I first saw Silence Of The Lambs when I was, like, nine years old and I didn’t have a clue what was going on, I was too young even to find it scary. I assumed though, later in life, that it was good. Turns out it’s not. Now as you’re yelling sacrilege (!) I want you to do something, think of 3 things that make Silence a great movie. Make a mental list. Is everything on your list Anthony Hopkins’ performance as Lecter? Yeah it is. (I actually asked Jay this, totally unprompted, and he really did say Anthony Hopkins three times) Because he’s amazing in that movie, he’s so good it blinded all of to the fact that SOTL is a poorly crafted mess of a story.
The Buffalo Bill story is just a frame for Clarice and Lecter’s story, we all accept that, so why use it as the dramatic conclusion? We’re not scared for Clarice at that point because Bill is nothing compared to Lecter after Lecter’s escape. And then Bill’s story doesn’t wrap up. Clarice figures out Bill’s name and coincidentally so does the FBI then Clarice runs into Bill by accident at a victim’s mom’s house while the feds are storming a mailbox two towns over. The how and why of Bill’s becoming a killer is never explained. It’s said that Lecter knew him when he killed his gay lover 10 years ago and it’s implied he obsessed on his mom’s seamstress until he killed her, it’s said that he was molested, it’s all said and implied by people who might be lying for their own benefit. So Bill doesn’t have a character arc and isn’t a scary villain.
Clarice doesn’t really have an arc and isn’t a likeable hero. In almost all horror/suspense films the protagonist is a young woman because it’s okay for young woman to be scared. Actually imagine Lambs with a male lead, do it. Uncomfortable. She doesn’t really question manipulating Lecter, she does a little and one of the unspoken themes of the movie is that everyone manipulates, but she doesn’t treat it as a dilemma and it doesn’t grow her character. No ones character grows or changes, weird for a movie that used moths and cocoons in all it’s imagery.
And on to the great Hannibal Lecter. He is a pure psychopath in this movie. He revels in suggesting Clarice was molested, he vulgarly taunts a terrified mother when it can only hurt his chances for escape, and the most classic example of biting a nurse’s face so badly she needs jaw surgery and it not raising his heart rate to do so. Rather than go on about how great he is in this movie, let’s talk a bit about how hollywood fucked him up completely in the next. He’s a true villain in Silence doing bad things for his own reasons. People liked him so much he got the hollywood treatment that happens to so many great villains and they made him a hero next time we see him. In Hannibal he’s persecuted by an ultra-rich pedophile, he’s called homophobic slurs by a low brow sexist douche bag, he’s hunted by a greedy crooked cop, and he only eats rude people – just hitting every revenge fantasy the audience could possibly have – then he sacrifices for love when it really counts. He’s basically a Twilight vampire.
If I could do a director’s cut of SOTL it would look like this:
Start with Bill abducting the girl with the couch ruse.
Then Clarice’s introduction
Proceed mostly as normal until Lecter has been transported.
Do the death of Buffalo Bill then the escape of Lecter. Hell, do both those scenes at once, get intense about it. Lecter’s eating a face while Bill’s reaching for Clarice in the dark.And end the same way with Lecter’s phone call.
I think that way it would make Bill actually scary and the audience would worry that Lecter was now going to go after Clarice until the phone call when he says the world is more interesting with her in it.
And then don’t make Hannibal.