Analysis of Micro-Elements in J.Demme's 'Silence of the Lambs'

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  • Topic: The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter, Hannibal
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Micro elements; written analysis

The Silence of the Lambs by Jonathan Demme [1991]

Clip from Claryce Starling’s briefing with FBI boss Jack Crawford to her first meeting with Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

A tone of menace is set up in this extract during Starling’s [ Jodie Foster] mission briefing with the FBI’s Head of Behavioural Psychology unit, Jack Crawford [ Scott Glenn]. Her vulnerability and ‘rookie’ status is established as she looks nervously around Crawford’s office, dressed in fatigues. She is straight from the training grounds, her tee shirt is sweat soaked. We are getting a good look at the central character in a brightly top lit shot. Crawford is clearly established as the authoritative figure by his dress in this scene. Apart from the dialogue, the only diegetic sound in this scene issues from the rustling of his crisp white shirt as he moves behind his desk. The close ups of Crawford seated, contrast with the medium shots showing the perspiring young detective whose deference to her superior is heightened by her enthusiasm and ambition. We understand that she is a particularly bright student who would like, in the future, to work for Crawford’s unit. We begin to understand the threat facing her through a series of shots/reverse shot in close up of the two characters as Starling receives her mission objectives. “Do you spook easily?”, Crawford asks, and when she is told that the subject she is to visit is the jailed psychologist Hannibal Lecter, she mutters to herself, “Hannibal the cannibal”. The spectator’s mind can only imagine the horrors committed by the subject, the dangerously deviant behaviour of the man she is to interview. In a medium shot of Starling, which quickly cuts to a reverse shot of Crawford’s, we hear Jack’s voice, pitched low to highlight the danger, “Be very careful with Hannibal Lecter.” His voice gains urgency. “Dr. Chiltern [Anthony Heald] at the asylum will go over all the physical procedures used with him. Do not deviate from them for any reason whatsoever. You’re to tell him nothing personal Starling. Believe me, you don’t want Hannibal Lecter inside your head. Just do your job but never forget what he is.” The threat is clearly stated. This scene closes with a close up of Starling asking, we suppose, Crawford, “And what is that?”, but the camera has cut across to a long shot of a somewhat neglected red brick building lit using natural light on a grey day, as if to point out that this is not a happy place to be. A sign, front and left, with streaked weathered lettering announce to us that this is Baltimore State Forensic Hospital. A voice over this shot replies to Starling’s question. “ He’s a monster, a pure psychopath”. At this point we cut to a close up of Dr. Frederick Chiltern. In stark contrast to the sincere and professional tone of Jack Crawford, Chiltern with his smooth, bouffant hair and casual grin is clearly a man pleased with himself, particularly for being the man charged with the duty of care of Lecter. This is underlined by the contrasting office spaces used by he two men. Crawford’s brightly lit, walls cluttered with crime scene photos and a definitely a place for business. The mise en scène in Chiltern’s office is motivated by one modern angle poise lamp and an old fashioned standard lamp. The desk has a few functional items but nothing to suggest that this is a modern office. It feels dark. The wood panelled walls are as old as Chiltern’s patter and dated brown suit. The close up of Chiltern establishes the grinning, mocking tone he has for Starling who he recognises as a ‘rookie’. The camera cuts to a medium shot of Starling from Chiltern’s point of view confirming his opinion. It also serves to emphasise the distance between them as does her ‘cluttered’ awkward stance. He flatters her, a close up from below his eye line showing his confident, sycophantic grin. The reverse shot, another close up shows her meeting his gaze. She may be new to the...
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