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The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Reels of Justice – The case for the prosecution

By Rachel RobbinsPublished 2 months ago Updated 2 months ago 4 min read

I used to have a very serious job, researching domestic abuse and homicide. It was worthwhile, it was rewarding, it was beneficial to society, but it was not fun.

Since taking voluntary redundancy I have been trying to find ways to have fun with my work. And it is amazing the opportunities that find you when you decide to follow passions.

Last month, I had a blast recording a film podcast. Those who know my writing, know that film is one of my great loves in life. But there is one film, that while it holds a special place in my heart, I struggle to love.

The Silence of the Lambs.

And I used the Reels of Justice podcast to try and make the case that this is not the great movie, everyone thinks it is.

So, this is my case for the prosecution.

The Silence of the Lambs is a psychological horror thriller.

As you can see from that description the words, ‘romantic’ and ‘comedy’ do not feature.

Yet, this was the choice of my partner (now of 33 years) for a second date…. Not only was it our second date, he also brought his friend, Will, along too.

We are still together….

But if you are in any doubt, The Silence of the Lambs, is not date movie material.

But that shouldn’t mean it is not a great movie. The two central performances of Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling and Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter are compelling. Ted Levine is terrifying in his 10 minutes of screen time. The direction is tightly focused and the screen play has a real sense of character and place. It is one of only three films that have won the big five Oscars.

But it is deeply disturbing.

My major argument is that The Silence of the Lambs is... yucky.

Anthony Hopkins in terrifying form as Hannibal Lecter

If you do not know the plot, this is a film about men putting women in danger. It is about the fact that women aren’t safe, even when all they’re doing is driving home from the grocery store.

It lets us know that serial killers have a type – in the case women who are a size 14.

But it isn’t just the violence of one serial killer that permeates the film. It isn’t even that the film features two serial killers. There is violence all around, from the salacious looks of co-workers to the downright macabre slaying of skin.

Jodie Foster impressively focussed and brave as Clarice Starling

I was scared from the moment this film began. It opens with a very fit, but very slight Jodie Foster running in a forest. And then walking amongst a series of tall men. She was strong and fit, but the framing of shots made her slightness always visible and highlighted her vulnerability. Her height and build are in constant reference to those around her. She gets into a lift with everyone a good half a foot taller than her.

I am a similar height and build to Foster – like an espresso – small but full of energy. We get to go to the big meetings, but we sit in chairs where our feet don’t touch the ground.

But Jodie Foster is appealing, even to serial killers.

One of my biggest concerns about the film was the trope of the evil genius behind the slaughter of other human beings for his own pleasure. I’ve read too many domestic homicide reviews to believe that killers are somehow both more evil and more intelligent than most. They are not. They are brutes, who fear losing control and think they can get away with it. There is almost a reverence to the way Lecter’s intelligence is treated.

Ted Levine haunting my dreams for over 30 years

And that is before we even get to the regressive trans story line.

Buffalo Bill.

Let’s remember a trans identity is more likely to make someone prey rather than be a predator. But this films plays on all the tropes about transwomen, as a danger to ‘real’ (I’m using air quotes here for good reason) women.

And poor Ted Levine – who played this part – brilliantly – really suffered with it and wouldn’t take on parts like it again.

Hopkins and Foster getting their Oscars

The thing I hated about this film though, more than anything else is that it suggests that women have to be exceptional, formidable, just to avoid being killed. And I found that exhausting. There are very few women in the film and all exhibit incredible levels of courage. Can we not just have a day off and miss a deadline because we were too busy being mediocre, dancing around in our pyjamas?

Jonathan Demme followed The Silence of the Lambs, with this beautiful film

In conclusion, for me, the best bit of The Silence of the Lambs for me, is that the opposition by the LGBT community to the role of Buffalo Bill, led Jonathan Demme to make Philadelphia – a story with much more heart.

Yes, it is memorable and has been successful, but if you listen to the Podcast you will find that not everything that meets that benchmark should also be critically lauded.

In other words, the best thing about The Silence of the Lambs is another film entirely.

A picture of the Wombles - want to know why? - listen to the Podcast

Find out if I convinced the judges here… (or wherever you usually find your podcasts).

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About the Creator

Rachel Robbins

Writer-Performer based in the North of England. A joyous, flawed mess.

Please read my stories and enjoy. And if you can, please leave a tip. Money raised will be used towards funding a one-woman story-telling, comedy show.

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Comments (3)

  • Gene Lass2 months ago

    This film is in my top 3 favorite films of all time. A coworker was raving about the book, years before the film came out, but I didn't read it until after I saw the film. Now I've read all of the Thomas Harris "Hannibal" books, and at some point I plan to read all of his books in general. The reason he's able to put so much authenticity in the Hannibal character is Harris actually is a gourmet cook, and he researches all his subjects down to a fine level. Buffalo Bill's techniques and psyche are a mixture of several serial killers, including Ted Bundy and Ed Gein (Ed Gein is a popular choice for serial killer fiction, starting with the original novel "Psycho"). This was a date movie for me, too, but I had already been dating my girlfriend for a bit, and rom-coms weren't typically our thing. She was a big Hitchcock fan, I was a big horror fan, so SotL was right in our wheelhouse. I hear what you're saying about the strong female characters in the film. I think Demme does a good portrayal of being female in a field dominated by men, and what's that's like, from the group of cadets jogging past Clarice and checking out her butt as they pass, to being hit on by everyone from the entomologist to Dr. Chilton. It seems in most films, particularly now, it's either feast of famine. The female characters are either window dressing, or superwomen. So the portrayal here is particularly good for the time the movie came out. Your point about the trope of trans characters is also well-made. Between this film and "Basic Instinct" earlier, there was considerable discussion and protest about treatment of LGBTQ characters in cinema. There was even at least one book about it, documenting that those characters, since the dawn of film, were usually insane, killers, pariahs, or they died tragic deaths, when they were seen at all. That didn't change until recently.

  • I am a huge fan of psychological thrillers Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, Manhunter, Shutter Island, The Shining, and The Shawshank Redemption are a few of my favorites. Great job. I will have to come back and check out the podcast later.

  • Christy Munson2 months ago

    SoTL is definitely not my idea of first date material. But SoTL came out 2 years before I met the man I'd marry, so it wasn't a consideration. FYI, there's a typo I suspect you'll want to zap: "he also bought his friend, Will". Funny, but hopefully not... 😉

Rachel RobbinsWritten by Rachel Robbins

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