The Silence Lamb is a horror film at times, a thriller at others, and most definitely a character study in its entirety. It features two wonderfully different figures in budding young FBI agent-to-be Clarice Starling and incarcerated serial killer Hannibal Lecter played so impeccably by Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins respectively.
It begins as a hunt for a serial killer named Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), who for some reason kidnaps his victims, kills them, and skins them like some kind of perverse trophy. This in itself makes for an interesting albeit grisly storyline. The race is on to find this man before he murders his latest victim who happens to be the daughter of a prominent senator. Thus, there is an immediate need to get inside his head and figure out what the next logical steps should be. That’s when Agent Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) of the Behavioral Science Unit calls on Starling to help him out.
The narrative of Silence of the Lambs is twofold because this larger manhunt becomes the backdrop for an arguably far more interesting development. The initial meeting and budding relationship, if we can call it that, between agent Starling and cannibalistic psychopath Dr. Lecter is deliciously intriguing. He just might be the key to unlock this case, but it’s not without peril.
As the saying goes, “Quid pro quo.” Lecter is rather intrigued by Starling, so different and far franker than any of the other people who get thrown his direction. So he agrees to help her only asking in return that she open up about herself. It seems like a dangerous proposition with Lecter constantly playing mind games. He’s skilled at probing, dissecting, teasing, and prodding. But Starling willingly goes through his questioning to get help with the case. After all, who better to catch a serial killer than another serial killer?
They touch on the death of Starling’s father, a town Marshall, and her horror in seeing the slaughter of newborn lambs. In return, he tells her that all the information she needs is in the case files. But antagonistic Dr. Chilton is more a hindrance than a help to Starling’s case, and she must figure out the rest on her own.
Going through the files she finally makes some headway in her search for Buffalo Bill, but an FBI tactical unit already has sights on his location. Then there’s a surprising about-face in the case, not to mention that Lecter escapes his cell, kills his guards and is on the lam. Starling is not in danger from him, but he is looking to have an old friend for dinner instead.
Ultimately the plucky young agent comes through big in her case and in the academy. The film ends on a high note for her, but with it comes a titillating call from Dr. Lecter. He pays his respects for her recent graduation then goes off after his newest victim. Such a conscientious killer to offer up his congratulations like that.
How does one go about playing a man so evil and yet intricately interesting on so many levels? Hopkins said himself that he copied a friend who never blinked because it always makes people on edge. He likened his voice to an amalgamation of Katharine Hepburn and Truman Capote if that even makes sense. Finally, he saw parallels to another famed movie villain, the computer HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both so intelligent, so unfeeling and ultimately so deadly. What might put Lecter a trifle above HAL are his chilling unflinching facial expressions that are sure to send shivers down the spine of any normal person. A face like that just doesn’t leave you.