The psychological horror film, The Silence of the Lambs, has been hailed as one of the greatest films of all time by the critics. Released in 1991, it was made on a relatively low budget of $19 million and raked in an incredible $272.7 million at the box office worldwide.
Distributed by Orion Pictures, the film was based on the 1988 novel of the same name by Thomas Harris and was directed by Jonathan Demme. It stars Welsh actor Anthony Hopkins as brilliant psychiatrist Dr Hannibal Lecter – who also happens to be a serial killer and cannibal who eats his victims.
Empire ranked it 48th in their 2018 list of the 500 best movies of all time, while the American Film Institute ranked it the fifth greatest and most influential thriller ever made.
Lecter has been imprisoned at Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane for his horrific crimes. Hopkins, who was 54 at the time, won the Academy Award for best actor for his portrayal of the killer, who is described as a “pure psychopath” in the film.
He is intellectually brilliant, with a refined taste in art, music and cuisine – hence he would prepare gourmet meals with his victims’ remains. He hates rudeness with a passion and has killed bad-mannered people on occasion.
Prior to being arrested for cannibalism, he was a member of the social elite of Baltimore and was on the board of directors of the local philharmonic orchestra.
In The Silence of the Lambs, he is introduced to FBI trainee Clarice Starling, played by 29-year-old Jodie Foster, after another serial killer goes on the rampage, skinning his female victims after murdering them.
Starling is sent to the high-security prison to talk to Lecter after the FBI believes he may be able to help them capture the killer known as Buffalo Bill by creating a psychological profile. He agrees to help on condition he’s moved away from the pompous director of the hospital, Frederick Chilton, as he detests him.
Lecter creates a profile of Buffalo Bill and gives Starling his advice on finding him but during the investigation, the cannibal escapes from prison after killing his guards. Starling is close to catching Buffalo Bill and finds herself in danger. Will she escape from the killer – and if so, will Lecter be coming for her?
The title of the film is explained during a conversation between Lecter and Starling, when the young FBI trainee relates a traumatic experience from her childhood. She had been sent to stay with relatives who lived near an abattoir and as a child, she heard the sound of lambs screaming, which traumatised her for the rest of her life.
She even tried to save a lamb and run away with it, but failed in her rescue bid, to her dismay. She admitted she always had recurring nightmares about the wailing of the lambs. The silence of the lambs comes only after they have been killed.
The idea of a “sacrificial lamb” seems pertinent to the plot, as Starling is desperately trying to stop Buffalo Bill from killing his next victim, a senator’s daughter, whom he has kidnapped. She is innocent, like a “lamb to the slaughter”.
Psychologically, Starling is trying to atone for her own failure in rescuing the lamb when she was a child by saving another innocent figure – thus silencing the screams in her nightmares.
As well as Hopkins earning the Academy Award for best actor, Foster won the best actress award, Demme won best director and screenwriter Ted Tally won best adapted screenplay. The Silence of the Lambs also won the Academy Award for best picture.
Foster received a Golden Globe and a BAFTA for best actress, while Hopkins received a BAFTA for best actor. Demme won the best director award at the 41st Berlin International Film Festival and the movie was awarded Best Horror Film of the Year from the Horror Hall of Fame, awarded by Vincent Price.
The film made such an impact that in 2015, when the house in the village of Layton used as a filming location went on the market, potential buyers were deterred, because they associated it with a serial killer!
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