Oscars Challenge #31: The Silence of the Lambs (1991) Movie Review
“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”
Horror films may not be something you would pick when it comes to winning the Best Picture award because the film can have a subpar plot while being scary at the same time. More often than not these types of films never get the attention they deserve.
Until The Silence of the Lambs premiered in 1991.
One of the three films that won the 5 major categories in the Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay) and the only Horror film to win so far. The other two are It Happened One Night (1934) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975).
Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), an FBI trainee was tasked to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a former psychiatrist and a cannibalistic serial killer. The chief believes that he may provide insight regarding the pursuit of another serial killer who goes by the moniker, Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), who skins his female victims.
During the interview, Dr. Lecter got impatient because of Clarice's questioning but asked her to see his old patient. This leads her to a storage facility where she found a severed head in a jar. After returning to Dr. Lecter, she mentions that the head is linked to Buffalo Bill. He then offers to give her some clues as to who the killer is on the condition that he be transferred away from his current cell.
Meanwhile, another victim of Buffalo Bill is found with a death's head moth lodged in her mouth. Then, he abducts the daughter of a United States senator. Dr. Lecter made a deal with Clarice to give her clues while she gives him some personal information about herself. Lecter was transferred to Memphis and meets the Senator and gave her false information about someone his real name being Louis Friend. Clarice identifies the real clue behind what Dr. Lecter mentioned, she meets with him and he gave him the information she needs to capture Buffalo Bill. She also tells him that she has had a traumatic experience in which she heard the lambs screaming as they were being slaughtered. Dr. Lecter then thought that when she rescues the senator's daughter the screaming lambs she always hears will disappear.
Later that evening he kills all the guards and escaped from prison. Clarice investigates Buffalo Bill's first victim because he knew her. She flew to Ohio and discovers that the killer and his victim were former tailors. After going to the victim's home, she discovers that the ultimate goal of the killer is to make a suit out of human skin. The FBI stormed Jame Gumb's (Buffalo Bill's real name) home but didn't find him there. After interviewing someone who knew the first victim, she went to the house and found Buffalo Bill there as well as the senator's daughter. She was able to kill the killer and rescue the daughter despite having difficulties.
The movie ends when Clarice while celebrating her graduation from the academy, received a call from Dr. Lecter who tells her that he is having an old friend for dinner.
If you like horror movies you will definitely come across the name Hannibal Lecter. You might stumble upon some other familiar serial killers in the horror genre like Leatherface, Jason Voorhes, or Michael Myers. But I think Dr. Lecter is one of a kind.
To be honest, I am not a fan of these kinds of films because I am a sucker when it comes to jumpscares or gore. But The Silence of the Lambs is truly one that I would say defined as the baseline of a real horror film. And it might be the best one at it. Its legacy defined that fictional serial killers don't need to have huge machetes, masks, or anything that would make them look intimidating. Just plain brilliant acting would do.
This movie also defined that horror doesn't need to have jumpscares, ghosts, zombies, monsters, etc. Sometimes just plain old psychological scare would do.
This movie will not be complete without the astounding performances of Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. They both deserve the Best Actress and Best Actor awards. I really don't picture anyone who could play the roles of Clarice and Dr. Lecter perfectly other than the two. In order to prepare for the role, Anthony Hopkins studied files of serial killers. He also developed a non-blinking persona just to make the character more unnerving.
Then again even if you have the best characters and actors, it will be insufficient because you need to have a wonderful story. And this film really delivered. I mean from start to end it really kept me hooked. Not only because it had those terrifying moments but also because there are scenes that raise questions, especially on who is sane or not. If you look back after watching this movie you got to ask yourself which of those characters you think is really insane. Is it Hannibal Lecter because he is a cannibal, always calm, and at the same time serves as a mentor to Clarice? Is it Clarice Starling because of her traumatic experiences as a child and treated the victims like a lamb that needs to be saved? Is it Buffalo Bill because he skins his victims but deeply cares and is protective of his dog? Or maybe the victim, who will do everything like kill or torture the dog just to be saved? You basically can treat anyone here as insane and they have different forms to showcase it.
Maybe this film itself is insane.
One weird scene here is the use of something like oil or something to remove the smell from a dead body during the autopsy scene. I don't really know if it was true or not at that time but I find it very unusual from my perspective.
In one way or another, when you watch a lot of films, especially these Academy Award Best Pictures, you know that you will find something that would literally surprise you. This is one of those and I am glad I was able to watch this film. The Silence of the Lambs despite belonging to the horror genre contains several great moments that would make you either grip your seats or swallow your fava beans, no pun intended. It was so great that this should be like in the horror movie hall of fame. I am not sure if one exists but really please don't let this film deceive you.
One of the best films of the '90s.
A solid 5 out of 5 stars for this film.