The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

March 24, 2017 · Regal Riviera · 5:30 P.M.

“Demme–a true maverick among the herd of Hollywood hacks–can intermingle comedy and drama because he builds on a solid foundation of character. Silence is a powerhouse that shows Demme at his best and boldest. . . . For all the unbridled savagery on display, what is shrewd, significant and finally hopeful about The Silence of the Lambs is the way it proves that a movie can be mercilessly scary and mercifully humane at the same time.”–Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

Working with longtime cinematographer Tak Fujimoto and editor Craig McKay, and drawing on his early days making exploitation films for Roger Corman, Demme crafts one of the most thoughtful and suspense-filled thrillers since the days of Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang.

In an effort to identify and catch a serial killer known as “Buffalo Bill,” FBI agent-in-training Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) enlists the help of imprisoned, former forensic psychologist Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lector (Anthony Hopkins). Lector offers puzzles to Starling that will help her catch Bill before he kills again, but it’s not long before Lector has himself escaped and all hell breaks loose.

If performance is a thread that runs through so many Demme films, The Silence of the Lambs shows the dark side of the masks we choose to wear. Buffalo Bill is making a “suit” out of his victims’ skins; Lector relishes taunting his visitors with macabre theatricality. Still, as we recoil at their actions, Demme somehow locates the flawed, even seductive, humanity in these two characters. Foster’s Starling, on the other hand, has little artifice. Vulnerable and heroic, she is arguably the feminist icon of ’90s American cinema.

The only film of the last 40 years (and one of only three ever) to win all five major Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, The Silence of the Lambs is one of the most acclaimed horror films of all time.

The Silence of the Lambs screened as part of our 11-film Jonathan Demme retrospective, Life is Performance / Performance is Life, at Big Ears.