Quid Pro Quo

1st Day of Summer. 

 Since The Silence of the Lambs was the inspiration for this blog, it will be the first movie I write about.

This terrifying image is what sparked my interest in this film. Like any other American kid with middle-aged parents, I grew up hearing the joke of “Hello Clarice,” even though I had no context to put it in. Once I found out that The Silence of the Lambs was in fact a horror movie, I immediately dismissed it from my mind as a film to watch. To be honest, I’m kind of a scardey cat, so anything frightening, including horror films, are of no interest to me, unless they’re funny (i.e. Scream) or just involve a human psycho killer (i.e. I Know What You Did Last Summer). Besides my dislike of being scared, I’m also not a big fan of modern horror films because instead of using basic techniques like acting and the story to scare the audience, gore abounds. This often results in a flat storyline and a queasy stomach on my part.

But, back to the film at hand. I’ll admit that since I’m used to modern horror movies, if a scary image doesn’t appear within 15 minutes of the film’s start, I deem the movie boring and simply not scary. This was my opinion of  The Silence of the Lambs after turning to the movie on television and only witnessing Clarice talking to Hannibal. When my professor announced that we would be watching a clip from the movie this past semester I was surprised. In my mind I’d filed the movie away under “Old Horror Movies that Aren’t Actually Scary” and was surprised to know that the film had techniques that were significant enough to study in class. The scene we watched is when Clarice first speaks with Dr. Lecter and he asks for her credentials. Even though the clip was only 4 minutes long, I felt terrified as if I were standing across from Hannibal myself. I’m pretty hard to impress, so the fact that the scene both intrigued and scared me in a such a short amount of time let me know that I had to watch it.

None of my friends were willing to watch the movie with me while I was in school, and my sister refused once I got home, so I watched it by myself (with my sister sleeping nearby just in case I got really scared). The film was excellent. Anthony Hopkins was absolutely perfect as Hannibal Lecter. He commanded attention in every scene and portrayed the startling mix of brilliance, insanity, and courtesy that characterizes Hannibal. Jodie Foster was also amazing in this film. Her controlled expressions of disgust and pain, particularly when she is leaving the psychiatric prison for the first time, are muted but extremely powerful. Jonathan Demme‘s directing greatly heightened the suspense of the film. Tight shots of the characters’ faces made me feel as though I were right there in the room with them.

While Hannibal’s creepy nature and the high security he is subject to throughout the movie made it clear that he is a highly dangerous criminal, I still, like Clarice, began to trust Hannibal, and even forgot what he was capable of. Demme used the tried and true techniques of basic storytelling (instead of gore and sex) to build suspense and fear. He strikes the perfect balance of fear and trust of Lector, without making the audience pity him. The lack of visual evidence of Hannibal’s previous murders greatly contrasts the overabundance of photos from Buffalo Bill’s murders, causing me to underestimate Hannibal’s ability and desire to kill again. It is because of this contrast that the scene in which Hannibal escapes works so well. After becoming comfortable with Dr. Lecter, I am reminded of why Lecter was imprisoned in the first place.

On a side note, I was pleasantly surprised by the portrayal of sexism in law enforcement, and dare I say, feminist theme evident in the film. Throughout, there are a number of references to Clarice’s beauty and youth. One of my favorite scenes is when Crawford asks the sheriff to step into another room because he doesn’t want to discuss a sexual crime in a certain type of company. The tight shots of Clarice’s face and the slow movement as the camera tracks around the room to show the other male police officers’ faces, both do an amazing job of showing the isolation and discrimination women face in the work force.

Buffalo Bill is almost relegated to a side show, even though Hannibal is only on screen for approximately 16 minutes; nonetheless, Ted Levine‘s acting is spot-on, and equally frightening because we don’t completely understand his motives. One of the major reasons I like The Silence of the Lambs is because of the plot. Having two deranged and psychotic serial killers, who definitely aren’t of the average breed, makes the movie that much more scary. While we only learn a small amount of information about Buffalo Bill from Hannibal’s quick and cryptic description of him (and I would’ve loved to learn more), it is sufficient enough that the audience isn’t confused about his motives. Another favorite of mine are the plot twists. Since most of today’s movies are extremely predictable, it was refreshing to actually be surprised. I loved that a simple cut between an exterior and interior of two different houses was able to fool me into thinking that the FBI was about to arrest Buffalo Bill. That just goes to show that simplicity often works best.

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2 thoughts on “Quid Pro Quo

  1. “Hellllo Clarice.” LOL!! Ahem, but on a serious note, this almost makes me want to watch it; it’s probably your side note about the sexism in law enforcement that most appealed to me (you know how that is). As a subscriber to the typical “scary” films, maybe (just maybe) I’ll try this one out. I must say though, I don’t want to watch something that’s going to mess with my head forever!
    And for the RECORD, I did not “refuse” to watch The Silence of the Lambs with her.

  2. This movie is awesome and is an interesting start to your watch-a-thon. I found what you said interesting at the beginning of your post about old movies not actually being scary because of their lack of boogey men in scary makeup or CG ghosts and apparitions. I’ve found in my “study” of film that the best scary movies always leave something to the imagination. Sometimes the fear of what MIGHT be there or what COULD happen next is way more intense than being hit over the head with a hundred gory images the second the movie starts (i.e. the Saw movies). I feel like the “blockbuster” film makers of today have lost sight of what creating true suspense can do to inspire fear in an audience.

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