Review – Silence of the Lambs
Silence of the Lambs is a Thriller masterwork. The main character, Clarice Starling, is a young FBI officer tasked with interviewing a notorious psychopath to gain insights that might help the FBI with an ongoing investigation.
Made into a movie in 1991, with Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, Silence of the Lambs was published in 1988 as a sequel to Red Dragon, the second of 4 books Thomas Harris would write featuring Hannibal Lecter.
The draw that the thriller genre has is in the villain. The villain in a thriller, and this is most exemplified in the serial killer sub-genre, is a human that is more monster than man. The motivation of the thriller villain is allowed to be far more bestial, single-minded, or psychopathic than other villains and delivers one of the best villains the genre has to offer.
Hannibal Lecter is the smartest character in the story. He is in control even when he is chained and cuffed. He is in control from the first moment we meet him, locked in a cell. As a psychiatrist, he can play mind games with Starling, who has a behavioural science background but isn’t operating at Hannibal’s level. In the movie, Anthony Hopkins brought the character to life in a devastating performance that made the movie as much a masterpiece as the book is.
Hannibal alone doesn’t make the story what it is though. The thriller story is the main plot, but it is the under-woven maturation subplot that binds the work into something so memorable. At the same time we have a villain who is at the peak of his power; we have a protagonist who is young and naïve. As the story progresses and Starling grows in power we can’t help but be drawn along with the story. Starling’s naiveté is replaced by wisdom, and the only way to do that is to break her false notions that the FBI is a paragon of nobility.
In a typical police procedural story, the police are the good guys and the villain is the bad guys. By the time Silence of the Lambs is over, we as an audience have matured and done away with such childish notions. Starling is chosen for the assignment to interview Hannibal not because she is the most able, but because as a young beautiful woman she can appeal to darker natures. She is used as much by the FBI as Hannibal is. Why she is a great character is that she can rise above the base motivations and use her knowledge and skill achieve her mission. Starling is always represented as an able and talented young FBI agent, and when she uses those talents to track down the serial killer she shows that it is just as foolish to underestimate Starling as it is to underestimate Hannibal Lecter.