Movie of the Day: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

30 Jan


Did The Silence of the Lambs deserve an Oscar for Best Picture? I find that the answer to that question varies with my mood. At times I think about its five-punch victory at the Oscars and I am proud of the Academy for taking a year out to honor a popular commercial entertainment. At other times I watch the film and I fail to find anything really Best Pictury about it. What is the achievement here? What were the points that made it the best out of 250 films that Hollywood made that year.

I think the answer eventually lies in its legacy. After 25 years, I think that this is probably the most screened of the year’s Best Picture nominees, and that’s in a list that includes Beauty and the Beast and JFK (nobody watches The Prince of Tides or Bugsy anymore). I say that because of these films The Silence of the Lambs seems to be the one that turns up the most on television and seems to be the one that people are willing to pop in on a lazy evening. It is the one that you hear more people talk about.

I realize that I’m creating a space for debate by suggesting this, but I honestly believe this to be more of crowd favorite than the other pictures. It is the rare Best Picture winner that was a popcorn movie and not an artistic statement. Plus, it had Anthony Hopkins playing a villain for the ages. Of all of his great work this is the role what will be on his headstone.

So, does the movie deserve the mantel as Best Picture? Hard to say. It is certainly a great example of a writer (Ted Talley) and a director (Jonathan Demme) giving life to a worn out genre. The uneasy human connection between Foster’s FBI agent and Hopkins’ lip-smacking cannibal is the film’s center – and the thing that is normally bungled up in this genre. Yet, I’m inclined to think that if you take Hopkins out of this movie, you don’t have much left. He’s the lynch-pin, the main attraction if you will. Demme created a great circus freakshow and Hopkins in the main attraction.


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