Then and Now: A Look at “The Silence of the Lambs”

Photo Source: New York Times

Photo Source: New York Times

Seamus Dowling, Writer

After nearly 30 years of the making of the film The Silence of the Lambs, it finally has a TV show, Clarice, but how does the show hold up in a modern standpoint? Is the once beloved film now extremely outdated or is it like wine, tasting better as it ages? The Silence of the Lambs still remains one of the best films of the modern age and is still relevant today due to the younger generations’ love for crime shows and podcasts.

The Silence of the Lambs is a 1991 film about how a young and new FBI student, Clarice Starling, attempts to solve a missing-person case through interviewing the horrific serial killer and cannibal, Doctor Hannibal Lecter. The film, adapted from Thomas Harris’ novel, received high honors from Hollywood and the mass, winning five Academy Awards, including Best Actress for Jodie Foster (Clarice) and Best Actor for Anthony Hopkins (Hannibal). The film portrays the dark and horrific lives of serial killers and their victims as well as how smarts and luck are often used to solve criminal cases.

To see if the film was considered obsolete in the eyes of younglings, a younger viewer and an older viewer both watched the film and gave their comments regarding its stature. Simon Bissitt, a junior at Pentucket Regional High school, as well as Erika Dowling, my mother, compared their thoughts about the film.

When asked, “What makes The Silence of the Lambs so good?” Bissitt responded, “The cinematography and the character of Hannibal.”

Dowling said all the characters in general and “the suspense.” She added that the point of view camera angles that focus in on one character are so suspenseful and thrilling, so much so you feel like you are there in the film. 

When asked the controversial question: “Is the film a horror movie or a thriller?” Bissitt said that it is a thriller because “there are moments in the movie where it makes you go, ‘Oh my God!’” 

However, Dowling said it is “both a horror movie and thriller because it is not too much of each other. It is like true crime.”

When asked about the characters, Dowling said Jodie Foster played the most believable character because she plays Clarice with a sense of “naiveness that you would expect from a young FBI student [who] also has the smarts and luck to crack the missing persons case and find Buffalo Bill.” Clarice is also portrayed as eager and motivated, not letting anything stop her when training at Quantico, a town in Virginia where the FBI Academy is located, talking to Hannibal, and hunting down Buffalo Bill.

On the other hand, Bissitt believes that Anthony Hopkins portrays the most believable character as Hannibal because Hopkins is a “very talented actor and knows how to play a villain.” Every frame that Hannibal is in or referenced in makes the audience feel his evil and cunning nature.

In regards to Hannibal, when Dowling and Bissitt were asked: “Who is the more evil killer: Hannibal Lecter or Buffalo Bill?” the responses were interesting. Bissitt said that Hannibal is the more evil killer because of the crimes that he has committed, on and off screen, like killing and eating people.

Dowling had to think deeply about this one and then came to the conclusion that the more evil killer is also Hannibal. 

Even though Buffalo Bill’s crimes are the main focus of the movie, Dowling agrees with Bissitt that Hannibal is a more evil serial killer because “[she] has seen the other movies and read the books. [Hannibal] uses his smarts and plots more because he would not be the person you would suspect to be a killer. But if it is just based on The Silence of the Lambs, [she] would say Buffalo Bill because he kills and wears the skin from his victims without remorse.”

Even though Buffalo Bill is painted as the main antagonist of the film, Hannibal, in many eyes, is the more evil serial killer.

Transitioning from the antagonists to the protagonist, Dowling and Bissitt both agreed that making Clarice the main character and having her win in the end was a good choice for the film. Dowling added that because Clarice is a main character and wins in the end, “It is good for law enforcement today and back in the 90s, as she solves the case alone because of a mistake made by the FBI.” Clarice is an example that people can do anything they set their minds to and they can do it by themselves, as Clarice is a strong and independent FBI student that cracks the case of Buffalo Bill that had been haunting the FBI.

The Silence of the Lambs is officially 30 years old, but does it still hold up to the “original 90s movie,” or does it fall flat in regards to modern standards?  

Dowling and Bissitt both agreed that the movie still holds up. Bissitt said that it definitely holds, while Dowling said that it still holds up “for sure because crime still exists.” People are still murdered and the FBI still hunts down murderers, so the film does not feel locked backs because of an old fad.

Because The Silence of the Lambs is a movie adapted from a work of fiction that takes inspiration from the infamous serial killers Ted Bundy and Gary Heidnik and not an actual crime involving a man named Buffalo Bill, is the plot believable or too “Hollywood?”

Bissitt remarked that the plot is “rather believable because of Jodie Foster’s acting. She plays a character that has her own story about her being a new FBI student and having to talk to a crazy serial killer.” Also, Clarice’s naiveness that Foster portrays helps sell the role as believable and not fictitious.

Dowling agreed with Bissitt and said that the plot is believable because Buffalo Bill is based off of Ed Gein, Ted Bundy, and Gary Heidnik. Also, she said that there are killers and people who catch them, “But [she is] not sure if every movie aspect, like the training at Quantico, is correct.”  

Because of their opinion that this film’s plot is believable but might have changed a few details at Quantico, The Silence of the Lambs is a good true crime movie.

Clarice, The Silence of the Lambs sequel, released in February 2021 and it has not received the same honors that the film received. There have been other mediocre prequels and sequels to the film like Red Dragon and Hannibal, so asking Dowling and Bissitt if The Silence of the Lambs is better as part in a film/TV series or just as a standalone film, they both said it is better as just a standalone film. Dowling said that “[the movie] did not need it and the others are not as good.”

Bissitt said that it is a “good” standalone movie, as he has not seen the prequels and sequels.

The Silence of the Lambs is believed to be one of the greatest thriller/horror films ever because of how it creates suspense with its brilliant actors and actresses, scenery, and atmosphere, making the main character succeed in the end and being a very accurate film that shows the audience an example of a how a crime would be solved. Asking two people who have seen the movie at different times, Dowling in the 90s, and Bissitt in November 2020, it is clear the film does not lose its charm and still remains fantastic. It is all thanks to the actors, actresses, cinematography, and the other crew members for creating such a timeless piece.

The movie will pull viewers in and is captivating until the very end. Even though it might have had its name tainted by mediocre movies and TV shows that focus on the same characters and story, the original movie is still stupendous. Give The Silence of the Lambs a watch; it will not disappoint.