“The Silence of the Lambs” – Our Sick Fascination

There’s something wrong with us. Like, seriously. We are obsessed with the worst among us. We are fascinated by the lowest of our society: rapists, kidnappers, mass murders. Whether it’s in Stephen King novels, television shows like Law and Order and Criminal Minds or any of the far too many real world examples (the Sandy Hook massacre and Boston Marathon bombing to name two), we continue to tune in to programs that offer us a window into the minds of the criminals who commit some of the most heinous crimes imaginable.

Why? What in the world possesses us to focus so much of our (free) time and attention on the sick, twisted, demented minds of criminals? NPR’s Talk of Nation did a segment on this back in 2009, and the show brought in crime writer Walter Mosley and Law and Order writer Rene Balcer to give their perspectives. Mosley puts out the idea that we’re interested in crime and criminals because it’ something that we’re worried about. “They want to know: Could that happen to me?” Mosley said. “And they want to know: How can I make it so it doesn’t happen to me?” Balcer throws out a slightly more interesting, and certainly more disturbing, hypothesis. He says that some of the appeal may come from people imagining themselves as the criminal. “They may think, you know, it’s kind of a vicarious way of seeing how it might play out for them if they were that person robbing the bank or killing their spouse,” Balcer said. Chilling, right?

I don’t want anyone to think that I’m not a part of this phenomenon. I’ve been watching Law and Order (and its myriad spin-offs) since grade school, and I love Criminal Minds which is explicitly billed as a show that goes inside the “criminal mind.” And as I watched The Silence of the Lambs this past week, I felt like I was watching Criminal Minds: The Motion Picture. Check out what I thought:

65. The Silence of the Lambs

Released: 1991
Big names: Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins
One sentence summary: An FBI trainee (Foster) looks to a deranged cannibal (Hopkins) for answers on an active serial killer.
Scene that sticks out: Serial killer Buffalo Bill getting ready in his underground bunker is short on dialogue and long on creepy.
Thoughts: I am definitely not a horror movie guy, but this is definitely not your standard horror movie, which is probably why I liked it. I enjoy watching Criminal Minds because you do get to look inside the criminal’s head and try to figure out how in the world someone could do such horrible things. And as disturbing as that is, it’s fascinating. So taking that idea, expanding it to a feature film and throwing in Anthony Hopkins as a terrible yet alluring serial killer and cannibal played right into my wheelhouse. The exchanges between Hopkins’ Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Foster’s Clarice Starling are fantastic. I think one of the most genius aspects of this movie is that the prime villain, Lector, isn’t the active killer in the movie. Instead, he is (almost) entirely docile to the point where you form a connection to him despite the fact that, you know, he eats people.
Ranking (out of 10): 7-10 – I really liked this movie, but I wish there were more scenes with Lecter and Clarice sparring. Those were dynamite.

The Baddest of Them All

Like I said above, one of my favorite parts of The Silence of the Lambs was the fact that even though you were terrified of Hannibal Lecter and knew he would eat your face off in a heart beat, you kind of liked him or at least respected him. It’s a true work of art to take such a terrifying villain and make him almost sympathetic. Take a look at the worst of the worst when it comes to movie villains. What do they have in common? What are their differences? Do you agree? Who was your most terrifying movie villain? Share in the comments (also feel free to share any thoughts on why we are fascinated with the criminal mind).

The top 5 movie villains of all time according to AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains.

The top 5 movie villains of all time according to AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains.

NEXT WEEK: It’s spring break so I am catching some baseball in sunny Florida. So I’ll be watching this week’s movie with my parents. Come back next week to see what they pick!

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