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The Silence Of The Lambs (free)

  • Central Library 201 West Mifflin Street Madison, WI, 53703 United States (map)

It puts the lotion on its skin... Info

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The late director Jonathan Demme left behind an astonishing range of work, from the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense to a documentary about Jimmy Carter to a 2004 update on The Manchurian Candidate to a couple episodes of the entrancingly gloomy police procedural The Killing. Demme had a way of balancing that versatility with mastery, and there are few better examples of that tha 1991's The Silence Of The Lambs, which plays like the work of someone who'd been making brutally taut serial-killer tales for decades. (Granted, anyone who experienced the whiplash third act of 1986's Something Wild couldn't have been completely surprised.) The film's treatment of gender identity issues has always been a problem, yet it also holds up as one of cinema's greatest thrillers.

Anthony Hopkins' performance as incarcerated serial killer Hannibal Lecter has launched a million creepy slurping impersonations and brilliantly layers a macabre humor into the film's exploration of the obsession and damage that motivate people to torture and murder others in all manner of crazily specific ways. But it's Jodie Foster who still gives the film its thematic backbone, as a rookie FBI agent hoping that Lecter can provide her with the insight that will help her catch another serial killer, nicknamed "Buffalo Bill" (Ted Levine). Agent Clarice Starling is young but not naive, and faces down the depths of human depravity with a steely resolve, even as Lecter cruelly toys with her and manipulates her into confronting her own traumatic memories. Demme turns all this into a richly detailed film—complete with a subplot about death's head moths and setpieces that capture Dr. Lecter's elegant brand of cannibalistic malice—that still makes most other films and TV shows about serial killers feel a little cheap in comparison. —Scott Gordon