*This post contains spoilers about the film*
Overall Rating: 4.2/5 stars
The Psychopath: 5/5 stars
Dr. Lecter is an incredibly intelligent and deranged individual who covertly manipulates everyone in the film: Clarice Starling, Mr. Crawford, Dr. Chilton, the entire Nashville Police Department, and most importantly, the audience. When Clarice first meets Dr. Lecter to interview him, Dr. Lecter is standing in the center of his cell, as if he is waiting for her. Preconceptions, like these, portray Dr. Lecter as always one step ahead of the FBI, the police, and the viewers, making them feel helplessly under the control of Dr. Lecter. Clarice, being the perfect pupil the film portrays her to be, does her best to conduct a professional interview with Dr. Lecter; however, Hannibal’s intelligence is a cut above the rest, as he turns the tables on Clarice and begins to question her. Dr. Lecter’s awareness that the FBI needs him to solve the “Buffalo Bill” case allows him to bargain with Clarice; Dr. Lecter gives her a hint about the case in return for Clarice opening-up about the torment of her childhood.
The audience is aware Dr. Lecter is a murder and a cannibal – a completely despicable monster – yet Dr. Lecter demonstrates he is capable of compassion, or at least faking compassion, in a few strategically crafted moments, such as when he gives Clarice a towel to dry off after she was just outside in a downpour. These glimpses of compassion make the audience question if Dr. Lecter is the monster they initially thought him to be and push the audience to feel empathy for Dr. Lecter. Furthermore, Dr. Chilton’s cruel treatment of Dr. Lecter – he confines Dr. Lecter in a straightjacket, straps him to a dolly, and fits him with a tight metal cage around his mouth – is essentially a plea for the audience to pity Dr. Lecter.
Now that Dr. Lecter has successfully manipulated the audience to having some sympathy for him, he breaks any bond he had formed with the audience by brutally murdering a police officer. Dr. Lecter’s calm and collective behavior as he bites flesh from one officer’s face and repeatedly bashes the head of another officer makes his character even more unsettling. After the murder, Dr. Lecter peacefully guides his hand to the notes of the classical music playing and is completely unfazed by the two bodies beside him, demonstrating Dr. Lecter’s terrifyingly psychotic, apathetic nature. The grand display of one of the officer’s body, accompanied by the powerful and dramatic chords of classical music, signals this moment to be the climax of the film; however, Dr. Lecter’s performance has only just begun. Dr. Lecter leaves the officer who he bit barely breathing. The Police Sargent frantically yells at another officer: “Get a hold of him son. Feel his hands. Talk to him.” The shaking hands and wavering voice of the officer as he consoles his dying friend, make the audience sympathize with the dying officer and root for him to survive. However, Dr. Lecter has already killed the officer and removed his face that he’s now wearing. Dr. Lecter has once again manipulated the audience into feeling compassion for the psychopath, which frightens and unsettles the viewers, making them question their judgment.
Even in the final minute of the movie, Dr. Lecter’s continues to manipulate. Clarice graduates and becomes an official FBI agent, but the celebration is cut short by a phone call from Dr. Lecter. He says, “I’m having an old friend for dinner” while eying his former captor, Dr. Chilton. Dr. Lecter’s intimidating intelligence and ability to charm the audience allows him to be one of the most terrifying and manipulative psychopaths in movie history.
Development of Emotional Terror: 4.5/5 stars
The evolution of emotional terror in the film is well crafted and executed. From the opening scene of the film, the audience identifies with and begins to root for Clarice Starling – an up and coming FBI agent. She’s smart, good looking, strong, dedicated – all characteristics that make her appealing to the audience. Furthermore, she’s belittled because she’s a woman in an overwhelmingly male-dominated workplace and is sexually violated, such as when an incarcerated man flings his ejaculate on her, which makes the audience want her to succeed even more. Because the audience is lured into identifying with Clarice, they are also manipulated by Dr. Lecter when he manipulates Clarice. In exchange for information about the Buffalo Bill case, Clarice reveals to Dr. Lecter that when she was orphaned as a child, she ran away from her uncle’s farm because she couldn’t handle the slaughtering of innocent lambs. As she runs away, she tries to take a lamb with her to spare its life, but she is unable to save even one lamb. Clarice says that she often wakes up to the sound of screaming lambs that continue to haunt her. Dr. Lecter manipulates Clarice into sharing all this information about her traumatizing childhood to show Clarice how her horrible childhood is similar to the childhood of Buffalo Bill, as he grew up learning to hate his own identity which is why he cross-dresses to escape from himself. The full intentions behind Dr. Lecter’s manipulation of Clarice are’nt revealed until after Clarice kills Buffalo Bill. The camera focuses on a hanging decoration that twirls in the wind, revealing an image of one moth that turns into two moths. Earlier in the film, Dr. Lecter informs Clarice that Buffalo Bill’s signature – the cocooned moth in the throat of the victim – symbolizes transformation (Buffalo Bill’s sexual transformation as a crossdresser). But after Clarice commits her first murder, one moth turns into two, and Clarice, the character that the audience identified with from scene one transforms as well, causing the audience to question their judgement and themselves.
Additionally, the film does a fine job of swapping physical violence with psychological violence, allowing the audience to imagine the horror they cannot see. The audience sees Clarice’s reaction and hears her account of the mutilated body, but they hardly get to see the body for themselves. The audience see’s the blood splatter on Dr. Lecter as he bashes the skull of a police officer, but they don’t get to see the officer getting his skull bashed. The audience is left to fill in those gaps using their own imagination. Often, the horror the audience imagines is worse than anything they could be shown in a movie, because what each audience member imagines is terrifying specifically to them.
Furthermore, the film intentionally leaves a few holes in the plot to allow for mystery and audience speculation, adding to the horror of the film. The movie leaves the audience wondering how did Dr. Lecter hoist the officer’s body up so high, how did Dr. Lecter move the other officer’s body onto the roof of the elevator so quickly and without anyone noticing, how did Dr. Lecter know Dr. Chilton would be in that tropical country and how did Dr. Lecter get there?
Real-Life Accuracy: 4/5 stars
Overall, the film is relatively realistic. The authenticity of Dr. Lecter’s psychological condition attributes to the film being a successful psychological horror movie. Dr. Lecter realistically displays signs of a true psychopath. He is extremely charming, as he repeatedly gains Clarice’s trust and then breaks it; he is a pathological liar, as he gives false information to the FBI about Buffalo Bill’s identity; he is manipulative, as he deceives the FBI and police by wearing the face of an officer to escape; he is apathetic and lacks remorse, as he can devour and mutilate humans peacefully and with a smile. The film also accurately displays misogyny in the FBI and police departments. At the beginning of the movie, the disparity of males and females in the FBI is made obvious when Clarice steps into an elevator with a dozen men who all gaze at her too long. Also, Clarice’s superior at the FBI, Mr. Crawford, flirts with her and makes several passes at her throughout the film. Furthermore, Dr. Lecter inappropriately caresses Clarice’s hand through his cell’s bars. On the contrary, the portrayal of Buffalo Bill as a transvestite is not accurate in contemporary society. Both Dr. Lecter and Clarice refer to Buffalo Bill as a transvestite, a derogatory term that is historically associated with mental disorders, and that association is undoubtedly false. Buffalo Bill is a crossdresser; however, this characteristic doesn’t relate to his homicidal tendencies.
Cinematography: 4/5 stars
The film’s cinematography does a fine job of enhancing the overall emotional experience of the movie. Specifically, there was a lot of foreshadowing of important events, such as when Mr. Crawford advises Clarice not to share personal information with Dr. Lecter because “believe me, you don’t want him inside your head”, when Clarice fails to check behind her during a simulation at Quantico, and when the camera zooms in on the elevator’s floor indicator. Instances of foreshadowing like those toy with the audience, as the audience is aware they’re of importance but don’t yet know why. Foreshadowing makes moments in the film more interesting, such as when Clarice is sobbing because she let Dr. Lecter get inside her head, when Buffalo Bill sneaks up on Clarice because she forgets to check behind her when entering the room, and when Dr. Lecter escapes by using the elevator. Furthermore, the classical music that always playing during scenes when Hannibal is killing, biting, and eating people, provides a stark contrast between what the audience is hearing and seeing, making the viewer unsettled and emotionally terrorized.
Concluding Feeling: 3.5/5 stars
At the end of the film, I was mildly uncomfortable. I had been manipulated and conned by Dr. Lecter throughout the movie, but, for the most part, I understood what had occurred in the movie, leaving little room for the sweet-spot of ambiguity and eeriness that directors aim to hit in the final scene. Sure, I shuttered when I heard Dr. Lecter mutter his final line, “I’m having an old friend for dinner”, as the cannibal is implying Dr. Chilton is on the menu, but I wasn’t left with the sense of “why” or “how did this happen” that I was craving to experience.