Sep 28, 2009

Film Adaptations – Silence of the Lambs

One of the blurbs on the cover of Thomas Harris’ splatterpunk novel, The Silence of the Lambs, came from The Washington Post: “A virtual textbook on the craft of suspense.” I have not found the review that this might have come from, but the quotation is forcefully true.

The Silence of the Lambs is not only a textbook on the genre, but practically ready-made for the screen. If you compare the novel with Ted Tally’s second draft script and finally with the finished movie, you will find nearly perfect fidelity to the novel.

Here and there the director, Jonathan Demme, or Ted Tally made changes. In the script, the opening scene was a hostage training situation at the FBI academy. In the movie, the opening scene is Clarice Starling on a run, giving time for credits and orientation and setting up the metaphor that would persist through the film: Starling in solitary pursuit. (One of the devices used in the story is that Clarice’s solitary work is most successfully supplemented by Lector – she is fed by the kind of darkness which she is trying to eradicate). The novel’s opening scene is much quicker; Starling is already in Crawford’s office. Starling and the reader are thrown into the hellish world of Buffalo Bill and Lector immediately.

The film is another one of those mixtures where known quantities come together at their most potent. Anthony Hopkins is truly terrifying as Hannibal. I was in Boulder, Colorado in 1990 when a killer was on the loose. A lot of people left town. If I had known that Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal was out there, I would have left the country. Add to Mr. Harris’ story Jody Foster, Jonathan Demme, Ted Tally, Scott Glenn and Ted Levine (the poor guy who played Jame Gumb – apparently the role did not help his career), and you have a movie that matches the novel in its power. It was simply not repeated.