A Coquettish Cannibal
TLR Rating: 8 1/2 Reels.
Even if ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ wasn’t a great movie (which it is), it would have given the world one of the best on-screen villains of all time, Hannibal Lector. The character was depicted by Brian Cox in the nerve wrenching 1986’s ‘Manhunter’ by Michael Mann, which was loosely based on the book ‘The Red Dragon’ by Thomas Reed. ‘The Silence of The Lambs’ is somewhat more psychological take on Hannibal Lecter. The movie has the central character in the new FBI recruit Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) but all the limelight was masterfully stolen by one of the British cinema’s most eloquent figures, Anthony Hopkins. It is so easy to forget how less screen time he had been given. Such is his brilliance that somehow he told us all about Hannibal in just 15 minutes that had taken an entire book to explain.
The movie starts with Jack Crawford, FBI’s man in charge seeking the help of young Clarice Starling. Her assignment is to interview the infamous ‘Hannibal the cannibal’ to profile the new serial killer in the market ‘ Buffalo Bill’, who skins his victims. The movie is all about the complex relationship that develops between Clarice and Hannibal through series of prison interviews with an inch thick bulletproof glass separating them. Johnathan Deeme knew exactly what to do with this character. Hannibal is a person who cannot care less about a bulletproof glass because he does not need a weapon to kill or affect people. His mind games are his ultimate strength and he has the ability to do anything with that. Although the movie’s main plot revolves around catching Buffalo Bill, the audience seem more fixated on the enigmatic cannibal behind the glass.
There is no other psychopath perhaps, who is more seductive than Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal; a man (or not) who listens to ‘Goldberg’s Variations’ and sketch duomos with his memory. It’s not his unprecedented taste or his arrogant manner that attracts Clarice. His smile is frosty, his eyes are cold as ice. His mind however, is a gold mine and draws Clarice towards him. Hannibal is one movie killer who is portrayed as brilliant, chilling and wicked as reported to be. He is skeptical at first but then he is amused and then he is seduced by the enthusiastic Clarice Starling. She might have been just flesh and bones but something more in her appeals to him. Clarice is different in her style as Hannibal is in his. She is exceptionally beautiful yet it’s not the prettiness that is the most exciting thing about her. She is unsure of herself, yet knows her limitations and you should know them when you are talking to someone like Hannibal. Clarice is honest and has a sense of righteousness within her. She is very direct, wants to make way for herself and is always a bit on the edge. Together Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins gave substance to these characters that laid the foundation for the movie and in fact they did it so well that they seemed more important than the mechanics of the movie altogether. There is depth in the relationship of these two characters; they share so much. They are limited by the world they live in. Hannibal, is limited by humans because he is a cannibal and Clarice, who is limited by men around her in the patriarchal environment of law enforcement. These parallel themes are shown very well while they engage in a very strange relationship onscreen to which Hannibal says himself, “People will think we are in love”.
The soundtrack of the movie carries the theme perfectly. When the soundtrack wanted to create terror like in the basement scene, it did. And just when you thought you cannot be terrorized more, they put down the lights and add green goggles. Anthony Hopkins’ role had much less screen time than Jodie Foster’s but it certainly had a bigger impact on the movie and of course not to mention the Oscars it landed to both for best actor and actress. Hopkins’ entrance is unforgettable where he is standing still as the camera progresses him slowly and shows his body in a jumpsuit, standing erect and not even shaking the smallest muscle of his body. He is cold, chilling, haunting and gives the vibes of not just a serial killer or a cannibal but a man who can play havoc with your mind. Hopkins in one of his interviews said the inspiration for this role for him had been HAL 9000 of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (who is my opinion the best movie villain ever made). The inspiration is quite evident from his role being dispassionate, brilliant like a machine with superb logic and deficient in emotions.
The audience liking Hannibal as a character might seem rather strange with him being a cannibal, one cannot judge him on that ‘trait’ of his. No, I think it’s the offbeat relationship with Clarice that defined him, making him a fan favorite. There was something they shared, hidden behind the layers of strangeness, which was perfectly depicted in a span that never bored the audience. A nail biting story running alongside the character development helped too, something which is sorely missing in the later attempts on Hannibal and people around him. And how to end a movie involving cannibals and psychopaths? You say, “I am having a friend for dinner”.
The chills remain.
The author is a huge movie buff with special interest in neo-noir and sci-fi genres. When he gets tired of watching movies, he watches more of them.