Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Brilliant. Cunning. Psychotic. In his mind lies the clue to a ruthless killer. - Clarice Starling, FBI. Brilliant. Vulnerable. Alone. She must trust him to stop the killer.
In today’s crazy world where fast food is consumed multiple days a week, I wonder if Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter would get caught up in our current break-neck speed lifestyle. Instead of sitting down to enjoy his human flesh with a glass of fine wine, would he would stick it in a bun with a slice of processed cheese, some lettuce and a cola to wash it all down? Chomping it down while he speedily walks to the bus stop?
There aren’t many non-fictional characters you can speak openly about the crimes they’ve committed without upsetting people, nor are there many fictional ones. However one man’s violent actions can not only be talked about, but praised as well. “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” This became a tagline during the early 90’s; it’s of course a line spoken by Hannibal Lecter in Jonathon Demme’s masterpiece The Silence of the Lambs.
The two have a good conversation that eventually goes sour because Lecter becomes annoyed with Calrice’s attempts at “dissecting” him. Clarice leaves only to be greeted by body fluid from the man in the cell next to Hannibal. This angers Lecter who calls her back and gives her a riddle containing information of a former patient of his. This riddle leads to a severed head. Lecter offers to profile Bill in return for a transfer from his current facility.
In the meantime Buffalo Bill strikes again, abducting a young woman, the daughter of a United States Senator. A fake deal is offered to Hannibal who agrees, but then discovers it not to be true. A new deal is then made with the Senator’s permission. Lecter is transported to Tennessee where he reveals all the information he knows about Buffalo Bill. The severed head found had belonged to the lover of Bill. Lecter gives the real name of Bill, but Clarice believes it to be false information, possibly an anagram. She confronts Lecter about the false information he gave the senator. Lecter refuses to share until Clarice reveals the truth of her worst childhood memory. She does so, and Lecter gives the Buffalo Bill case file to her before being escorted away.
What can been said about this film that hasn’t already been said? The film is made with a great attention to detail and is without a doubt an American classic. Entering the incarceration with Clarice is a classic movie sequence, as are many more throughout the film. Demme draws out the Lecter introduction scene, building our anticipation for Hannibal. When we finally stand there in front of him with Clarice, we realize what all the hype was about.
Lecter is only on screen for 16 minutes, which as of 2008 remains the shortest lead role ever to win an Academy Award. Hopkins uses these 16 minutes to create one of the most wicked villains film has ever seen. He remains behind bars or in restraints for all but a couple of those minutes, yet he’s still able to create a foreboding fear. You’re deftly afraid of the man, but would love to have a conversation with him. His charm and personality is so inviting that many would take the risk of ending up as one of his entrees.
Foster is just as deserving for her Oscar. Her subtle performance is a thing of perfection. Creating such a strong female character is not an easy task, but Foster certainly makes it look so. Clarice holds her on not only against the men at her department, Buffalo Bill, but Hopkins as well. The scenes between these two great actors are just so much fun to watch, plain and simple.
Demme uses a style of shooting with cinematographer Tak Fujimoto that has the actors staring straight at the camera. This method isolates characters, making conversations more intimate, putting you in the film, experiencing it with the characters. It’s a simple thing, but it goes a long way. The visuals, music, tight script, performances and pacing all work in tandem to create a unique film that although there have been many attempts, has yet to be replicated.