To celebrate the Oscars this weekend, the Flickering Myth writing team look back at some of the previous Best Picture winners. First up, Helen Murdoch looks back at 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs…
Winner of the Big 5 Academy Awards – Actor, Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Director and Picture – The Silence of the Lambs is a twisted thriller that has endeared for over 20 years. Helmed by Jonathan Demme, The Silence of the Lambs is the second of the Hannibal novels and follows Clarice Starling as she hunts serial killer Buffalo Bill with the help of imprisoned killer Hannibal Lecter. From its opening shot through the cold woods through to the first meeting with Lecter and its pitch black crescendo, it’s a film that doesn’t let up and keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout.
In a year that saw The Silence of the Lambs go up against Beauty & the Beast, JFK, Bugsy and The Prince of Tides; the Academy finally made the right choice and rewarded a darker and more horrifying film than they usually would. Usually known for sticking with the safe choice – Crash over Brokeback Mountain, Shakespeare in Love beating Saving Private Ryan etc. – The Silence of the Lambs‘ win shows that every now and then the Academy do sit up and realise the significance of darker films.
The success of The Silence of the Lambs is due to a melting pot of phenomenal source material (Harris’ novel is a must read for any fan of the genre), mixed with a great adaptation, excellent direction and stellar performances from each cast member. Jodie Foster is note perfect as rookie agent Starling. From her strongest moments through to the vulnerability she shows Hannibal, she displays a range that makes her one of the strongest female characters in cinema history. Ted Levin is thoroughly unsettling as serial killer Buffalo Bill, to the extent that Goodbye Horses can’t be played without conjuring an image of him.
Then there is Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter. A performance which defined his career and it’s easy to see why. Although he’s on screen for less than half an hour, he commands every scene he’s in with his non-blinking stare and meticulous nature. Although not a physically imposing killer, his moments of extreme, vulgar violence explodes in front you to the extent that they leave a lasting impact on both an adult and teenage mind. He is polite, sophisticated, well-educated and utterly ruthless. Having previously been played by Brian Cox in Michael Mann’s hugely underrated Manhunter, and now being portrayed on our TV screens by Mads Mikkelsen; Hopkins performance may not comparably be the best but it is easily the most iconic.
The tone of The Silence of the Lambs is dark and gritty and Demme is careful to not show the audience too much. A scene where psychiatrist Dr Chiltern shows the young Starling a picture of one of Hannibal’s victims is never shown. Instead we have Chiltern’s description of the events; letting your imagination run wild. The Silence of the Lambs is a perfect atmospheric thriller that I can watch again and again.
Although it spawned the average Hannibal and Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs stands above them as being a true work of art and utterly deserving of its Best Picture Oscar. With the TV series set to reimagine Red Dragon, we may hear the immortal line “Good Evening Clarice” one more time.
Helen Murdoch is a freelance writer – Follow me on Twitter