S1: Hello and welcome to another episode of Flashback, Slate’s podcast about older and classic movies. This time we’re gonna be talking about Jonathan Demis 1991 Mega Smash, five time Academy Award winner Silence of the Lambs, which was the suggestion of my co-host Casten Collins from Vanity Fair.
S2: Hey, Ken. Hi. How’s it going?
S3: Pretty good, except that you made me watch Silence of the Lambs twice for the first time.
S2: And I don’t know possibly since it came out. I’m not sure how. I mean, I’m pretty easily scared by certain things. And this movie has a lot of them. Like dead body stuff always scares me a lot. And this movie has some pretty gross autopsy’s and stuff like that. Yeah, sure. I’ve seen bits of it in the years since, but I believe that my two times seeing this movie prior to this week were both in 1991. Wow. In the theater. I hadn’t realized this, but it played for nine months in the theater. I mean that’s how big of a hit it was. It opened on Valentine’s Day, which is there’s something very devilish and sly about that opening a movie like this on Valentine’s Day to send people on a date, which is how I saw I don’t think it was opening day, but I’m sure was opening week. And I think I went back to that theater again to see it. The same year, because it was just an endless, endless rotation and was a giant hit. And I am not sure that I have willingly revisited it since just because well, for one thing, it’s totally graven in my mind. And we can talk about that the way that, you know, this movie has become such a pastor on cultural objects, so quoted, so imitated, you know, that you almost don’t need to see it again to quote many of the lines by heart. Right. But yeah. Thank you for making me go back and revisit it, not just as a freaky thing to go experience in the theater, but as something to analyze and take apart. Because of course, when I saw it, it was not a critic and was not watching it with an analytical eye. I was just, you know, looking to be scared to death.
S4: Wow. You know, part of the reason I chose this was because this feels like a movie that everyone has seen. Like, I mean, we’re still sort of in a nod to the upcoming Oscars. Our last movie was Kramer versus Kramer, best picture winner. And I chose this because it is one of the first of all, one of the rare best picture winners to do the sweep of picture, director, actor, actress and writing. I think only it happened one night.
S5: And what does the other film? That’s when Vivica Goodness One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It was 1934, 1975. I think in 1991. And and I doubt anyone.
S4: But also what you just said about it being in theaters for so long and the fact that it came on February, for example, the wisdom right now is that if you want to have a film be competitive for Oscars, they come out later in the year because voters won’t remember a movie like this because it comes out in February and get out was the recent example of that, a film from early in the year that was able to stay alive and the conversation passed multiple festivals that it didn’t go to and still get a healthy number of, you know, Oscar nominations. That’s sort of not the way things happen now, generally.
S2: I feel like, well, Jordan Peele, second movie, that precisely did not happen. All right. It came slightly in the year and was neglected and forgotten by most I’veseen bodies at the end of the year.
S4: Well, I would’ve been great if get out because it was nominated for best picture. If it had won, it would have been the first horror movie since Silence of the Lambs to win Best Picture. It’s sort of a rare best picture category. It’s like Jaws, Exorcist, this get out and a few others. But this is the only one that won.
S2: But the fact that you’re classing it with those movies and I know it is often listed as kind of a genre breakthrough movie and right way. Right. That it was a genre movie that was also an art movie. There’s no question in my mind that it’s somehow a genre movie. I’m not sure that genre is horror. I know that I experienced many parts of it as horror when she finds the head in that car in the storage bases. Obviously, horror tropes aplenty. Sure. But would you call this movie a horror movie overall or were one of their genres? Might you place it in?
S4: Well, I definitely think it’s a thriller as well. But I put it in horror because of the pointed use of some horror techniques like the way that it’s very deliberate in how it dishes out blood and gore, the way that those become centerpieces in the film in a way that surpassed for me where a thriller kind of goes. I think if thrillers is ultimately more psychological and this is very psychological, but this also has people’s faces getting sick.
S3: That’s your scholarly answer.
S4: You know that there a point at which you like. You’re watching Hannibal Lecter wave a police baton through the air like the most graceful conductor except blood splashing up his face every time. And it’s like, okay, that’s beyond thriller territory for me were actually I think a movie like Get Out is closer to pure thriller for me, even though it got talked about as a horror film because it actually doesn’t have that level of just outright body horror. Right. Disgusting. This look has a little bit toward the end, but it sort of, you know, chaotic violence, if that’s harder than than most Tarantino movies are hard, right?
S2: Well, certainly at the time that this movie came out, the quantity of Gore that it had was only associated with things like slasher movies. And in fact, I think a lot of actors that were considered for Clarice’s role turned it down because of the horror. Right.
S4: Right. Michelle Phifer, who’d wear another great demi film. We’re going out to talk about how great Tami is married to the mob. I think first was his first choice. He was his first choice. Foster wasn’t. She had to lobby for it. It helped that other people were too grossed out.
S2: Meg Ryan, I think, grossed out, Nicole Kidman refused to do it right. And apparently Laura Dern wanted the role, but was considered too not famous at the time. She was not a big enough star to get the role. Can you imagine how Diana would have been with Laura Dern? I mean, still a great performance. It would have been so different.
S4: But, yeah, it’s it’s interesting. I mean, I love this game where you replace an actor with the people. First of all, the people that the director I thought would be a fit. And Michelle Pfeiffer movie is different than this movie. I can see Laura Dern working in a movie that is pretty much kind of like this. But the Michelle fiverr version, the Meg Ryan version. These are different energies entirely. I can see Laura Dern and Jodie Foster kind of being simpatico in some ways. But the Meg Ryan. Meg Ryan with that Hannibal Lecter. Wow. I don’t know if that would work for me, actually.
S2: I mean, I will say that in the cut the thriller.
S3: Oh, yeah.
S2: Ryan did while not the level of hit book. I loved the book in the car. Right. I only liked the movie and it kind of fell apart at the end. But Brad Ryan was kind of great. And you did see a different Meg Ryan that that might have been. Do you know who was the first choice for the Hannibal Lecter role? It’s such a funny name. Begins with it. Sean Connery. Oh, right. And I don’t even know if he even ever read for it. But that was who Demi engineered and had in mind. Yeah. Totally different. Much more masculine kind of energy. Right. I just don’t feel like he could have had that sensuousness. Yeah. And maybe it’s just because Sean Connery so frequently imitated and everybody has their Sean Connery voice or something. But I feel like it could have been. It would have become a Kitchener role in memory. You know, bond the cannibal. Right.
S4: Yeah. That’s a completely different film. I think part of the reason that this movie swept the awards and also the box office in the way that it did it is because I I ultimately cannot imagine anyone else in any of these roles, every supporting character, that it’s partly because I’ve seen the movie probably a million times. It was always on TV. And it’s one of those if it’s on TV, I’m going to watch it type movies. But just extremely astute casting is really difficult for me to imagine Jodie Foster not being the top candidate for this. She’d already won an Oscar for the accused. She’d been a superlative and incredibly just preternaturally insightful actor since as early as things like taxi driver. She’s just always seemed ahead of her years in a particular way that is different than some of the other actors who were considered for this role. Like, I don’t think they’d bring the same level of that that she does.
S2: Well, the fact that we know her as a child actor, I mean, totally you know, I completely associate her with being a child actor, probably up until around the time of the accused. That was kind of her graduating. Right. That she can do bigger hot roles now and get prizes for them. And, you know, being roughly in her age cohort and remembering her as this kid actor, not just an stufflike taxi driver, which I couldn’t see when I was in a movie like that came out. Right. Right. So, you know, I saw her in things like Freaky Friday. I associated her with a certain kind of tomboyish Harriet the spy grade, you know. And so seeing her move into this kind of role, you also carry that with you. And so that vulnerability is part of what you feel about Clarice, of course, whose childhood is really important to the movie, even without the flashbacks. I want to talk about the flashbacks when we get there for sure. I think the movie would work fine without the flashbacks. It’s one of the very few things that I think are extraneous to this very tightly constructed 118 minute long movie. But yet our tenderness toward Clarice, I think, has also impacted by our experience of Jodie Foster through time.
S4: Yet another part of Jodie Foster narrative is John Hinckley stalking incident post taxi driver. It’s it’s really interesting to think about how familiar we were with Jodie Foster both onscreen but also off screen in significant ways by the time of this movie. Because what I like about this movie is that despite how familiar she is to me, or maybe because of that, I can see like the subtle essences of this performance in a way like Jodie Foster is not someone that I think of as playing the same role all the time. You know, she does have qualities that I think are similar between her characters. Generally, I’m going to see a strong woman. I think if I’m looking at a Jodie Foster character, I’m going to see a character who’s going to most likely survive whatever ordeal she’s in.
S2: Right. Someone stele. Someone’s a loner, kind of an outsider.
S4: Yeah, right. Meant like the tomboy stuff comes into. And you can just imagine a lot of stories going to that. But something about this role. It helps that Hannibal is talking about how cheap her clothes are. Hoffert like the sense of, you know, the humble backgrounds. But it’s little like the accent, too. It’s the steady gaze. We actually have to talk about Demi and his close ups and what he does with just looking at the viewer.
S2: Actually, that’s maybe a good place to dive into specifics. So, I mean, the first detail that I wanted to mention about it is actually before the two of them come face to face and it’s in something that the Anthony held character says. So Anthony held, who was one of those it’s that guy Facies, really just one of the great character actors of that period plays Chilton, the psychiatrist who’s been in charge of Hannibal Lecter care for all this time. And he’s really kind of the gatekeeper, literally. Right. He’s the person who decides who can and can’t get into this top security facility to see him, et cetera. And it’s I just love the way from the beginning. He is essentially posed as the villain. This movie, right, I mean, a movie that contains someone who eats his victims and a serial killer who’s making a skin suit for himself out of his victims. They’re not really the villains of the movie. I think the degree that there’s someone truly loathsome and soulless, it’s this guy Chilton and that’s established really suddenly, I think as he’s first greeting her and showing her into the facility where the very first thing he says, well, you know about Hannibal Lecter. Right. Here’s what you need to know. He calls him a monster and immediately starts to sort of pathologize him as they’re walking down the hallway together. And it’s just this brief walk and talk. There’s not a reaction shot, cut away or anything like that. But there’s no one else in the movie who believes that he’s a monster or says it or treats in that way. Right. I mean, they’re terrified of him. They think he’s a psychopath. But the person that we are encouraged to hate the most in the movie, which is Dr. Chilton, is the person who says Hannibal Lecter is not human.
S4: Yeah. And he’s right. I would say about that. But I completely agree with you that I hate him more than I hate Hannibal, because the thing about Hannibal, this is the thing about this performance. And also, just as you’re saying like this lead into him this way, we build him up. We see the foot we don’t see. Rather, we see Jodie Foster reacting to this photo of this nurse that Hannibal had attacked. And it’s very mythological in a way. And it’s like you’re descending downstairs into hell as a red light flashing or whatever.
S2: And the first real horror movie shot, which is of that chair. Yeah. My God. When you see that, Paul, with the kind of vanishing point and in this chair just sitting in front of his cell, that’s a scary, astonishing production design, I have to say, by Chris Deasey greats.
S4: But all of this just leads up to this performance that then has to go on like an Apocalypse Now or Marlon Brando has two and a half hours of movie before he has to show up. And as big as he has to be, there’s a way in which the film captures the environment of Vietnam so well that he kind of has to reinforce that idea. But this is early in the movie. So all we have is sort of a sense that he is a monster. We’ve heard the name Hannibal the Cannibal. We’ve seen this reaction to this photo of a woman that he mutilated. But then Anthony Hopkins has two still early in the movie, instantly live up to that. And I think one of the very special things about this film and this performance and one of the obvious reasons that it won so many awards is that he more than lives up to it. He just adds an idea or a kind of menace, but a charming ness to this character that is definitely there. And the Thomas Harris novel. But this isn’t the first Hannibal we’ve had onscreen. This is the first Hannibal that gives us that dimension in a real way, because there is Michael Mann’s Manhunter film that I actually quite love, but not as Hannibal Lecter. It’s not a good or notable Hannibal movie. It’s a cops in tight jeans, steamy kind of noir, a movie.
S3: It’s really I don’t care about Hannibal. That movie just doesn’t i.g.’s. I want you to curate a film festival called Cops, please. But to live and die in L.A. apps? Absolutely.
S4: William Petersen is in tight jeans. That’s Manhunter. But this is someone who provides the entire psychology of the serial killer, but also sets up this system of intimate exchange that carries the entire movie. Hannibal is v most violent person in the movie, not Buffalo Bill. We see we see the carnage of Buffalo Bill, but Hannibal is the one that we see eventually beating people to death and biting people’s faces off. This is the villain of the movie, but he is so charming. He sweeps you off your feet even as he’s insulting Clarice with this great, mean, shady, just deeply iconic rant at her about who she isn’t, who she isn’t, even in that he’s so whip smart and witty about it that I don’t hate him. I think that really sucks for you, couldn’t you? This is pretty funny, but I don’t hate the guy and I’m not afraid of the guy until those mechanisms start to be used against her.
S5: Oh, I’m afraid of him. I’m afraid of it. But that’s different from hating him or finding him. Yeah. Sirtris, you know.
S2: OK, I want you to talk about the cheap shoes speech. But first, I I just mentioned something that comes first, which is a camera movement which like all of demis camera movements in this movie, does not draw attention to itself, but perfectly accomplishes, you know, what it wants you to do and makes you look at the thing that it wants you to look at when it wants you to look there. And that’s the traveling shot that goes down the corridor with all the crazies. Right. There’s Miggs, who’s going to meet a sad and pretty soon he’s, you know, yelling dirty things at Cleary’s. And there’s the other guy who’s sort of, you know, also very uneasy in motion, the camera motion and the guys are in motion. Lecter’s at the end of the hallway. And as the camera gets to him and stops there he is standing, you know, with this perfect stillness, with this strangely erect posture. You know, he’s just this weirdly contained spot of stillness. Yeah. And it’s not one shot. They’re cutaways in between. But there’s this moving camera that’s associated with the guys on the hall and then the camera coming to a stop as we see him. Right. And then his close up. There’s just a moment again where the camera’s at this sort of middle distance from both of them. He asks to see her I.D., which is such a power move. And she takes it out to show it to him. And he keeps saying closer, closer, again, working that horror movie trope. Right. She’s getting closer and closer to this guy that she’s just been specifically told by all these different gatekeepers. Do not get anywhere near him. And don’t let him get into your head. And after he says closer and she steps closer than in this almost like rhyming kind of movement, we see him step into the close up. Yeah. So he moves into that space of being the first close up in the movie, I believe. And also breaking the fourth wall, which he does constantly in this movie, it’s something that Demi chose, is to have him look directly into the camera when he’s addressing her, which is something that throws us off right at me. It’s usually a fourth wall breaking deliberate moment. Yeah. When somebody looks at the camera. But in this movie, it’s almost like a perspective. Establish you’re right. It’s like this. I identify with her all the more because we’re seeing exactly what she’s seen.
S4: I mean, this is the thing I always forget. And then we notice every time I watch this movie, the first conversation that we have that is filmed in that Demi Close-Up gaze to gaze exchange is actually the one that she has with Crawford. Like as Crawford’s giving the assignment. It’s like a medium close up. Their faces don’t fill the screen in the same kind of menacing way. And it does feel like their eyes are a little bit not direct. Doesn’t take you back in quite the same way. It’s more warm and mentally, but it is like the defining trope of how in particular, Demi seems to film conversations with men in this movie. And there’s a way in which I mostly associated that with Hopkins and Hannibal in the basement because of what’s happening in the scene that you’re talking about. And little things like when demi films is such that we notice there’s a glass between them and when there’s this one point like I think it’s toward this close up that you’re talking about. Anthony Hopkins coming into the light where I feel like at some point the boundary seems to disappear and it’s about this cross intimacy and this proximity. And I’m no longer thinking about the fact that there’s a glass wall between them and I’m really having a sense of danger for Clarice. But also just this deep curiosity about this man who is clearly inside her head.
S2: I mean, again, this production design at its best, right, because only they have a glass wall. The other prisoners have bars. It’s plausible, right? They’re less dangerous. They’re less smart. They’ll be less likely to find a way to escape or hurt someone through the bars. But it also establishes this transparency, emotional transparency between him and whoever he’s speaking.
S4: Yeah. And this hierarchy. He’s at the end of the hall and he’s got the glass like this. Oh, this is the guy who eats people. Got it right. Whereas the other guys are psychopaths, but not cannibals. Who. But he’s also the one who’s not climbing the bars like a monkey. Right. He’s the one who seems composed and is all the more chilling for his contrast of the obviously psychopathic people. It’s like a simple contrast, but it just works so well every time.
S2: So what about that speech where he starts to get into her head to do exactly what Scott Glenn warned against? I wanted to hear why the Payless Shoe speech is one of your favorite parts of the movie.
S4: Well, there’s so many reasons, starting with the fact that one of the great things about this movie to me is that it’s a great movie that is not afraid of having too many good lines and stuffing them all into the same mouth. It’s the ability of Anthony Hopkins to take what could just feel like scene chewing. It’s eviscerating. To me. It’s iconic because it’s shade. It’s just a read in queer parlance. It’s just taking someone at face value and dismantling them. Then just like reading the symbols and having a clear sense like this preternatural sense of who they are just based on the kinds of shoes they’re wearing and the kind of perfume you can smell somehow. And just like taking those details and making associations and being correct about her class, about her insecurities, about knowing that these are things that she as a working class person, an impression like the FBI, like her imposter syndrome, his ability to sense that and the writings ability to ground that in ways where I believe that Hannibal is someone who could see those things and come away with those takeaways. It’s like doing a lot of work in addition to him telling us things about her, that other things like flashbacks and then other things will sort of elaborate on. But learning in this space that the thing that we’re sensing in Jodie Foster’s performance, like the safe mentorship relationship she has with Crawford, the thing behind her working so hard, the movie opens with her running. It’s a kind of a this is someone who’s doing really well despite not coming from the background that would position her to do well, which is a specific relationship to something like the FBI or an elite college, just like a specific class relationship that Lecter just gets. And I just come back to this moment and think, wow, it’s sassy and it’s like brilliant. You know, it’s just like a great piece of writing to me.
S5: She we learned a little that speech, right? Yeah. Please. Oh. Oh, agent. Stunning.
S6: You think you can dissect me as to how I thought that your knowledge.
S7: You know what? You looking to me with your bag and cheap shoes, you’re looking at a room, a well-scrubbed functioning case, nutrition, commissioning a bomb, you know, more than one generation from coal. Why are you Agent Stein? She tried so desperately to shed West Virginia. Because your father, DHT, a coal miner, does stink of the land and how quickly the buys on you. All those tedious, sticky fumblings in the backseat of cars, but you could only dream of getting.
S4: Relistening to it. Part of the reason I think it’s so smart is because part of what he’s doing is dismantling her performance as someone who is white trash trying to be in the FBI. He’s looking at the artifice of this and saying, I know who you actually are, which is fundamental to his whole thing, is knowing who someone is and being able to first alert them to the fact that he knows them and that there is no way around that, and that these relationships could be predicated on him digging for the things that he doesn’t know yet. That is the whole quid pro quo thing. It’s like, all right, I’ve got you nailed in these ways, but I’m gonna need more from you. You’re gonna get anything from me. And that is vicious.
S2: It’s what’s so great about it, too, is that it’s such a parody of the psychiatric relationship. Right. I mean, he immediately establishes this relationship that’s sort of a a sick, twisted version of what his career was, what he was eating, people with a nice K.A.. Right. He was analyzing them and the way that he’s able to put her in that position right away. But of course, also the power that she has in resisting and getting something back from him right now. That’s my cat and mouse that immediately makes this relationship so irresistible. And this movie never has to do anything crass like a worse procedural would do. I mean, it isn’t really a procedural, but it’s been copied by so many procedurals. Right. And it just seems like every single one of those has to have some moment where the villain tells or makes the hero realize that they’re the same. Right. And never has that moment because their kinship is so much more complicated than that. I mean, they’re not the same, but there is something between the two of them from the very beginning. Right. And of course, you could say that it has maybe a sexual or romantic overtone. But to me, it much more has to do with mentorship. Yeah. And the therapeutic relationship, you know. I told you, I saw this with my boyfriend in 91 when it came out and we stayed up all night talking about it. I mean, I think one of the huge things we’re so fascinated by, we were in grad school at the time and were reading tons about psycho analysis and, you know, the history of it. The theory of it. And it was just such an incredible kind of deconstruction of the therapeutic relationship. Yeah, I think it in a way, it works. I mean, he does get her to tell secrets about her past. That fact does need to tell. You know, in some ways he helps her. I mean, he helps her professionally, as he says he’s got to do in that early scene. But I think he also helps her emotionally and psychologically. But in a way that must leave her so haunted and so strange feeling to be so connected to your person.
S4: I mean, props to everyone involved, of course. But Thomas Harris as well for engineering, a story that is in part so macabre because Clarice has to go ultra vulnerable, not just in the physical violence sense that usually get in a horror or thriller, but really like psychologically, she has to get really vulnerable in order to save another woman’s life. It’s a very twisty to think of the fact that soon in this movie we’re gonna have a woman in a well. And the way to find that woman is to get information out of a man who demands to hear about the worst, most psychologically traumatizing moments in your life in order to give you the riddles, the riddles that you have to solve in order to have clues about who this man is. It really is something to her saying these things aloud to the worst possible person.
S2: Right. I mean, she’s going completely off book, right. FBI told her to do from the beginning. Right. So she’s already gone renegade by the time they’ve had their first conversation. I mean, the last thing Scott Glenn’s sister is don’t tell me anything about yourself. And their entire relationship becomes built on this quid pro quo. If you tell me something, I’ll tell you something.
S4: Something I’ve thought about before. When you were talking also just about whether there’s a sexual element here. I think also one of the really intriguing things about this movie is that down that hallway and even before that meeting with held and then beginning when he makes a pass at her. Right. Or earlier than that, when she comes back from her run and she gets in the elevator and it’s all these tall man. Yeah. It’s like but actually by the time she gets to Hannibal, it’s the first time I’m not thinking of the sexual threat. He’s like the first person that I’m not thinking is undressing her with it. I mean, he’s undressing her with his eyes in a different way. Psychologically, that’s what he does. But he’s not the one. He’s gonna throw semen at her and he’s not the one who, you know, like to the extent that this movie becomes like a workplace drama about gender and he’s like which it does and such as in so many Lifeway.
S2: Right. Including later on when they go to the autopsy. Right. She’s left in the room with all those young Kreiss.
S4: Hannibal’s totally outside of that. He’s not the guy who’s like contributing to some sort of misogynistic system. He’s the guy who’s like had the trans patients or the patients who thought they were trans or the queer patients broadly, rather, actually.
S3: And yeah, he eat them, but but not because they were queer. Right.
S2: Well I mean he’s he’s occupying that space, which actually in the early 90s was a big sort of theoretical space, I think, of the post-human. You know, he was like he has a post-human element to his kind of just very God’s eye view on the whole world.
S4: Right. But the sense of sexual threat in this movie is also something that sticks with me. I think it must be one of the earliest films of its kind. For me, that was about gender in these ways that were both highly legible to me, but also complex. That’s Demi, though.
S2: Heroin. Yes. No. I mean, point to the normal relationship in this movie, where is it? So since we’re talking about twisted relationships in the post-human, I think even though he doesn’t enter the movie for some time in terms of the chronology, we should talk about Buffalo Bill. Yeah. Okay. Jami Gum. Played by Ted Levine, the second. Fascinating. I mean, so many movies can’t even get one bad guy, right? This movie has two incredible bad guys. So there’s a lot to say about this figure, about how it was he was received at the time, about the role he plays in the movie. Take it away. What do you have to say about Jamie Gum?
S4: You know, for one thing. Why not jump into one of the complicated questions about this film, which I think is beloved by many queer people. And we also have a complicated relationship to it. I think I’m obsessed. I’m not trans. But certainly there are, Ben, really important trans pushbacks of the movie in some ways.
S2: And at the time, I mean, when it was there was a generalized LGBTQ pushback to it. Yeah. I mean, at the time I can speak from, you know, being a young adult who myself was in this mindset at the time. I think that there was this big, mushy, lumpy category that was like gay trans, you know, queer lesbian. I mean, it was the whole gay community that kind of rose up against. I think the representation. Yeah. And well, when I say the whole gay community, I mean every member of it. I mean that it was not just right across the spectrum. And if I recall correctly, I mean, I think that the basic complaint was, hey, this is another krusing, you know, the Alpha Channel movie cruising with, you know, that essentially treated big, the gay underworld. Is this kind of intrinsically evil place. Right. And that by kind of dressing up as gay to go and investigate it, that the Al Pacino character was essentially descending into some sort of hell. We’re gonna have to do that movie, I think at some point. And I’m like, I’m not sure I ever saw it. It was so controversial at the time. Everybody talk about it for years and I don’t think I ever saw.
S4: It’s quite it’s quite something is quite worth. But yeah, it is a contrast to this. So I think we’re in it together.
S2: Yeah. I think the idea was sort of why can’t gay people get a break? Why is every vision of somebody who is gender nonconforming and or queer in a movie, you know, that person is crazy killer. I think it’s an unfair criticism to make of this movie, but I see why it was made at the time.
S4: Yeah, sure. I mean, and you’re right, broadly, like pathologizing queer people is look something art has made a habit of.
S2: And to demis credit, he was very responsive to that pushback from the LGBTQ community and in fact decided that, you know, whether or not their criticism of this film was something he agreed with, that he wanted to reach out and to try to make a representation of a gay person that was less stereotyped. And he made Philadelphia because of that was his next feature film. Right.
S4: Which looms very large in my mind when that movie came out.
S2: Yeah, Philadelphia’s a fascinating movie because in so many ways it’s dated now. And yet I just remember with just such profound. Yeah. Affection and emotion.
S4: Yeah, me too. I think what still stands out to me about this movie, though, is that in the conversations that Hannibal and Clarice have about Buffalo Bill, it’s clarified a therapist of one of his victims felt. You know, yes, he’s someone who’s killing women and wearing their skin. But this is not someone who I think Hannibal is thinking of as trans. I think that his assessment of this person is that this is someone who is very, very badly abused as a child and learns to hate his identity and physical and psychological ways. And that what we’re seeing him display like what he thought that was at first was a transient, like a sense of just being out of step with what was understood to be his biological sex or other things. And he’d sought out treatment for sex changes and et cetera. That’s all been rejected and been rejected. Right. That this is someone that the medical community, which is again, fraught, like historically the medical community sense of whether or not someone is trans really much depends on how the medical community is defining that at a given moment in history and whether they’re sympathetic to it. But I guess my take away from the movie is has always been that this is someone that he’s a psychopath and he’s engineering these ways of changing. And I think it would be weirder, actually, to conflate that with trans ness, like someone who’s using butterfly metaphors and changing metaphors rather than someone moving to sort of address who they really believe that they are. If you’ll subtle, it feels slippery. But this is someone who is a psychopath who’s killing people wearing their skin. This is not a person who I think is thinking of himself as as trans in that way. I’m in the movie seems to have a lot of language that is trying to work itself out of that problem and also has other strange things like Cleary’s saying, well, he can’t be trans because trans people are so docile by acid. Right. Which is a compliment. It’s still, you know, a generalization about an entire category of people who do and feel a wide range of things.
S2: But it does come in the context of this scene that I mean, is in a way it’s not even typical of the movie is quite expository. I mean, there aren’t too many moments where Anthony Hopkins character shows off his knowledge. You know, it was designed for her, whatever. And that is one moment where he puts it on the line and says, you know, this is not the behavior of a transsexual.
S4: Right. And that this is not what you’re looking at, but that noticing the similarities here are a. A way to get to the question of who this guy is. It’s like that’s what it appears to be on the surface, but that’s not what you’re actually looking at. I think also just you have a structure of when this happens in the movie, it’s too early in the movie to be the thing that Hannibal says is the truth. This guy is Hannibal is not telling you everything yet. There’s other things about this guy that we’re going to find out over the course of the movie. Again, though, Ted Levine is like he has to live up to this and crazy.
S3: Yeah, I’m crazy.
S2: He has the most demanding part in the movie. Right. I mean, to take a character like that that could so easily become just a a monster. Right. And somebody who we just simply fear and hate. Or, you know, someone who’s sort of kitschy and ridiculous or somebody who makes the desire to be a woman, you know, who plays it in a misogynistic sort of way. But the desire to be a woman is some somehow degrading or humiliating. He doesn’t do that. He is quite extraordinary in this role. I think he’s unforgettable.
S4: Yeah. And again, it’s complicated because I think a case that could be made against this depiction and this role is that it’s transphobic to suggest that this person doesn’t know that that’s what he is. And there there’s that moment of him in the mirror tucking his penis between his legs, but also like holding a shawl that’s like wings. It’s like all kinds of imagery all at once. But what this guy has to do is live up to all the sides of that and also scare me like make me believe that when I see someone getting out of their car to help you move their couch, as soon as I look at you, I’m like, oh, no, no, no, this is not good.
S2: But immediately an example, though, I think a moment when he gives his character so much more vulnerability than he had to is when. And now I’m jumping way ahead. But when we see him interacting with the girl at the bottom of the well. All right. The senator’s daughter, Catherine. Yes. And she’s saying, I want to see my mommy. It’s so heartbreaking. And the way the actress says it and his voice breaks a little, as he says, put the lotion in the goddamn back out. Right. I mean, he’s been talking to her in that weird wheedling voice that he uses with his dog, Yagiz. And then he kind of breaks character in a way, you know, and says, put the lotion in the goddamn basket. And I think what does it is seeing her as a child begging for help? Yeah. Which, of course, goes to the idea that he was horribly abused. We don’t get any flashbacks about that. There’s no explicit attempt to make us sympathize with him now. But the performance brings out to me feelings for Buffalo.
S4: Yeah. And I didn’t really know that the movie comes up with like a word for what he is beyond, like a psychopath or a serial killer. But you’re right. There’s something about this guy. It’s also like it’s again, the details in other people’s understanding of him. It’s jumping ahead a little bit when Chris takes a moth that was found and bodies mouth and takes it to the bug boys and the bug boys talk about how well fed it is and how it was really taken care of and nurture. Somebody loved it. Yeah, somebody loved it. It’s like somehow that detail even always sticks with me because it’s like, yeah. By the time or later in the basement and we see the mom’s flying around to some extent. It’s just like it paints a picture in my mind of of the fact that this guy was so interested in this idea of himself that he imports like rare moth species and keeps them underground and nurtures them and feeds them and cares for them. We don’t see that work. But knowing that it’s just like this level of like God, this guy I know.
S2: And what’s his day job that he can afford to import? Rare moth. It’s implied that he’s a tailor, right? Yes. He makes that tour of his former house and all of these dresses with cutouts where he’d apprenticed or something that he has those skills.
S4: Yeah, right. Very complicated guy. But one of those characters that you get through other people in many ways and then a performance that you have to so little time he actually spends on screen.
S2: Right. I mean people always talk about what a small amount screen time and Anthony Hopkins had for getting a lead actor nomination and winning. Right. I think, yeah. He’s in for scenes or something of that. True. But Jamie Gunn, man, he’s a he’s an even less. We don’t even run into him until probably almost an hour into the movie, right? Yeah.
S4: He appears early enough that like for one thing, when movie does an interesting thing of just not making that a mystery, but know him capturing someone and keeping them tracks alongside that further discovery of who he is. It’s like not a mystery in that way. And it is like things like put the lotion in the basket. I just wonder if it as an actor, how do you come up with like inflections in your voice for the things that he has to do and he finds a way to really just burn himself into my mind, a detail that I read that makes me see those scenes differently between him and Catherine.
S2: The girl down the well is that apparently they grew quite close during the filming. I think as you can imagine, the intensity of the scenes they had tiddy and their own movie way. Right. Yeah. I mean, they’re totally isolated from everyone else. Exactly. You never see them with anyone else. Well, except that you see him very briefly in the dark with R-Ariz at the end. And they have to do such incredibly intense things. And apparently, you know, they were good buds and really got close during the filming. Another amazing thing about the young woman who plays Catherine is that she apparently tried out for the Clarice Starling role and didn’t get it. So, you know, her consolation prize was to just go down a well and almost be skinned. She also gained 25 pounds to play that part. Brooke Smith is the actress’s name.
S4: I love casting history like that. That would’ve been an interesting movie, actually. Not that we see so much of her in this, but I have a.
S2: Well, sense of what she would have done with the Cleary’s role, but it would’ve been an unknown, which already changes a lot.
S4: You’re right, it does. Well, maybe this is just like my attachment to this movie. But part of the reason I wanted to talk about it was that it’s one of those rare movie star movie that A prove the fact that these were movie stars. Correct. By being a huge movie. That’s. Yes. It’s based on previous IPV when I’m talking like 21st century terms. But it’s really kind of just, you know, a book that was thought to be unfilmable, et cetera, et cetera, like a difficult thing to sort of convince people could work. I do think that it helps that you have movie stars like familiar people with long histories playing familiar to type, but just enough against it that it does something new. I think it does make a difference. Of all I think historically the importance of the movie shifts a little bit if it’s not a movie star movie, because I think it’s important that this movie is just such a piece of pop art and that it didn’t make so much money and then it did. But all these awards, because it’s the kind of thing that Hollywood is still trying to do and it’s a different kind of challenge now.
S2: It this such a good movie from a different moment, a different moment, but also an anomalous movie within its own. Yes, right. I mean, that it was the fifth highest grossing movie of the year, was on screens, as I said, from February through October or something like that, won five Oscars. You know that it has all of these markers of box office success and success. It also has an incredible longevity. You know, Dasher and my daughter, who’s 13, I said have to sit down to watch this movie, The Silence of the Lambs. You think it’s too scary? Said I’ve already seen it. You know, it’s out there and she loved it. You know, I mean, it doesn’t feel dated to her at all. I think probably it makes more sense to her and feels more recognizable than it would have to me. And one because like I said, it’s been so hugely influential on other movies and TV shows.
S4: Well, first of all, I love that younger people are finding the movie because that’s amazing. Yeah, it has had this longevity. And and I think part of that is just that I watch this movie at least once a year. I come back to it and I just think about the fact that it’s never gotten stale for me, that Demi is like formal decisions as like easy to point out as they are. And that’s how teachable even the movie is. What I think is a cool thing about it, that you can teach people a lot about form and shot, reverse shot and how to get on. Yeah. And how to write scenes and structure and movie from this movie. And I know all of that. But every time it’s still like I get carried away in it, like I know all of it and I know every choice and I know every like little detail in the performances, but every time I still get lost in it.
S2: Yeah. Well, here’s one thing that struck me watching it this time and thinking, you know, about having to come in and break it down with you the next day is that it’s it’s so short. It’s a 180 minutes long, is really tightly constructed. I went to it thinking, oh, yeah, those iconic moments. I remember. I wonder when they’ll come along. And then it was just one after another. Yeah. Yeah. Like almost every scene is one of those memorable. I mean, if you know, if the internet had existed back then, memorable moments, it rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again. Quotable quotes everywhere. And because it’s so tight, there’s not really much dead space, so to speak, in between all of those really vibrant and memorable moments. So it is kind of hard for me to remember how it’s constructed. You know, I think you’ve seen enough times that you could probably break it down scene to see, like she sees Hannibal this many times in this to these different locations. But it has this dreamlike, poetic logic when you’re inside of it that like you say it. It just unfolds before you.
S4: Well, I’m destructors kind of weird. I mean, what I always think of as like toward the end of the movie, which is Hannibal in the cage and attacking cops and escaping with someone else’s face on that just feels like a climax buries the dead center of this movie. And there’s a whole other hurt like other half of the movie that it’s doing that he disappears from the scene.
S2: You don’t you don’t hear from him again until the very end.
S4: Absolutely. Which is is wild, to your point about people complaining about how little he was in the movie. I hear their point. He’s still somehow the lead actor. I don’t I can’t show my Matha. It’s just how that works. But, yeah, he disappears. And there’s a whole other half of this movie that is no less interesting for him not being in it. But yeah, you remember like this is actually not about Hannibal. It’s about Buffalo Bill. And it leans to being in that movie.
S2: But I always forget that that’s the midpoint because it feels like every other movie does that leader because every other movie has to build up to a big crescendo final action scene, which this movie has in its way does. Right. I mean, it has an incredibly tense, suspenseful final scene, but it just doesn’t involve that character who you thought was gonna be at the heart of whatever conflict that emerged.
S4: And it really clarifies that if Hannibal is a, you know, a lead character in the movie, then Clarice is like lead plus she’s like the lead lead it just like it clarifies it more than anything. This movie is about for me, the psychological complexity of this woman and her vulnerability in these dangerous and very male, but male and different ways and dangerous and different ways, worlds that she travels in.
S2: All right. Well, we’ll talk about the glass cage and that big central set piece. But I wanted to briefly talk about this little field trip that Clarice takes with Scott Glenn character with her boss to this Small-Town funeral home where one of the victims of Buffalo Bills body is being kept as they’re waiting for the memorial service. So this scene is interesting for a few reasons in the development of their relationship. Hirsen Scott Glands, which we’ll talk about their work. Relationship and in what we learned from the autopsy and what we learned about her during, you know, her dictation of the autopsy, I mean, that’s just that’s a really brutal scene. But also for these flashbacks, which I think I mentioned earlier, one of the few parts of the movie I don’t think necessarily need to be there. I wonder what you think of the flashbacks and how they serve her character and what we learn about her and her dad, etc..
S4: Yeah. So for you, you would cut them.
S2: I mean, I know that there was supposed to be one more than there actually is. Maybe it’s the story that makes me feel this way. Maybe it’s because I had been reading about the movie and discovered that there is supposed to be a third flashback. They were gonna actually dramatize the part about the screaming of the lambs and her running away from the house right from her there, her relative’s house after her father dies. And apparently the scene which we will talk about, the scene where she tells the Silence of the Lambs story to Hannibal Lecter, was so good that after they shot at Jonathan Demme, he said, I guess we’re not going to Montana. So they decided not to do this on location ranch shoot that they were going to do to show that child running away.
S3: When Jodie Foster saves us all money by being so good that we don’t even have to go, let the whole flashback, which is contained in her eyes as she was telling the story in Close-Up it.
S2: Sure. Yeah. But it made me wonder about those flashbacks just because I mean, this is the whole thing that I have in general about movies that cast a person at different ages. Like I always feel like I have more of a psychological hurdle to jump over than a lot of people do. I’m always, always thinking about the fact that it doesn’t look enough like the person or there’s two different actors. I mean, anytime that you just you see someone growing up in an epic movie, they’ll always be like one person who I think isn’t as good, you know? And I think like, I don’t really believe that that middle person is the same as the two people on either end. You know, so this is bringing in my own kind of problems with flashbacks and child actors playing people.
S3: So you’re pro the aging. You’re the age them all.
S2: I mean, I love when you find a way around that trick. You know, by casting a relative of someone who really does look exactly like Ben or, you know, with Boyhood just casting the same exact person.
S3: Also, I take twelve years.
S2: Yeah. So maybe that’s just the problem with it. But no, I think essentially it’s just that it seems more conventional than what this movie usually does this right. So economical that there aren’t many moments that it both says something and shows you the thing at the same time. And I feel like the flashbacks do that a bit.
S4: I agree insofar as the content of the flashbacks isn’t, it’s like no one is hugging her dad and one or her dad’s funeral. But what’s always stood out to me about them is it’s not so much those things, but just our transitions into them or our non transitions. It’s like the first one is after talking to Hannibal for the first time after makes those seamen out or she’s running out, she’s crying and she’s walking toward her car. And then we cut back to her and then we cut back. And it’s her dad’s police cars like all of us.
S2: It is really abruptly transit’s.
S4: Yeah, it just makes me think, oh, like psychologically what you’re telling me, I think here is this is a safe image, Anderson, a visually kind of rhyming. Her walking to her car. Her running out to her dad’s car. It’s also just like, okay, yeah. You just met Hannibal for the first time. Someone just you seem in that you you’re in this like crazy psych ward anyway. You’re running out. You’re terrified. You think of your last sort of period of safe memories before your father. Jagow Yeah, and it’s in the funeral home thing. It’s just sort of like speaking to your point about just not even bothering having young clitoris anymore, just like it’s Clarice Cleary’s walking into a room and suddenly she’s at her father’s funeral and we do get the child actor for a second there. But initially it’s just like going to non transition where it’s just like, that’s weird. It’s like, yeah, the content of the scenes never stands out to me, but it’s more in just all of a sudden we’ve broken this wall and now we’re in the past.
S2: Yeah. So the transitions beautifully done. I mean, it is wonderfully jarring the way he does it. It’s the opposite of the classic, you know, harp music. Everything clears out. Yeah. I mean they’re they’re they’re wonderfully done flashback scenes. They just don’t feel completely necessary to me. But now that you talk about it, that first one where she’s, as you say, having sort of a self comfort moment of remembering her dad, given her what they’re really brief exchanges about, if he’s getting out of his car, he’s a cop, he’s in his uniform. I forget what she calls me is the town marshal or something like that. And she says, Daddy, did you catch the bad guy? And he had he says, not today. Yeah. You know, and so even even the exchange that they’re having is something about what she’s doing at that very moment in her adult life. Right. Trying to catch a bad guy, but she hasn’t done it yet.
S4: And now I’m thinking, you know, when Hannibal does that thing where he, like, read her her rights, just like this is your whole life in a sentence, I don’t think he mentions or perceives that her father. Does he say that her father was a cop? I think that’s something that maybe we don’t know until we see that flashback. It’s an important piece of context that she’s in the FBI and her dad who was killed on the job as a cop. But there’s a there’s more rhyming there. There’s more like, okay, I have a further sense of who you are. But listen, I don’t really love flashbacks generally. Frankly, it’s odd for me to be liking these because generally flashbacks are a device that like voice over or kind of over, you know, sound like voiceover.
S2: It’s just hard to get them right. Yeah, it’s pretty easy to hit that cliche space.
S4: It’s really hard and classical Hollywood narrative sort of once they learned flash. Peel back the effort turned back and those kinds of transitions to this day. Clint Eastwood just loves it, like someone picks up a glass and then someone picks up another glass. And the second person is actually in the past somehow. It’s like a you know, it’s like the whole thing. And it can get not elegant, but I think I would’ve liked it less if they’d included the third one. I don’t want to see the lamb getting slaughtered. We’re full of violence in this movie anyway, actually. I don’t need that. But also just I don’t want I don’t want to hear the crying.
S3: I’m good.
S2: It’s much more time with her just describing it with her voice breaking right down. If you actually had to hear and see it yourself.
S4: Tears. Okay, this is sacrilegious. I have to say. That story in itself is kind of like Rose, but in Citizen Kane for me, where it’s like I get it. But to me it is just about the delivery. Ultimately, I think it’s like a weird story. But I also think I don’t know, you’re on a farm. Didn’t they tell you when you got there that the animals are her parents? I don’t know. It’s not that I’m unsympathetic.
S3: It’s just. It’s terrible. I guess I’m just like an animal man. Yeah, it’s a one.
S4: One of those things where, like, what matters to me is how much it matters to her. The story itself is always even since I was a kid, I was like, is this the whole story that this movie is building up, too? Thankfully, it’s not what the movie is building up to you. But I remember just know seeing SNL spoofs and all these things and getting it to it in the movie and was like, oh, it’s like Rosebud words like I get there and I still don’t totally get it. But it’s important.
S2: I know, but it’s really thematically rich. I mean, whether or not you yourself think that you’d be horrified by lam screaming, maybe not getting other mint jelly, you know, and looking forward to dinner.
S3: It’s time to make some pie. Yeah.
S2: But for her, I mean, not only I guess psychologically it makes sense because you are coming off of her father having been killed. Right. But it also serves as a motivator for her to become a cop in a way. Right. Because what is she doing throughout this movie? She’s like this shepherd who’s trying to save the lamb. That is Catherine, the girl down the well and all of potential victims that he might kill.
S4: I think it’s symbolism that I don’t like. But there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s not like really not a critique. It’s more it’s a yeah. How I feel about I think how you feel about the flashback. It’s like not the high point, but the performance. It’s like one of his mega close-ups and it suggests Jodie Foster serving. She just carries the movie away. The music helps Howard Shore. Thank you. Howard, you were most famous for the Lord of the Rings soundtracks. But to me, most relevantly, the main composer for Cronenberg films, and he does similar work here where just like it’s the perfect rise of violence. It’s not treacly. It’s not overly sentimental, but it is emotional. And I do feel it. And those strings start rising, which he’s talking about, those lambe. Then it’s like, hell, yeah, yeah.
S2: It’s a movie show. And just like the camera work, it’s all very organically bound up, right? I mean, there aren’t moments there’s not really a theme you can pick out where you say as you do in the Lord of the Rings movies, for example, you know, Frodo seem like Ray Rice. It is an ambient sound that is creates horror, empathy, whatever you need to feel in that. And I have one more quick thing to say about the autopsy. Fieldtrip. Oh, yeah. Together it has to do with their drive home. It’s just a moment. One of the few moments that there’s something explicit, anything explicit in this movie about the gender, workplace drama stuff that you were talking about earlier. And that’s her little mini confrontation, which to me is so germane. It’s like so. So me era, the conversation that they have in the car about how he treated her in the funeral home, which if you remember, was this moment that he essentially pulled the man card. Right. And sort of said, you and I. He said to this local cop, need to go off and discuss this in private, because there’s details to this sex crime that we can’t discuss in front of a woman. Yeah, right. Then the shot after that is, as you mentioned, one of the many in the movie and which had nothing to do with either of the two killers, but in which we sense this male threat around her. She’s this small, vulnerable, pretty young woman standing in a room with all these staring state troopers. And there’s nothing set about it at the time. But in the car, they have this little exchange. Let’s listen to a storyline.
S8: When I told the sheriff we shouldn’t talk in front of a woman, you’d really burn, you didn’t. It was just smokes, darling. I had to get rid of them. Manage, Mr. Crawford.
S2: Cops look at you to see how to act manners. Point taken and really that little exchange kind of speaks for itself. But especially from 1991 is kind of a great moment of her saying, you know what, it matters. My professional demeanor is, you know, presented to other men. You know, that this moment that to you was just about transsexualism and getting something out of this encounter with this other guy actually had an effect on my sights, on me and my career. Yeah.
S4: To your point about like feeling so relevant now. I think one of the most remarkable things about this movie is that it played with those kinds of social politics in a way that has just not aged at all. For me, it’s like it’s that moment. It’s the moment. Even when they get in the room and the cadaver, it’s the way to see I all the cops to leave. It’s like she becomes the person in the room who says, you know, you got to get the fuck out of here because I’m trying to do this autopsy. But it’s like it’s so we can take care of her. Yeah.
S2: It’s like you present it in terms of feminine empathy almost, you know. I mean, it’s it’s clear that she is putting some thought into what just happened with our own, you know, isolation and kind of weaponising that same psychology. Like if you think women are so delicate and need protection, then how about everybody gets the fuck out of here?
S4: Let me do my work. What are the crazy things about her characterization that still I just feel like. For all the ways this movie has been imitated, I don’t think we’re taking good notes because one of the really key things about her character to me is that you can tell it to a degree to be as as successful as she is to be a trainee. Getting sent to talk to Hannibal Lecter. You’ve got to be type-A to a degree. You’ve got to be someone who files other homework on time. Toward the top of your class. That’s why this major figure in the department that you want to work in is asking you to do these things. But it’s not a type, a depiction. It’s like she’s deeply intelligent, deeply empathetic and wise in these ways. But it’s like it’s neither crumbling under these power structures, nor is it.
S5: It’s not homeland. It’s like secretly manic depressive or whatever. This is exactly I made a comparison in the 21st century. It’s like you couldn’t be that Clarice Starling character without some kind of scene showing you like going to your fridge with there’s nothing but vodka in it, you know, drinking. Dying’s Jam Java Chinese cartoons all over your apartment. I think that was the true detective thing. Right. And we’ll never see how she lives.
S4: In fact, it’s all there, but it’s not there. It’s just like it’s the performance and it’s the writing that I have to say. Like people got gonna take notes on this when they’re writing and doing these things, because it’s not that the movie needs to be apolitical. And I don’t think the movie’s apolitical. It’s more like this is how you stand the test of time in a way. This is like a timeless subject. This woman in a workplace stuff and the FBI and the police forces are still so male that it just feels apt. But that’s not what the root of her character is. It’s part of her character’s experience and it enlivens things about her character. But the point of the movie isn’t to say my job is hard.
S2: Right? Right. Nor is it sort of like spunky go girl. Right. Look what a firebrand she is. Right thing like that.
S4: But a movie that I wish we could do is a movie from a year before this. Kathryn Bigelow’s Blue Steel, where Jamie Lee Curtis plays a woman in the workplace who’s a cop who’s being stalked by a guy who has a condition that again has no name. It doesn’t matter what this guy’s condition is, he’s a lunatic coming after her. And again, these kinds of questions of her vulnerability, etc.. It’s Kathryn Bigelow. It’s punchier. It’s actually. But it’s a similar kind of thing of like stands the test of time, because ultimately the questions that are raised in the ways that the film explores them, the whole purpose isn’t just to make simple political points. It’s exploration of the dilemma of this character. But the plot is its own thing. I don’t know. I think people got to take notes. Screenplay class. I’m sure there’s been a million about Silence of the Lambs.
S2: Well, Ted Tally is the author, John Playwright, who has no other huge screenplay credits.
S3: Well, look, you do it once.
S2: I mean, what he really did was just create a skeleton, you know? I mean, to be grisly about a grizzly movie that all this great flesh can be hung on. You know, I mean, JSR screenplays extremely spare. There are some great lines you remember. I read the books. I’m not sure how many of them come straight from the original. But what it really is, is about how this pretty spare screenplay is presented to us.
S4: Yeah, it’s a masterpiece. I think of us like pop art. I love that it’s pop. I love that it’s something that we’ve all seen that I like. Your daughter is going to watch without you even having to say you should just out there.
S2: Right. Maybe it was the butterfly on the cover that got to her as well. Great poster design. It won some kind of award, I think, for the best movie poster of the last 30 years.
S4: It’s like it’s got it. I cannot tell you how in blockbusters as a kid, this image is haunted. I was like, I know I got to see this movie, every adult talking about it. But also the cover is just so I know it’s a scary movie. I know I’m not old enough yet, but I know there’s going to be a day when I can see The Silence of the Lambs. This was a butterfly and not a lamb on the cover, which is something I thought a lot about as it looks now.
S3: And now I’m a critic doing that for laughs.
S2: All right. Well, we could talk with this movie all day, but I guess we should probably cut to that big centrepiece. I mean, we can’t go through scene by scene and talk about every single detail. But so many of these themes that we’re talking about come together. And it’s also our goodbye essentially to Hannibal Lecter in the movie. So we have to talk a little bit about this moment. I would say that includes everything from the moment that he’s transition to a different facility while wearing the insane mask. You know, that was another of just the iconic images you remember from this movie, that weird half face mask with the sort of, you know, mouth guard designed by a guy who made similar masks.
S4: Pagolis is what I read, which totally rides up.
S2: Right. But everything that happens between that transition and, you know, when he butterflies and filets fugard’s gets away from the big glass cage. Yeah. I mean, I know I remember at the time that this was the scene that occasioned tons of screams in the theater that had really unexpected twists. You’ve been seeing him be contained this whole time with the sense of potential violence, but it doesn’t burst out at all until the scene. And I guess the thing that struck me again watching now for I think is my third full time through the movie with probably some partial viewings in between. Is it the plausibility in the scene is kind of murky. We don’t really quite get how he gets from. I have a little piece of a pen that I smuggled. Yeah. In my hand, too. I have killed two people. Butterflied one of them and hung him on a cage, taken the other one’s face off. And yet somehow. Almost, Soane, it has like seams or something like plastered it together over his own face. I mean, he gets a lot done with very few tools. It is really very strong. And I think it’s one of those moments that it just doesn’t matter. You know, I mean, if you really try to think about how did all this happen and isn’t he kind of just being presented as a magical Superman who can do anything? Maybe so. But in the logic of the movie, it makes complete sense. And I never questioned it for a minute.
S4: I never question it. And I think it’s important, the movie that he only does something like this is the thing that he does when he’s out and about. It’s like this big escape. Otherwise, he is contained. And beyond that conversation that he has with the senator and that lewd question he asks about her breastfeeding her daughter, he like really isn’t out and he doesn’t have like other escape attempts, really. It’s like all a really long con from basically the moment that he’s put into that contraption that wheels him out to the senator. He steals a pan at some point and he does all these things that we don’t see. But it’s more like I think part of the effectiveness is like maybe it’s because it’s implausible. But also it means that the Anthony Hopkins performance has to make me care a lot less about that possibility. It’s like the combination of the right ellipses and planting certain seeds early on, like seeing him look at the pan early on and having a moment later on when I go, oh, it must be part of that pen that he stole. Scenes and scenes ago, like things like that where it’s like maybe because you feel like he’s been thinking about it since earlier in the film. You believe that if anyone can think their way through this, it’s him hoisting the body up and all that other stuff in like did he bite the face off? I do actually wonder, but not because it seems implausible just because it’s Hannibal. And if anything, he makes me curious about his process.
S2: I mean, we’ve been established by the photo we never get to see very early on. The photo that’s got Glenn shows hair of the mutilated nurse that he can do a lot with just his teeth and hands, whatever. Right. I mean, I’m not saying I want to know more. No. GROSS is hell. Yeah. But, you know, if you started to ask, well, why is there not a CCTV camera trained on this? You know, where they’re not more guards outside that would hear the screaming or the sounds of someone’s face being sawn off or whatever?
S4: Yeah. You know, the thing about Hannibal as a character is that somehow I believe that for all the ways the cops know, he’s very dangerous. I think that because they’ve caught him before and because it contained them before, there is room to imagine that the cops think they’ve got this. And I think that Hannibal’s a great because he he’s patient. He waits. He waits to the right deal is made till he gets wheeled out to talk to the senator. It’s as if he could have planned this alongside Buffalo Bill, even though, you know, he didn’t. You know that he’s just someone who has the right amount of information and the right smarts to pull this off. I just love that he’s a character who makes everything seem possible, which I gotta say is the thing that’s missing from every other depiction of him. It’s like that element of, I believe whatever Hannibal does. You want to tell me you flew to Mars. If anyone can hijack a spacecraft, it’s probably you.
S2: Well, maybe that goes to the post-human thing I was told. Yeah, that it’s called getting right. I mean, it’s there’s no supernatural element to this movie. But insofar as there’s somebody who might be capable of superhuman things, it’s him. It’s been established as anti-monarchist. Yeah. Yeah. Also, it’s something I had never thought of before is that he kind of butterflies the guy, you know. I mean he leaves him looking just like one of Buffalo Bills butterflies. It’s crazy. Just like the cover. I know. And like when Buffalo Bill spreads out his schall. You mentioned, right? I mean, this again, maybe this is too much moth symbolism for you. But there’s just again and again this image of someone sort of taking flight and transforming. I mean, a horrible transformation in the case of the guy who gets killed. Right. But it’s a transformation.
S4: It’s crazy. I mean, this is one of those cases where I don’t mind symbolism. All the math stuff is amazing to me because I don’t think I even thought of it as the butterfly until you used that word. And it’s so indicative that everything is a a symbol or a hint to him that he wouldn’t arbitrarily just kill the cop. He would sort of leave something for Clarice to see. I think in particular, he’s a smart guy. I admire him. What can I say?
S3: Look, total psychopath. But I just.
S2: It’s such a genre moment. But just that moment in the ambulance when, you know, he pops up and he has somebody else’s face on and then tears it off. I mean, it’s now become this jokey meme with the Mission Impossible movie. It’s like everybody’s digitally defacing themselves all the time. But just the practical, you know, that actual puppetry of that, the fact that there’s like some weird skin puppet that looks like she’s off a pizza, that he’s just. Yeah. Yeah. Just like melting face. It’s awful. But I just remember the screams in the theater when that happened, you know, and again, it’s a 1991 thing. You know, this was so fresh and so original. And I feel like somebody’s pulling off somebody’s face now is is a plot element you might foresee, but it certainly was not not in this kind of movie back then.
S4: And it still not surprises me, but it still gets me. It’s still the way he rises up out of nowhere. I get cause I don’t think you really, really, really know the extent to which he’s gotten away with it. Like all the other stuff, it it’s actually kind of confusing. There’s confusion of bodies. There’s one body that’s a dead body on the elevator that you don’t know isn’t him. There’s all these other confusing things happening on a missed reveal. It’s like. For salt, it’s the reveal of something we’re revealing, something that isn’t who the murderer is at the center of this movie, the actual kind of mystery. It’s not a mystery. It’s things like this. What is Hannibal going to do? Where’s Hannibal going? Is it anywhere near Clarice? Is she in danger? Like all the questions that I suddenly have at this point in the movie that seem like fresh new questions, that the action to this point didn’t seem like it was points in the direction where I suddenly wonder. Is Hannibal going to come after Clarice? What is the nature of the relationship? Is she endangered? I think there’s a real weird thing that happens in the script.
S2: And you certainly wouldn’t expect that he would just disappear from the movie right at that point.
S4: Right. Again, best actor for the longest run time of screen time of any best actor. I’m sure. And this is, I think the first of two structural tricks and a trick is the wrong word. But, you know, there’s the suspense of this moment. How does Hannibal escape and which of these bodies is he? And then there’s the sort of finale. Everyone in the FBI is rushing to one house and Clarice Starling is off on her own somewhere. And the editing really makes you think that the FBI are right, that they’re going to get the guy with all their guns and their helicopters. I mean, it turns out that Clarice is the one who knocks on the door. And when the door opens, it’s the guy that we’ve already seen for the entire movie. So we immediately know. Right. It’s not a question. And the scene becomes, oh, shit.
S2: Well, and it’s also really well geographically established at that point. Right. I mean, there’s been this thing that is familiar from so many FBI type movies where there’s a little legend saying where you are right from the very beginning when we’re in Quantico at the training academy. But it becomes really crucial at the end because she’s in Ohio going after her thing. And they’re often an entirely different state. Rember what Midwestern state? They’re not close, but far. Right. I mean, far enough that you have a real sense of her isolation and entrapment at that moment that she shows up thinking that she’s just interviewing a witness. Yeah. She’s at frickin Buffalo Bill House.
S4: It’s crazy. The way that everything comes together in this last stretch of the film is pretty crazy to me because I think really one really special thing about it is that the thing with Buffalo Bill being in the House with him, how quickly he just sort of gives it up and says, I’m not going to pretend that I’m. I know you know who I am. Like, let’s just get to the part where I get a gun out and we start shooting at each other because it’s me or you. I feel like so many other films would sort of structure the scene to a have the mystery be is that Buffalo Bill? Like the questions that you’d enter, whereas Demi and Tali, they just sort of go. No, no mysteries here. The question is, is Clarice gonna survive this? Like she’s in the den of hell. There’s a woman in the basement. Is you gonna save this woman? Like it’s different questions than if Buffalo Bill had been a mystery this entire time. It’s it’s so grounded that all I feel is fear and all I fear is unpredictability. And the lights go off and it all just comes together.
S2: Yeah. There’s no puzzles left to be solved. That is part of it. I mean, once she she realizes where she is, that’s the last puzzle that there is to solve and maybe concern among my puzzle movies.
S4: Christopher Nolan and Villeneuve and those kinds of questions that I just maybe I’m just a little disillusioned of that because I just think that this is better, right?
S2: Well, because you know what? What’s at stake? Right. You know who’s in the well? You know something about her story, even who her mother is, right. You even know something about her relationship with her captor. Yeah. And his relationship with his dog. I mean, there’s a lot that’s been put in place to make this last scene have a lot more texture than your average, you know, last girl scene in his last year movie.
S4: Yeah. And then and then just that, the final set piece of the night vision goggles and him you sort of gesturing at IRN reaching out toward her like in a movie that is full of images of her kind of questioning the power between her and the men surrounding her. And also just, you know, from the moment she sort of gets that the psychiatric hospital and is being hit on and then MiGs and just like from very, very early on in the movie this entire time, I feel like we’re leading up to this moment of real danger with like a sexual psychopath.
S2: The way that that’s summed up for me in the image of him reaching out to her in the dark, especially with the way it’s filtered through that technology, is night vision goggles, which you also have to remember at the time. I mean, again, now a big cliche. Right. And the way that we look at the Iraq war, the first Iraq war was all about night vision, greenish light goggles. But it’s a technological mediation that at the time I think was cool and weird looking. You know, it was like a weird special effect. So you’re seeing from his point of view for the first time, his point of view is is weird and wrong and green. And that gives it this horror as this Howard Shaw score, of course, but particularly that shot, which again, I remember the screams in the theater when it happened that you see his hand come into, oh, my God, his field of vision. Right. Like the green field of vision is interrupted by this hand reaching for her.
S4: Did they film it in the dark? I don’t know. I don’t wanna know if they filmed that the dark. I just want to believe that it was actually bright as hell. And Jodie Foster is just that good of an actor.
S2: Well, that’s another thing you don’t often see on screen, right? I mean, the idea that someone else can’t see anything, you see her not seeing.
S4: Well, to your to your first question about is this horror or thriller? I was going to say the thing that I think elevates, you know, Hitchcock’s great films for me is. That they are about whatever mysteries or whatever whatever is going on in the plot, but he just also makes it about seeing always it’s about the things you see when you see them. There’s there’s something with a key, for example, in Notorious that’s like this crazy moment of just like seeing a key in someone’s hand and the danger that they’re suddenly and things like that where it’s just like you’re thinking about what the movie is showing you are not. And that’s something that I think like really great horror movies can get at, because you should always be thinking about why you’re watching. He’s like splendidly gory, violent things. And this is a movie that makes you, for me, think a lot about not just this moment, but throughout about like seeing and looking in the gaze and and her body and all these things. And it’s like that rare thing where the action and the ideas are just like perfectly merge. Right.
S2: In such a way that it makes it almost a hard movie to talk about. And I’ve loved our conversation about it. But I feel like the greatness of this movie kind of transcends what we’ve been able to say about it. You know, as you say, it’s just all knit up in every color choice, every costume choice, every line reading choice. Yeah. Oh, and you know, it also I saw this time that I had never seen before is that that FBI training exercise that she does near the beginning completely comes in handy at the end. Rivers although I meant that her teacher says you’re dead and here’s why you’re dead, because you didn’t check your corners or whatever it was. And I mean, first of all, that’s that’s a great moment because it sort of sets up, you know, there’s going to be a moment that we are actually watching her cover a room. Right. But there’s also a sense that this is a building’s room on, you know, like the training of an FBI agent and her becoming someone who’s alert enough, even in these insane circumstances, much harder than that training exercise. Right. No support, completely dark room that she’s able to be attentive enough. And what saves her finally is that she’s listening. You know, she hears the click of the trigger being pulled back or whatever. It’s called, the safety. And that’s the moment that she knows where to shoot.
S4: I mean, it’s also just like the gap between the training and the real thing. Granted, she was thrown into the deep end, but she acknowledges and one of those car conversations with Crawford, like the sort of, oh, I’m bait, like the kind of like you’re sending me to talk to one of the craziest people in the world type thing. And it’s like ultimately nothing prepares her for this. But then, like everything between the training and her succeeding is her right, even though it happens in such a flash that it’s not marked by the movie.
S2: It’s her agency that zaps her. Right. So so it really keeps her from being what the scene so easily could have been in a lesser movie. Sort of that she is bait, right? There’s the final girl. Is she going to make it or not? We care about her because she’s a young pretty woman and she’s alive and we want her to continue being live. But it’s so much more than that. You know, it’s so much more of a sense that there is this real specific person who has come to this place because of her own choices and is going to save herself if she does, because of her own choices.
S4: Crazy movie. I’m glad that we talked about it.
S2: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, of all the movies we’ve talked about, too, we were saying the beginning, we probably needed to do the least plot summary of this one, because I think of everything we’ve talked about. Even some of the very well-known classics.
S4: This is the one that people are most likely to have seen and even seen several times, probably yet as one of those movies, I have to say, thinking about just comparing it to whatever wins best picture this year or just nowadays, generally it’s just like this is a kind of lightning bolts in a way that I’m glad that I was around to see something like this movie get released and to feel like I experienced the phenomenon of this movie because it’s a different kind of thing right now. I think like the biggest movies that we’re making in the movie theater, top five at the box office tend to be parts of longer chains of things. You don’t really have the uniqueness of this like the Hannibal movies don’t really cohere into our franchise. Every one of them is different in many ways and this just stands out as like a perfect piece of pop that also won all the awards that also made money. That also was like iconic and remembered. And it’s just like a really rare objects to me. It’s in the kind of Titanic category Titanic movie that I like. To my chagrin. But I love to my chagrin.
S3: Maybe that’s when we need to fly.
S2: I’m not going to make you do that, but we can’t leave it without at least nodding at the very final scene, which is almost a coda. I mean, you could imagine it being a post-credit scene in in a modern day movie, a pop up and kind of teasing the next chapter for which is when Hannibal Lecter comes back to the movie for his first time since his face mask doffing him in the ambulance. And he calls her during her graduation ceremony from the FBI and he’s in the Bahamas. Do you have anything to say about this scene? I mean, I’ve heard the criticisms that at the time and I can see how this might be said. If you’re watching this movie as a serious work of art, that there’s something almost too cute about the ending, that there’s almost an affection for the Hannibal Lecter character. That’s inappropriate in regards to the rest of the movie. I love the ending, but I wonder what you say about the ending.
S4: Well, first of all, they lied about sending him to an island earlier in the movie. So I do think it is only fair kids go to the Bahamas as was promised. But more seriously, I think that it’s important, actually, that we like Hannibal. This is a case where his charm is what reigns you in. And we just watched a whole movie about her being reined in by this man is deeply dangerous. But like I think I like the fact that despite having watched a two hour movie about that. At this very end moment, and after all the things that have happened since the last time you’ve seen him. Last thing he did was rip a face off of his face. Still being reminded that, A, he knows everything because he knows when her graduation is and what number to reach her at and is kind of ammunition and scary for that. But be confirming that he doesn’t want to harm her. That that’s not what their relationship is about is interesting to me. It’s like you’ll never catch me. But also our relationship is not about our thing is not, you know, you catching me or me killing you. It’s like it’s a whole other plane, as you were saying earlier. Like something about the ending sort of confirms for me that like he’s calling under graduation just to say, ha ha, you’ll never catch me. But also, congrats. But also, did we just do a crazy thing together? Like we’re kind of connected to each other? In a way. We’re a screen couple. In a way. We’re not romantic, but but we’re tied to each other. So you’ve got to have a bow. You’ve got to have the like. No, I don’t want to fade out kiss. But I need a reminder that this is intimate. And to see him in and Bahama shorts.
S3: I don’t know if I think it’s I think it is funny.
S4: It is hilarious that we simply cut from him taking pizza, cheese, office space.
S2: That’s someone else’s face to him in the Bahamas, stalking specifically Chilton, the psychiatrist character played by Anthony Hill.
S3: And who’s mad about that? You know, the actual villain of the movie, the guy who didn’t kill anyone.
S4: But it’s just like really self-obsessed. He can insinuate so much. I mean, that’s why the character is like so delightful. Despite his very tiny amount of very tiny My Screentime, it really is one of those movies where people make their mark. I should also say that the Cleese’s friend, played by Casey Lemmons, is a director. She most recently directed the Oscar nominated movie Harriott. But I’m also in the 90s, Eve’s Bayou, among all the other things I like about the movie. The director of Eve’s Bayou’s, I’ll say, well, Roger Corman is also in it in a small cameo.
S2: So it’s like directors everywhere you look who I think gave Demi a story.
S4: I think Demis first movie was Caged Heat, the lady prison movie from like the 70s. It was a Corman movie. He kind of has like one of those like Scorsese. He like these exploitative roots that then went on wandering through arthouse and mainstream and genre, working with movie stars and all these things. That’s really one of those careers.
S2: Yeah, you can imagine Corman being his mentor and being very amused by getting to be in a movie like this. It’s crazy. All right. I’m so glad we talked about that. I really hope that even if people have seen Silence of the Lambs, they’ll go back and rewatch it again. I see now why it’s one of your, you know, the Grinch Who Stole Christmas annual rewatches. I can even see how it could become for all. Its disturbing this kind of comfort food.
S4: Oh, it is. Yeah. OK. Don’t eat pizza while watching it because I really mean what? Like the association that I had with the cheese steaks is because I was eating pizza once while watching it say.
S2: Obviously you have to eat it with fat because it must be antico. That’s true. So for our next movie, I think the one that I want to do is one that actually has a secret connection with Silence of the Lambs in that. Do you know who the original director was? I don’t, actually. He’s someone who’s not thought of as a director. He also wanted to play the role that Scott Glenn eventually played. Jack Crawford, the FBI guy. And it’s Gene Hackman. Gene Sperling, his first directorial. It would have been his first. And I believe his only, you know, what can I say?
S4: I love Gene Hackman. This is not a first direct or project.
S2: So, you know, I think it probably is a good thing for the world in the end, although I would have loved to see a movie directed by Gene Hackman, he apparently just loved the novel, as do Sharon Foster, and immediately thought of it as a property that he wanted to be in and then eventually becomes a onea. I think the deal fell through.
S4: Yeah. You make sense in the world of the movie somehow. Well, he’s a good cop. Standby.
S2: I mean, Gene Hackman makes sense in the world of every movie in my mind. So the reason I’m talking about Gene Hackman is because my suggestion for our next movie is the French Connection from 1971, which I haven’t seen.
S4: Wow. 15 plus years.
S2: So, yeah, I mean, I did at least. And as with Silence of the Lambs, it was a hugely influential movie that changed the way action movies were made just as central and changed the way horror movies were made. And I’m sure that once we rewatch it, we can talk about some of those precedents set. I mean, a car chase being the most famous one. It was a William Friedkin movie in the moment when he was, you know, one of the hot young new Hollywood guys and an action thriller that won best picture.
S4: It’s also to air.
S2: Right. Well, another connection with thousands of lives is that it won five Academy Awards as well while being, you know, this big blockbuster at the box office. So it’s one of those movies that, even if you haven’t seen it, is kind of running through the DNA of lots of things that you have seen. And it’ll be fun, I think, to watch it again and unpack that. Yeah, I’m excited. 70S New York. So the French Connection is pretty available out there. You can find it on Hulu. You can find it on i-Tunes. You can rent it on Amazon. I don’t think it should be a problem finding it. I don’t think it’s a criterion movie, but not yet. It places to see it. Yeah. Who knows?
S9: After we talk about it, our producer is chow, too. As always, you can write us and let us know what you thought of this podcast. Just other movies for us to flashback. In the future at Flashback at Slate.com, thanks so much for joining me for another episode of Flashback. And we’ll talk to all to.