we've already got him. A prepared team circles the suspicious house, police with guns drawn await the signal. The doorbell rings. McKay and Demme play with us, and it's not SWAT waiting at the psychopath's door. The surprise is only followed by an indignant laugh. The film's final moments don't miss a beat and, after a harrowing night vision scene, Bill's arc ends in the almost majestic way the character would have liked. In another passage, in partnership with Kristin Zea's art direction and McKay's unique editing, Hannibal stars in the scene that legitimizes the film's insertion in the horror genre. McKay gives little hints of what's going to happen: the pen, the truncheon, the spray, the handcuffs. We look forward to the disaster. Trapped in a cage, like a downed bird, Dr Lecter delivers his blow. Thorough, sadistic and committed, Hannibal has fun, as if he were playing a game in which opponents are already losing. His statement is theatrical - poor cop Boyle is disemboweled as if preparing for a flight; spotlights positioning it backlight to mark the display. Fabulous cruel.
Ted Tally, in developing the text, managed to map out the main aspects of Thomas Harris' novel and wisely transform them into cinematic material. Over six years of dedication to the book, the writer built his characters with caution and complexity, a detail that in the film version he was also respected. In its structure with parallels, the film features two mentors fighting with detachment, that is, Lecter and Crawford, references to Bill and Starling, also against each other, in this exquisite narrative for being mill metrically calculated in its dramatic and aesthetic development. Kristi Zea's production design, for example, is an industry that has remained based on many studies of the profiles of the killers that inspired the creation of the story. Francis Bacon, the controversial painter of human flesh, a controversial figure in the 20th century visual arts, served as a reference for some passages, in particular the scene of Hannibal Lecter's attack on the police, a passage close to the decisive moments of this narrative with orchestrated musical conduction by Howard Shore, composer of the firm, enveloping percussive texture, melancholy in some parts and terrifying in others, best soundscape in the franchise based on the literary universe created by Thomas Harris. The costumes signed by Colleen Atwood are also assertive, presenting Clarice with clothes and makeup without any shine and excesses, visually conveying the researcher's discreet, serene and solitary personality.
Jonathan Demme inherited the direction of The Silence of the Lambs from Gene Hackman, who intended to command and star in the feature film. While it's an interesting exercise to try to imagine how Lecter would be played by Hackman, Demme's choices were so right that it's hard to think about this production any differently. Demme conceives images with a constant close-up presence, with a view to bringing Hannibal Lecter closer to the audience and causing a feeling of fear and discomfort. Another industry strategy was to establish the point of view so that we could follow on stage what was closest to the eyes of the heroine Starling. Many passages emulate the character's gaze and allow us to understand the story from her point of view. When at the end, in her confrontation with Buffalo Bill, she is plunged into the darkness of the antagonist's trap, we enter the same discomfort zone as the character, anguished for not knowing if she will manage to emerge alive from the horror journey established by the cornered psychopath. Still on aesthetics and visual elements, it is important to note the presence of the cat as a constant symbolic element, in addition to the moth of death, inserted in the throat of its victims as a mark of the murderer.
Three decades have passed, but it could be 30 days. The world is not the same, but Jonathan Demme's masterpiece keeps tinkling, with some very well-founded scratches. The Silence of the Innocents triumphs in every way.
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