Here’s another Anthony Hopkins movie that has a poster that was and is seared into my mind. I remember the lobby of the old movie theatre in West Edmonton Mall, the one that was located in the food court, as the mall originally had 2 theatres where the West 49 is now*. My mother had taken my sister and i to some sort of animated movie (i think it was FernGully, although that was released more than a year earlier so it probably wasn’t, either that or they left the poster up for a while), and in the lobby was a large card board cut out poster of that image just above this text.
Naturally, as i child the image unsettled me, and it has been something that i have always remembered as seeing. I remember later my mother watched it with her partner, and they sent us (my sister and i) up to bed while they watched it. I sunk a peek, curious as i was through the banister at the top of the stairs at the opening scene of Jodie Foster running, i quickly got bored and went to bed.
We did end up watching it, once my mother’s partner decided that my sister and i were old enough to understand it. Recently i decided to watch it and see if it was as good as i remember.
The real meat of the film, is of course the handful of scenes between Foster and Hopkins. Yes, Hopkins is absolutely mesmerizing as Hannibal Lector, going to and from deeply creepy and intense, to completely charming, to viciously spiteful all in his first scene. He is so good that it is easy to forget that Foster gives no less a momentous performance as Clarice Starling, she gives her character a guarded vulnerability that coupled with her likeable charisma, had me on her side almost from the moment she appeared on screen. Lastly to add to this potent combination we have Jonathan Demme’s choice to use POV close ups to enhance the intimacy of the scenes between the two.
Scenes like the pair’s first meeting, or Clarice recounting why she ran away from the ranch she was sent to have remained in my head for many years, while i really can’t remember much from the more recent “Hannibal” or “Red Dragon”. Its Demme’s choice, to use POV shots that i consider to be the most important addition to the performances of the leads; as the shot enhances Lector’s intensity and Clarice’s honesty to their memorable heights. Of course, it is to the film’s benefit that most of the supporting cast in it is almost as good as the leading pair, and Demme’s direction and careful editing make many of the other scenes just as memorable as Lector and Starling’s exchanges.
It’s funny how much my tastes have changed since i watched it the first time, and the other times since (i haven’t watched this film in probably a decade). Or should i say what i notice now, as opposed to what i did then. Like how Tak Fujimoto’s desaturated colour pallet makes Hopkin’s and Foster’s blue eyes pop out above the gloom, or how clever use of creepy sound effects enhances moments of shock, or how lovely, emotional, and unsettling Howard Shore’s music is when it hangs around or fades in and out.
While Demme’s use of the POV enhances the best scenes of the film, his use of it in others is frankly quite jarring. The primary use of the POV is to use the eye lines of the characters to suggest connections, and enhance visually what Lector says to Clarice about how we begin to covet things. It seems that once Lector is out of the picture, the overtness of the technique is laid bare. The shot works in intense scenes with good actors, but with hum drum actors in small scenes, it has the effect of making us very much aware that the person is talking into a camera. All of the investigation interviews Starling performs are marred by Demme’s stubborn use of POV. While i suppose in the end Demme’s constant use of the shot keeps the film thematically and visually consistent, it just doesn’t work for me in the later parts of the film.
Silence of the Lambs is an almost perfect combination of actor performance and director choice working together to create scenes of unforgettable nature. On top of the obvious and now legendary scenes of Hannibal and Clarice talking to one another, it is a thoroughly engrossing murder mystery, filled with strong character development, and thematic content. I really can’t recommend it enough.
***** OUT OF FIVE