A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Silence of the Lambs is a horror film that won Best Picture and got condemned by both sides. Family-values advocates like Michael Medved called it too gruesome and disgusting (albeit well made) to deserve the Academy Award. Gay-rights activists said it stereotyped transgender people as freakish monsters. Still, kids may be curious. The movie concerns extreme psychopaths and the graphic atrocities they commit, including references to twisted sexual urges and perversities. Much of the worst violence is offscreen, in autopsy photos or just discussed -- but that's close enough, and we witness some representative brutality and horror near the climax. The murderous psychologist-serial killer Hannibal Lecter is something of a "gentleman" killer, contrasted with the grotesque "Buffalo Bill," who is shown at one point fully nude. There is an oppressive atmosphere of menace, especially towards women.
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What's the story?
In THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), a young, idealistic FBI trainee sent in to consult on a case with Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant but diabolical therapist who's been caged for eight years. Clarice's quarry is a mystery slayer tagged with the nickname "Buffalo Bill," because the victims -- all plus-sized women -- turn up partially skinned. Lecter won't cooperate with the veteran FBI agents on using his Sherlock Holmes-like powers (and some insider info) on figuring out Buffalo Bill's whereabouts. But Clarice appeals to the deadly doctor, who feeds the young woman vital clues in trade for personal details about the wounds in her own past.
Is it any good?
Anthony Hopkins plays Lecter with magisterial authority and aplomb, resulting in a box-office smash that won the Best Picture Oscar and made Hannibal Lecter a much-imitated screen icon. Apart from the visceral suspense and grisly police antics, this film's strength is its girl power; a very sympathetic heroine interacts with the serpentine Lecter and then goes out to fight another human monster, in environments heavy with male-oriented threat and authority (indeed, you can say that the horrendous Lecter treats Clarice with more courtesy and respect than the so-called "normal" men around her). The Silence of the Lambs thus has a complicated sense of virtue and evil coming to bargain with each other.
While the unfortunate consequence glorified a villain in the public mind, the narrative does indeed possess a moral center. Too bad you have to go through the autopsy scenes to reach it.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the heroine Clarise Starling, whose plight is actually the core of the film's drama and humanity (Hannibal Lecter just steals every scene and subplot he's in). She's an ambitious but vulnerable orphan, a young woman trying to persevere in an often- grisly career fighting the worst kind of crime, in an environment dominated by men -- even the "normal" ones are pretty creepy. Why do you think Clarice fascinates Lecter so much?
Does the movie glamorize violence and glorify a villain?
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