Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Psychopathy: A New Ambition

Greetings and salutations. Yes, my writing frequency has dreadfully declined to a major low. Logging into my Google account, I saw the viewership line-graph go from high to low. That was not easy to see, but I am not too bothered by it. Please do not consider this my retirement--boy, shouldn't have opened with that--but as a disclosure of my new calling. Rather than becoming a film critic as previously planned, I have a new career path in mind: criminal psychology. Compelling change of pace, I realize that, but it is something that I am undoubtedly passionate about. I came upon this stunning revelation after watching one of the most renowned films of all-time The Silence of the Lambs. Shocking that I am watching it for the first time, isn't it? Well, I've been told by my dad that it did not live up to the hype. While he was partially correct, in that it certainly does not live up to the hype, the film did push me towards accepting my fate in the world, as well as helping me settle on a major for college. For old times sakes, I think I'll critique the lauded picture.

The Silence of the Lambs, as many are already aware, has been deemed the greatest suspense of all time, trumping such marvelous films as The Shining and a little unknown gem called Running Scared, starring Paul Walker and Vera Farmiga. (Seriously, look that baby up. Yeah, baby.) It has won numerous accolades, including Best Picture (stealing from Bugsy) and Best Actor for Anthony Hopkins (again, stealing from Warren Beatty for Bugsy). The film holds the prestigious honor for the top villain in film by the American Film Institute, the recipient being Anthony Hopkins for his mediocre portrayal of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. More on that later. The film itself was nothing extraordinary, in today's terms at least. Considering the time in which it was released, I suppose that it was pretty ground-breaking, since the last major thriller to get Oscar prestige was The Exorcist. Gag. Other thrillers of that geeky 1970s era include Jaws (another Oscar nominee), The Omen (which does have a truly frightening premise, I'll admit), Carrie, and Halloween. Beyond that, more of these gory, sensationalistic "slasher fests" terrified audiences with their red-paint blood and creepy mascots of fear, such as Michael Myers and Leatherface. These were, in no way, truly haunting, for they did not really leave a mark on the minds of viewers. The only Master of Horror prior to 1991 was Sir Alfred Hitchcock, but even his films have an element of fantasy that viewers realize and therefore do not dread. (Aside from Psycho, the absolute top film on AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills list. That shower scene....) Indeed, until the release of The Silence of the Lambs, ordinary moviegoers did not shiver in genuine fear as they beheld the silver screen.
The film introduced a new brand of villainy and suspense to the world, that of the psyches of serial killers. Ah, the serial killer. Here is where my newfound path begins. I am absolutely mesmerized by these ghoulish fiends to humanity and to society. Criminals who take pleasure in mutilating their victims; who prey on innocent people that are just living through their day-to-day routines; and those who show no remorse for their awful deeds. It's a chilling, twisted experience to read about these people on Wikipedia, every detail of their spree engaging me more and more into this field of the human psyche. Hence, psychology. Hence, my desire to pursue this interest in the form of a career and a way to make money. Ka-ching, if you know what I mean. Anyway, the serial killer is the most sadistic, horrifying villains to be depicted on the screen, in my opinion, and when I heard that Hannibal Lecter was the villain of that sort, well, I became intrigued. Aroused, even. (Not really. That would be weird.)

Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter. Renowned doctor of psychiatry and intellectual extraordinaire. He induces fear and uncomfortable ecstasy into those who stimulates him. Uncomfortable ecstasy is my way of describing the inherent interest in the serial killer; that strange curiosity into their manner that is challenged when being in their presence. Sure, I find Charles Manson interesting, but I wouldn't be too keen on sitting in front of him, even if there is glass between us. (He is currently serving a life sentence in California State Prison in Corcoran, if you want to visit him.) Interviewing serial killers is not a breezy feat--that is, a feat you can breeze through without mental and emotional difficulty--though Special Agent Clarice Starling seems up to the challenge.
Portrayed by Jodie Foster, an actress I've come to respect on account of her sweet devotion to Mel Gibson who is a great actor despite ongoing denunciations, Clarice Starling is the typical "woman in a man's world", that world being the dangerous one of crime and the FBI. Female body inspector? Get out of town, that's outrageous. As a suspected member of the homosexual community, Jodie Foster applies a serious, sex-less demeanor to the role quite well, remaining completely professional in every instance of her investigation. Unlike most feministic characters, I am not annoyed by Clarice, in fact I am inspired by her. (New career path? She's my role model.) Her performance is one of solemn competence, giving off the persona of a federal agent, with a disturbing agenda, determined to uncover every aspect of every detail to catch her criminal. The criminal, as I once thought, is not Hannibal Lecter. He is already apprehended, interestingly enough, and he is the subject of Clarice's research into the actual killer-at-large. His name is Jame "Buffalo Bill" Gumb. And he is truly terrifying. Back to the "real" villain here, Hannibal Lecter did not appear as perverse and demented as I had expected. Eating people, albeit demented, is not as gruesome as, say, skinning people and wearing them, which is what--spoiler alert--Buffalo Bill does.
As for the personality and behavior of Hannibal Lecter, all I can say for flattery is that Anthony Hopkins did a good job. That isn't much flattery, mind you. Sure, he pulls off that creepy vibe honed by serial killers of his breed, but to be named the greatest cinematic villain and receive immense praise is uncalled for. I found Warren Beatty's insane portrayal of Bugsy far more compelling. Also, relating to the Oscars, Anthony Hopkins received the statuette for a mere [blank] minutes in the movie--a disappointing, in terms of expectations, few minutes. If anything, he should have been Best Supporting. There should be a rule for what constitutes a leading role and supporting role, like a time limit. Why is there no such rule? I'd also like to mention that, while Anthony Hopkins's performance may have been captivating and brilliant twenty years ago, it no longer has that impressive gleam to it now; Warren Beatty's performance, however, remains the fantastic performance it was then. That, my dear, is the director's commitment to the audience: to make a film that endures throughout time, unaffected by changes in society or general viewpoints.

My, I am just jumping from one factor to another. As for the true villain of Silence of the Lambs, Buffalo Bill clearly surpasses the Cannibal in terms of psychosis and modus operandi. He is played by Ted Levine, who is singularly well-known for this role, and the relatively unknown actor is superb. Since I am so intrigued by the methods and executions of serial killers, I'll describe them. Like the infamous Ted Bundy, he pretends to be handicapped in order to lure his victims into his ominous van. These victims are, generally, overweight and female. Once he captures them, he imprisons them in his cavernous basement, trapped in a deep pit with negligible care. He keeps them there for several days before skinning them alive, which, obviously, kills them. His reason for murdering these overweight girls is to create a human-flesh body suit that he would wear, and, ultimately, to become a woman. Most serial killers suffer from severe mental disorders, so what Buffalo Bill clearly has a problem with is his identity, who he is. Unhappy with his male persona, he believes he can be happy as a woman. To carry out this mission to joy, he skins women with extra skin. In the film, he does actually fashion his flesh suit-in-progress, which is, truly, a scene to behold and abhor. That is the work of adept horror filmmaking. Not only does this disturb on a physical level, but on a psychological level as well. Ted Levine portrays Buffalo Bill flawlessly, emitting a certain redneck "charm" that is common among deeply troubled criminals and murderers. I consider him the true villain of the movie because of what he does, in reality, on the screen--rarely have I seen such twisted horror in a film. With Hannibal Lecter, on the other hand, what he does is only hinted at, for the most part. Of course, there is the scene where he attacks two guards, beginning his feast of flesh. Although it is startling, I find Buffalo Bill to be a tad more sadistic and more worthy of the acclaim. (Not even a Supporting nod? Come on, Academy.) Also, it seems that Hannibal Lecter chooses his victims based on their manners and etiquette. He kills only those who are openly rude and disrespectful, such as the prisoner who makes lewd gestures to his beloved Clarice. This judgement, as always, is a matter of opinion. Though I must admit that, when Hannibal hisses Clarice's name, I do get chills.

Unrealized triumph--a Best Actor, robbed.
Warren Beatty in Bugsy


Completely unrelated note: Anthony Hopkins once said, regarding Shirley MacLaine, that she is "the most obnoxious actress I've ever worked with". Interesting, yes?

As much of a success Silence of the Lambs was, it is only customary that there be a sequel, and perhaps even a prequel, to further explore the mind of Hannibal Lecter. In the sequel, Hannibal, Clarice and he meet again. Only this time, instead of Jodie Foster, it's Julianne Moore. Strange and disconcerting as it is, the film immediately lost some appeal. To change such an iconic character is very frustrating, especially to the many admirers of Silence of the Lambs. I wasn't that impressed by it, but even I found it difficult to watch Hannibal. The plot is not as engrossing as with Buffalo Bill, but it is, nevertheless, adequate. Hannibal Lecter, escaped from the confines of prison, is residing in Italy, where he continues to satisfy his appetite for human flesh, I assume. The main idea revolve around Mason Verger (played by an unrecognizable Gary Oldman) who once encountered Dr. Lecter, and, as a result, he no longer has a face. Hannibal forced him to cut off his face and feed it to his dogs. Allow me to reiterate: He cut off his own face and fed it to his dogs. Does this make Hannibal Lecter the greatest villain, you may ask? It does not because Mason Verger was a pedophile, which I consider to be one of the worst crimes to be guilty of. Therefore, Hannibal was doing justice, making him, not a villain, but some sort of anti-hero. Once again, Hannibal is trumped by a supporting maniac.

What's different in this film, in addition to everything else, is the relationship between Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling. While in Silence of the Lambs the two shared an eerie bond that formed out of each of their own mutual curiosities, Hannibal depicts them as being star-crossed lovers, in a way. It's as if Hannibal is actually in love with her, not sadistically, but affectionately so. They even share a kiss on screen. Eww. It was an unusual, and unwelcome, twist in the story, one that I was not fond of. Ray Liotta co-stars in the film--whatever happened to him?--as Clarice's colleague who "has 'it' in for her" but really looks down on her because she is a "woman in a man's world". I thought I should bring up his appearance in the film, for he is the center of one of the most gruesome, graphic displays I've ever seen on the screen. Warning for spoilers: Hannibal sedates him, allowing him to cut open his head and cook pieces of his brain. And feeds those cooked pieces to Ray Liotta himself. Even retelling this triggers acid reflux and head pains. The horror.


I prefer Silence of the Lambs, as many definitely do, because it is more subtle and tasteful when it comes to the macabre genre. Hannibal Lecter is more eloquent, refined, and sadistic there. Clarice Starling is Jodie Foster. Buffalo Bill is unquestionably superior to Mason Verger, as great a villain Gary Oldman is. And the entire films as a concept is more appealing to me in terms of psychology. Because of Silence of the Lambs, I have the motivation and desire to fulfill the possibility of becoming a criminal psychologist/psychiatrist.

I certainly hope I brightened your evenings with this post. Mine sure was. Even though I have a new ambition for the future, I will continue to write on this here blog. And although I seem to be writing only once or twice a month, I do enjoy it when I do. Write. With my final year in high school approaching, I only hope that I can write as often as I possibly can. College application time is stressful. I should have worked on that rather than share my plans with you, but it was refreshing to write about movies. I still watch several movies a week. When I'm not watching movies or planning for the future? Previously on Desperate Housewives....

2 comments:

  1. I hope this prolonged absence isn't going to be permanent.
    You're a goddess and the blogosphere is a poorer place without you!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nice Movie, thaks for share

    ReplyDelete