The Silence of the Lambs

Maybe one of the reasons why Lecter is so scary is that unlike Clarice or Buffalo Bill there is no one smart enough to analyse him. He always remains enigmatically one step ahead. He sees through Clarice extremely quickly, not just the tedious, sticky fumblings in the back seats of cars but the void in her life left by the death of her father – and so her need for replacement father-figures. Her boss Jack Crawford is one such candidate. Lecter realises that he could easily become another.

But the notion that Clarise finds men and sex tedious is perceptive as well. Throughout the film she is admired for her beauty in pretty crass ways, most shockingly when a neighbouring psycho flings cum in her face. Lecter's hint that the path of the serial killer begins with the urge to 'covet' is significant here. A miasma of stale male covetousness pervades the film. It just becomes concentrated and curdled in the case of Buffalo Bill (though it's a pity that the character's queerness is pathologised as well). In some sense, all the men in the film have something creepy about them – the serial killers are just at the extreme end of the spectrum.

Is Lecter devoid of this? Why does he kill and eat people? He seems to covet not just women but psychological insight. He savours Clarice's childhood trauma like he's breathing in a fine wine. Maybe he started out coveting the traumas of his patients and kept moving on to stronger fare. It's a more satisfactory interpretation that the revenge narrative provided in the sequels.

One of the joys of the movie is that the scenes between Lecter and Clarice mix up a police interrogation (where Clarice has the upper hand) with the therapy session (where Lecter rules supreme). It's an explicitly set out quid pro quo, with the two characters alternating roles and vying for supremacy. Lecter's pleasure at the playing of the game may be why he spares Clarice at the end of the film – he doesn't quite want it to end.

Another joy is the great use made of a drifting camera that keeps picking out incidental details in the frame that add texture to the story. A good (and funny) early example is a sign at the FBI training camp that reads 'HURT-AGONY-PAIN: LOVE IT' – which almost becomes an ironic alternative strapline for the movie. The technique forces you into the position of an FBI agent sifting through the shots for clues. But the camera isn't just an objective presence – it whirls around into flashbacks when you least expect it, or switches point of view to maximise tension, as in the final parallel montage. It's very well put together, and it can still creep you out 27 years after it was made.

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