Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs is one of my favorite suspense thrillers. Its narrative precision, unique cinematography, impeccable acting and flawless production design all make the film endlessly rewatchable. Here are a handful of things I love about the film that are rarely discussed. Enjoy!
Speaking of those titles – they’re absolutely perfect. Simple yet jarring, unassuming yet commanding.
Always a treat when extras look into the camera by mistake. Oops.
The production design of Jack Crawford’s office. Normally, filmmakers would put a hot shit FBI official in a lavish corner office with a nice view. But this concrete dungeon is as disconcerting as it is authentic.
“Will you be in Baltimore overnight…? Because this can be quite a fun town if you have the right guide.” I just love Anthony Heald. In his introductory scene, he immediately justifies his fate.
The composition of these two shots. Clarice’s shot from below expertly captures her detached fear. Chilton’s from above displays his arrogant gravitas.
The inital reveal of Hannibal Lecter is one of the best character introductions in all of cinema. Howard Shore’s score crescendos at just the right moment, the camera moves effortlessly, and there’s Anthony Hopkins, standing eager and polite, waiting to be discovered.
Cinematographer Tak Fujimoto encourages characters to look directly into the camera while delivering dialogue (see: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Philadelphia). Never has his use of this device been more effective than in this film.
I love Clarice’s self-effacing laughter when she first asks Lecter to look at the FBI questionnaire. She knows her segue is, indeed, ham-handed.
“No, no you ate yours.” Gotta love Clarice proving from the onset that she’s got a little fight in her.
I LOVE the way Lecter yells “GO NOW!” It’s as emotive as he gets in the whole film. What a force of nature.
The chuckle Clarice lets out when she suggests that the storage unit door might fall on her.
Much of the brilliance of this film is that it’s not a whodunit. The mystery isn’t discovering who Buffalo Bill is; the mystery is trying to realize what he’s going to do next.
The jump cut of Clarice being pulled out of boxing class to the faux street chase.
Notice how Clarice’s southern accent becomes more pronounced when she’s speaking with the West Virginia police. A nice little touch, one that’s common practice amongst southerners trying to fit in.
Jonathan Demme loves character actors, and thankfully, this film is full of them. Character actors have the best faces, don’t they?
The sound of the flash resetting as Clarice examines Buffalo Bill’s latest victim. So very Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
The sound of the air that escapes the victim’s mouth as a bug is pulled from her throat.
Of course Demme would have a poster for a B-movie hanging in a FBI common room.
The way Bill’s lip quivers as Catherine is pleading for her life. For a fraction of a second, we see that he does indeed have a soul.
Chilton lying on Lecter’s bed. What a smug asshole.
Listen carefully when Chilton orders Barney to leave Lecter’s cell. Lecter whispers Barney’s name, but why? Out of fear? Fear of what Chilton may do? Or fear of what he may do to Chilton?
Roger Corman, Jonathan Demme’s mentor, playing the Director of the FBI.
The simple design of Lecter’s new makeshift cell. You can just tell danger is lurking there.
Clarice’s lamb story is a great lesson in simplicity. It’s such a basic yet captivating tale; one that defines her life. The scene is also a testament to Jodie Foster’s acting. It takes a lot of skill to sell simplicity.
Part of what makes the death of these two guards so horrific is that they actually appear to be decent guys. It would’ve been so easy to play the guards as assholes. Instead, they’re just normal fellas who have no idea what they’re in for.
“Mind the drawings, please.”
This is the moment The Silence of the Lambs turns from a great detective thriller, to a fucking classic work of American cinema.
Danny Darst and his truly excellent moustache.
Chris Isaak, SWAT badass.
My mom tells a great story that when she saw this film in the theater, she couldn’t hear the movie for a good 60 seconds following this shot. People were screaming and running out of the theater. It was hysteria.
“He won’t come after me. He won’t. I can’t explain it – he would consider that rude.” I love the efficiency of this line. It’s arguably my favorite line of the whole film.
I know the crosscutting of the FBI crashing Jame Gumb’s house with Clarice actually meeting Gumb has been discussed ad nauseam. But that’s for good reason. It’s one of the very finest uses of crosscutting ever executed.
Scott Glenn’s impeccable delivery of “…Clarice.”
The way Clarice fumbles while removing her gun from her holster. A great and authentic detail.
Gumb letting the business cards drop so elegantly from his fingers.
I would love to know the technical circumstances on set when they shot this scene. Foster is so damn strong, you really can’t tell that there is an entire film crew there with her. She’s so alone.
“The world’s more interesting with you in it.” What a line.
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