Directed by Jonathan Demme
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 2011
I first watched it on June 24th, 2019
What It’s About:
When a serial killer known as “Buffalo Bill” abducts the adult daughter of a U.S. senator, a young FBI-agent in training is assigned to interview Hannibal Lecter, a cannibalistic serial killer in police custody, in the hopes that he might provide them with insights into Buffalo Bill’s deranged mind.
My experience with the film:
I have a friend who has repeatedly said that the biggest snub in Oscar history is the fact that Silence of the Lambs beat Beauty and the Beast (the first animated film ever nominated for Best Picture) for the top prize at the 1992 Oscar ceremony. Having now seen The Silence of the Lambs twice (first in 2019 as a part of my still-ongoing, and partially sidelined, quest to watch every Best-Picture-winning film, first mentioned here, and again more recently for my monthly Oscar movie club, first explained here), I can now say that I respectfully disagree.
I actually mentioned his position on the film to my movie club during our meeting a couple days ago, and we all unanimously agreed that Silence of the Lambs was the more deserving winner (also notable: this was one of the rare instances where we were all in agreement about liking the film, as there’s usually at least one or more dissenters).
However, since I personally consider induction to the NFR to be a higher, though less flashier, honor (at least for American-made films, since foreign-made films are rarely, if ever, added to the Registry) my friend may have the last laugh: Beauty and the Beast was inducted to the NFR in 2002, just one year after it was eligible (films can’t be inducted until they’re at least 10 years old, and most films are usually inducted several years after they’re first eligible). It took nine additional years for The Silence of the Lambs to be inducted, a sign that the NFR potentially considers Beauty and the Beast to be more “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” to American cinema, when compared to Silence of the Lambs. Regardless, I think they’re both great films.
(For the record, my pick for the actual “biggest snub in Oscar history”, at least in recent memory, is the fact that The Lego Movie, which absolutely deserved to win “Best Animated Feature”, wasn’t even nominated for that category. I will most definitely be nominating it for the NFR in 2024.)
Returning to Silence of the Lambs, I can’t say much more about Lambs than has already been said: Anthony Hopkins’ acting is absolutely phenomenal and sticks with you long after the film is over (especially when you consider how little screen time he actually has in the film—supposedly only 16 minutes according to some of the sources linked below, though I never used a stopwatch to determine if that was accurate.) Jodie Foster’s acting shouldn’t be overlooked either—there’s a reason she won Best Actress for this film. (Apparently the two actors were so intimidated by each other, that they rarely spoke to each other off camera until their final day of filming together, when they finally struck up a conversation and got to know each other.) The fact that the film is shot mostly from Clarice’s POV, and includes several uncomfortable extreme close-ups is also noteworthy, as is the editing (especially in the scene where it seems that the FBI is about to raid Buffalo Bill’s house only for it be revealed that they are at the wrong location, and that it is Clarice, alone, who is on Bill’s doorstep).
One last note: Anthony Hopkins ends the film with an extremely memorable quote, “I do wish we could chat longer, but I’m having an old friend for dinner.” Not satisfied with haunting us only at the end of the regular version of the film, in the audio commentary on the Criterion Collection Blu-ray, the final thing that Anthony Hopkins says, in his Hannibal Lecter voice, is “To those of you who are watching this movie: pleasant dreams. Bye.”
The Silence of the Lambs (1991) is available to stream on the services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/the-silence-of-the-lambs
To learn more about the history and significance of this film, I recommend the following resources:
- The Criterion Collection Blu-ray pictured above contains several behind-the-scenes features, including an audio commentary featuring the director, the screenwriter, a former FBI agent, Jodie Foster, and Anthony Hopkins. It also comes with a 50-page booklet containing essays and other material related to the film.
- A post about The Silence of the Lambs from The Horse’s Head, another blog dedicated to watching and discussing all of the NFR films: https://thehorseshead.blog/2019/01/23/308-the-silence-of-the-lambs-1991/
- The original 1991 review from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/1991/02/14/movies/review-film-methods-of-madness-in-silence-of-the-lambs.html
- The original 1991 review from Variety: https://variety.com/1991/film/reviews/the-silence-of-the-lambs-2-1200429031/
- The original review from Roger Ebert, which includes this standout quote: “rarely in a movie have I been made more aware of the subtle sexual pressures men put upon women with their eyes”: https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-silence-of-the-lambs-1991
- The original review from Gene Siskel, which was mostly negative: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1991-02-15-9101150268-story.html
- A (brief) contentious conversation between Siskel and Ebert about the film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgX0hASKpBU
- A video essay about transphobia in popular media, which discusses The Silence of the Lambs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHTMidTLO60
- A YouTube review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HA50xxS0gec
- A clip from the opening of the 1992 Oscar ceremony where Billy Crystal parodies the character of Hannibal Lecter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9cERvUX6sE
- Anthony Hopkins’ acceptance speech from the 1992 Oscar ceremony: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftUGtsdSXeU
- A podcast that discusses The Silence of the Lambs, and includes an interview with an investigator who works with real-life serial killer cases: https://www.earwolf.com/episode/the-silence-of-the-lambs/
- A quick rundown of some interesting facts about the film: https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/61604/18-facts-about-silence-lambs
- The Wikipedia page for The Silence of the Lambs: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Silence_of_the_Lambs_(film)
For the complete list of films in the National Film Registry, including information on how you can view each film, and links to every entry that I have written, please see my NFR Directory.