The film directed by Jonathan Demme made history. He turns 30 being more current than ever.
30 years ago the lambs stopped screaming. Or maybe start screaming. On February 14, 1991, a film that would make history was released in the US. It was called The Silence of the Lambs, and it was adapted from the novel by Thomas Harris. The thriller with touches of terror became a masterpiece thanks to the directing work of Jonathan Demme, who created a film that has influenced all subsequent cinema.
Today The Silence of the Lambs is still an insurmountable film. It does not age, and anyone who discovers it now will continue to be amazed by a film that left two memorable performances – those of Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster. The unhealthy, oddly attracted relationship between Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling is a black hole engulfing the viewer who cannot stop staring.
There are few works as relevant and that have left as many emblematic images as The Silence of the Lambs. The first encounter between Clarice, Lecter’s escape, the cannibal’s face with an iconic mask, the final scene with a night vision camera… the list is endless. These are the most emblematic curiosities of the film.
The Silence of the Lambs was quickly raised by the critics and the public, which made it a favorite for all the awards of the year, but not all counted on its victory. It swept the Oscars and made history on several sides. It was considered the first horror film to win the award for Best Film, but it was the five most important awards: Film, direction (Jonathan Demme), screenplay (Ted Tally), lead actress (Jodie Foster) and actor protagonist (Anthony Hopkins). Hopkins’ award is another historic one, as he won the award for only 25 minutes of performance, but his presence is so overwhelming that no one doubted. Interestingly, he can win it 30 years later for The Father.
Although it now seems unthinkable that Hannibal and Clarice are not Anthony Hopkins and Jodei Foster, neither of them were the first choice for the project. Who was closest to being the most famous cannibal in the history of cinema was Gene Hackman, since he bought the rights to the novel with the intention of directing and starring in it. He first abandoned his intention to bring Doctor Lecter to life, and finally fell out of realization as well. They say that he did not want to be linked to another project so dark after Mississippi Burning.
The first choice to play FBI agent Clarice Starling was Michelle Pfeiffer. The actress herself has recognized it after her, since she was offered the project and she did not deny it as too disturbing. She has always said that what she regrets the most is not being able to work with Jonathan Demme afterwards, who passed away in 2017.
It wasn’t the first Hannibal movie
Although for almost everyone The Silence of the Lambs was their first contact with Hannibal Lecter, it was not the first time they had seen him in movies. Five years earlier Michael Mann had premiered Manhunter, which premiered here with Hunter’s Man. He was already adapting a novel by Thomas Harris, in this case The Red Dragon, and the character that would later become an icon Anthony Hopkins was already seen. This time he was played by Brian Cox, and his name was Hannibal Lecktor. Much later and with the success of The Silence of the Lambs, several sequels and prequels were made, including The Red Dragon, but with Hopkins as Lecter.
Break the fourth wall
Jonathan Demme made a fundamental decision for the film, and that is that almost all the characters who speak with Clarice Starling look directly at the camera, while she always looks out in the reverse shot. That puts us in the point of view of the FBI agent, empathizing with her and helping to generate more tension and suspense. At various times this becomes especially noticeable, such as when she talks to Hannibal Lecter and he addresses us directly. However, there is a moment in which the point of view changes, and it is in that final scene with infrared glasses, where we see what Billy the kid is seeing, that murderer who stalks Agent Starling, whom we see dead. scary.
An improvisation that made history
One of the most emblematic moments that everyone remembers is when Hannibal Lecter tells Clarice how he killed one of his victims: “I ate his liver accompanied by beans and a good chianti”, says the character and makes an indescribable and terrifying noise , as if remembering the taste of the dead man’s organ. All this while he looks at the camera. A sound that Anthony Hopkins improvised, who made several fundamental decisions for his character, such as his first appearance, in which Demme told him where he wanted to be inside the cage, and said that right in the middle, waiting, because if they took ten minutes speaking of him, he should surprise everyone, as if he’s waiting.