This dark film is wonderfully painted by Tak Fujimoto’s cinematography (Sixth Sense, Philadelphia) and well-directed by Jonathan Demme. The sound was especially amazing and factors into the plot very well, especially the voice tone and delivery of Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins.
Foster and Hopkins play a delicate crime ballet in this film which won the top five Oscar categories (only two films had previously achieved that status). This drama/horror/thriller about a female FBI agent seeking the help of legendary serial killer Lector to find and arrest a mass murderer named “Buffalo Bill”, played by Ted Levine (Heat, TV’s Monk).
This situation creates the main narrative in the film that links these three characters together. The situation also makes a great situation because we discover Claris’ admirable character traits as the plot progresses.
First, the setup – we know Claris wants a shot at field work in the FBI as she’s progressing through her training and, eventually graduation.
Her superior Jack Crawford, played by Scott Glenn, gives her this shot, but he has an ulterior motive, which supports the common theme of wants and desires (Bill wants to change into a woman; Lector wants freedom and the luxury life he once had, etc.)
Crawford uses her to get what he wants – a way to divulge information about Buffalo Bill from Lector through someone who appeals to him. I still agree with Thompson’s assessment of two antagonists (Lector and Bill) even though Crawford doesn’t help Claris too much and impedes her goals.
Right from the beginning the audience can relate to Claris as she stares at the grisly photographs hung up all over Crawford’s office. Yet she never questions the situation or gives into her fears (e.g. most women don’t want to talk to a serial killer, capture a serial killer hiding in his lair or interview someone at a prison full of perverted, demented criminals).
So, in the second act, we find out what drives her (i.e. her late father’s past as a police officer and her desire to save people and do good – saving the screaming spring lamb from the slaughter at her guardian’s house) and feel sympathy for her because she has multiple antagonists she’s battling against – Lector’s mind games, the serial killer Bill, her fellow law enforcement officers views of women (i.e. funeral parlor scene) and even her own superior Jack Crawford.
Clarice never fully loses her composure (the ending showdown with Bill and Claris’ “quid pro quo” discussion about the lambs with Lector), she just calmly asserts herself (and occasionally forcefully as with Dr. Chilton).
Clarice does have some limited support from her female partner, the jail guard Barney, (who factors in prominently to the sequel Hannibal) and the “bug guys”, but she largely has to complete her goals on her own.
It’s about desires and wants. Lector’s dialogue about Bill’s “coveting” is a great example of this important narrative element. He directly addresses Claris saying how she desires the things she sees with her eyes and how others might do the same to her. Lector never denies who he is and reaches his goals in an original way. An amazing filmmaking classic and an essential film to see, but not for people easily scared or disturbed.
Special note: Try to see the original DVD (made by Orion before it went under) that has commentary from Demme, Hopkins and Foster.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler