The silence of the lambs
The Silence Of The Lambs is a horror/thriller movie which can also be categorized under the genre of crime and drama. It was released in 1991 starring two time Academy Award winner Jodie Foster who plays FBI agent Clarice Starling and Academy Award winner Sir Anthony Hopkins who plays the psychopath Dr. Hannibal Lecter.The film was directed by Jonathan Demme and won five Academy Awards including Best Picture. The purpose of this textual analysis is to show and focus on a four minute sequence from the film already mentioned. It will also be crucial to explain how semiotics are used in this sequence of The Silence of the Lambs. I will also make connections from the sequence regarding the symbol, index and the icon. Finally, I will use this textual analysis to break down the sequence as film as text.
The sequence begins with non diegetic sound as slow, calm music can be heard coming out from a radio but it sounds like a piano playing, this is without a doubt poetic language as we think of music as an arts and art is taught within the school system worldwide. Then, we see beautiful artwork designed by Dr. Lecter of different portraits of FBI agent Clarice Starling. There are several drawings on a table and the soothing music playing in he background continues throughout the sequence.
An establishing shot has been used to reveal the location. It shows Dr. Hannibal Lecter in a cell while in prison of course. There is a Plan American shot, also known to as American Shot which reveals Dr. Lecter’s hand holding a small piece of gold metal, which in this case this will be classified as a symbol. It is an American Shot since it is framed from about the knees up. (Pg. 246, film studies a global introduction) The sequence from the film that I will be analyzing is placed on the following format within the film itself 01:14:14–01:18:23. The sequence starts with music playing from a radio and it sounds like classical music or almost of a piano playing. There is a medium long shot of the objects on the table, the radio and some pencil drawings of FBI agent Clarice Starling. There is also continuity editing throughout this part of the sequence. Later, officers Boyle and Pembry bring Lecter a second dinner, lamb chops, extra rare. There is another medium long shot of the tray and the food on that tray and also an American shot of the two officers. They call Lecter out; “Ready when you are, doc.” He asks for a moment. From his mouth, he ejects a small piece of gold metal, gleaned from Chilton’s gold pen, which in this case will be the symbol and we see this through an extreme close-up because only a portion of his face occupies the frame. The two wardens ask him to sit backwards against the bars of his metal cage, which in this case will be the icon and also s symbol since Dr. Lecter lives in it because he is s cannibal and a very dangerous person. It is a symbol because it let us know that you must have done something bad to be contained that way.The sequence proceeds with a close up of one of the officers handcuffing Lecter. As soon as they do and move to bring in his second meal, he goes to work on the lock of his cuffs with the little metal piece, unnoticed, this is a medium long shot. The two wardens open the door to the cell and walk inside, one with his plate of food. Boyle, seeing Lecter’s drawings cover the table along with a copy of Bon Apetit, places the food tray on the floor, there is continuity editing as well.
Then he rolls up his drawings. Boyle reaches down for the plate of food sitting next to Lecter, who slaps one handcuff on Boyle and the other quickly to one of the bars, resulting in a close-up. Boyle yells a warning, but is too late. Lecter slams the gate on Pembry. Lecter bites Pembry, then sprays mace into his eyes, resulting in another close-up. Once incapacitated, Lecter kills Boyle with a police baton. Pembry struggles across the floor and Lecter grabs a pocket knife from Boyle. “Ready when you are, Sergeant Pembry” says Lecter.
Semiotics are used heavily in ‘Silence of the lambs.’ The first semiotic that was drawn to my attention was the presence of the FBI and law enforcement throughout the film and this sequence itself. The first person in the film to speak is an FBI agent. We know this as he is wearing an FBI outfit and hat, in black with white bold writing, standing out so the viewer acknowledges this. Also the use of law enforcement during the sequence shows already the danger and complexity of the film itself. This tells viewers that the FBI and the police department play a major part in this film; and as the FBI are generally associated with safety and protecting the public, it suggests that the film will contain some sort of crime and action sequence. This relates to the horror genre as the FBI are known to associate with horrific unsolved murders.
As we have already learned Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols as elements of communicative behaviour; the analysis of systems of communication, as language, gestures, or clothing. The importance of signs and signification are undoubtedly important for human kind, as we can see evidence of their existence throughout our history of evolution.
Another very important use of semiotic used after the sequence which is worth mentioning, is the cross. After Hannibal kills the security guard, he positions him on a cross, suggesting religion and perhaps that Hannibal feels ‘God like.’ This shows that he is powerful as Christianity is very powerful.
The use of the MIse-en-scene in this sequence can be found on the different props and staging used when we encounter the first shot of the clip and realize there is a cell or a prison, a table, pencil drawings and even a white curtain which later reveals Dr. Lecter wearing a white prison shirt and pants. There is also very good use of makeup, especially on Lecter’s face and there is also use of visual props like the fake blood. The lightning is bright and it is always focusing towards Dr. Lecter. It makes him look smart and clever.The punctum in this sequence occurs during the attack of course. The savage and brutal attack from Sr. Lecter towards the law enforcement officers. It is perhaps the climax of this sequence since you can literally jump from the perfect attack by Dr. Lecter.
Written by Felipe Medina
Link to the four minute clip: