Monday, February 12, 2007

Hannibal, briefly

To the television, for Jonathan Demme's brains-for-breakfast, liver-for-lunch thriller, Silence of the Lambs.

I'm not a gore-meister, so I was hesitant about consuming two hours of cannibalism: could I handle the face-chewing (and not in the Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes sense)? Luckily Silence's crimes are principally those of a psycho-killer, not a cannibal. Almost a relief, really.

This translates into a plot of definite moral ambiguity: the FBI, represented by agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), is using cannibal Hannibal Lecter, played by noted non-brain eater Anthony Hopkins, to track down the serial killer known as Buffalo Bill, who seems to be making a skin-suit (yep, just as it sounds) out of young women.

The real strength of Silence is the psychological aspect of the horror: we get repeated glimpses into Hannibal's twisted mind, rendering him comprehensible and hence even more repulsive. As Starling is told, if you let Lecter get into your brain, he'll never leave; this is a fair description of Hopkins' performance, which really does echo around the brain.

There is in fact a distinct lack of gore. As the several other Hannibal movies have shown, you can go way overboard with the violence and the brain-eating and the Nazi cannibals. In Demme's restraint is the unsettling success of the film.

One aspect, though, that I found particularly unworthy, offensive even: Buffalo Bill (and this is to reveal nothing) is a transsexual, but for no good reason. The motivation advanced is cheap and could have been represented in any number of different ways, or left out completely. Imagine if Buffalo Bill had been a Jew, or a Muslim, or an African-American, without good reason: it would easily be called racism. This is homophobia and mars what is otherwise a top-flight movie, a deserving Best Picture winner.

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