Friday, October 9, 2009

Top Films: The Silence of the Lambs

Say what you will about whether it is a likable film or not, Silence of the Lambs is one of the greats. Demme here pulls off a similar feat to Hitchcock, who took a terrible story (thematically, not qualitatively) and made a masterpiece out of Psycho. It probably should have gotten the Best Editing Oscar in addition to the five big ones it got.

From the moment it opens on Starling, running alone out in the woods, until it ends with her alone again on the phone with the monster she had been forced to interact with we are presented with near perfect cinematic story-telling. Moments like Starlings opening run, showing us that even though she is a part of a huge organization, she is on her own; or the surreal juxtaposition of violence with refinement and beautiful music during the escape scene. Of course the climactic tension that sends most audiences into fits of desperate efforts to warn a character on a screen of the danger she is in is a rare moment of cinema indeed. It is not often you completely forget that you are watching something and not living it.

Part of that is due to the way that Demme pulls the audience into the film by using no mere POV shots in the Starling—Lecter interviews. Instead he has the characters interact directly with the camera. Lecter is especially effective because of this. He is really a modern day vampire. He eats people on the one hand, but he is also pure evil. He is fascinating, but in a terrifying way. We are not attracted to him. We do not like him. However, we cannot take our eyes off of him. This is the dimension that is sadly lacking in many horror films today, especially vampire films. We have lost the capacity to believe that true evil exists. We are always trying to understand it or else letting ourselves be convinced that it is just something that is misunderstood.

Perhaps that is one of the things that makes Silence such a treasure. It is a not a story about sympathizing with evil or even just negotiating with it, but rather it is a story about seeking to defeat evil.

Trailer provided by Video Detective

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