Silence of the Lambs

The movie we watched last week was Silence of the Lambs directed by Jonathan Demme. It is a psychological thriller based around serial killed Hannibal Lecter and Agent Sterling, who is questioning him about the psychosis of his killings. The relationship between Agent Starling and Hannibal is very much a power struggle. Hannibal, being a man, automatically assumes, due to his societal privilege, he holds some power in the room and must maintain this power in order for the relationship to hold. He does this through manipulation and intimidation. The scene I chose to analyze is during the second meeting between Agent Starling and Hannibal. Hannibal has received the document Starling gave him and for the first time we are seeing Hannibal lose his control.

In their first meeting Hannibal was very calm and collected. He barely moved and when he did it was very slow and with purpose. In this scene a lot of the acting is done using the eyes. Simple movements and lifts of the brow say so much and it is that subtlety makes Hannibal’s character so believable. He seems like a regular guy, but his eyes tell you otherwise. Hopkins is a bit more subtle than his counterpart Foster, but perhaps anyone would seem eccentric compared to someone so subdued.

As I said before this scene is a power struggle. In the second interacting we are seeing a different side of Hannibal, a side that is not so collected. This does not mean that he is any less subtle, but rather that Hopkins adjusts the mannerisms of the character in order to maintain control. An example of this is when Hannibal tastes the air through his teeth as if tasting Agent Foster after describing a few cannibalistic dinners of his past. This is a great example of Hopkins resorting to intimidating in order to maintain power. Hannibal knows that he is helpless to hurt Agent Starling, but striking the fear in her psychologically is enough for him. Hopkins mastered the piercing-eye-contact-that-could-melt-the-flesh-off-you-face, and this important choice is likely the most interesting of Hopkins because the viewer is kept wondering what is going on inside the brain of Hannibal Lecter. Hopkins almost achieves his goal of dominating Foster, but just when the audience thinks she’s ready to pack her bags Agent Starling turns the situation back on Hannibal and he is forced to backdown. This brings the scene to an end with the line “You fly back to school little Starling, fly-fly-fly.”

This scene is a defining moment in the breakdown of their relationship based on power. Agent Starling has won because Agent Starling has sanity and society on her side where as Hannibal has solitary confinement. Hopkins does an excellent job of capturing the audience with his eyes and creating an atmosphere of suspense, but unfortunately Foster doesn’t bite making Hopkins (Hannibal’s) efforts in vain. You cannot intimidate those who will not be intimidated.


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