REVIEW: The Silence of the Lambs

Every so often, the Michigan or State Theater will screen a classic— last Thursday, it was The Silence of the Lambs, the quintessential 1991 psychological horror, directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. I went into the screening without any expectations, knowing only that the film involved a cannibalistic serial killer fittingly named Hannibal and I could probably expect gore. The horror was done incredibly well, but the genius of The Silence of the Lambs is that the gore and terror of murder were only a fraction of the film’s emotional appeal. Demme fills each scene with the psychological unease of reality as the story follows an FBI trainee, Clarice, who is constantly shown to be looked down upon or disrespected because she is a woman. The script declares this outright with creepy remarks from higher-ups and even from Hannibal himself, but this is also accomplished with careful framing: throughout the movie, close-ups force us to stare into the eyes of men as Clarice sees them, hauntingly blank or grotesquely hungry, eyes either pointing condescendingly down at the camera or unnervingly straight into our own. Clarice is often alone, often being hit on or disregarded by serial killers and FBI agents alike, and cannot avoid it despite her skillful maneuvering of misogynistic encounters. This inspires a very real fear rooted in our awareness of her vulnerability. We’re quick to doubt the intentions of the film’s men— which is where the character of Hannibal becomes complicated, who should be the easiest to distrust.

Clarice and Hannibal are expertly crafted, and their relationship keeps us on our toes. Close-ups of Hannibal, played perfectly by Anthony Hopkins, reveal his sunken features, his icy and unblinking stare, and the sense that every word is part of a secret, sinister plan; close-ups of Clarice reveal unwavering confidence and sly intelligence. The interrogation scenes between the two are laden with tension and electricity, the investigation unfolding to be double-sided as Hannibal and Clarice race to break each other down. As the film progresses, this relationship becomes tangled and unclear; despite being the most clearly deranged and untrustable character, Hannibal treats Clarice with more respect and curiosity than the rest of her peers. The psychological horror of the film lives largely in this relationship as we struggle to decode Hannibal’s intentions and predict his next move.

The Silence of the Lambs is evenly polished: the score is haunting but not overbearing, each scene is intentional, and moments of crude humor balance the gore. I can see how this film earned so many awards and became a classic— it has a cinematic simplicity familiar to the 90s, attaining the perfect balance of explaining some while leaving some to the imagination. Besides the more fast-paced third act, our fear relies on insinuations about what happened or what’s going to happen, close shots of corpses and bloody nail marks down a wall. The only point of the film that left a sour taste in my mouth was the film’s handling of Buffalo Bill, a serial killer who believes he is transgender and who multiple characters claim isn’t truly transgender, but rather psychologically confused and tormented on a more complex level. As much as Buffalo Bill is distanced from the transgender community, described as obsessed with transformation and envious destruction rather than conventions of gender, his portrayal aligns too closely with common stereotypes about transgender women being deceitful predators. The social commentary is fitting for the time of its release, and it is nuanced, but given this film’s insane popularity, it’s inevitable that some audiences would fit this portrayal into pre-existing biases and fail to critically analyze the character.

I loved the experience of watching this movie for the first time in a small theater; the audience was visibly excited, gasping at gory shots and laughing at absurd one-liners. The big screen amplified the intensity of close-ups and the architecture of the old theater amplified the nostalgia of the early 90s. Keep your eyes peeled for the next screening of a cult classic in downtown Ann Arbor, and keep a weekend night open so you can catch one; student tickets are only $8.50!

REVIEW: Fight Club

On yet another numbingly cold night in Ann Arbor, the Michigan Theatre stood dazzlingly bright amongst the empty streets, promising warmth and the excitement of another cult classic in its Late Nights at the Michigan series. If you have a pulse and live in America, you either know about Fight Club or you’ve seen it. Regarded as David Fincher’s directorial masterpiece, or at least undeniably his most popular film, the 1999 dramatic thriller offers everything that other films don’t: a seemingly insane and ripped Brad Pitt, a smoker who attends meetings for cancer patients, and a plot twist that leaves you analyzing every scene of the film for days on end. The plot can’t be explained without ruining the fun, but be aware that every scene packs a punch and leaves you breathless.

Also revered for Gone Girl and The Social Network, David Fincher’s distinct style is what makes Fight Club a masterpiece. Sharp monologues and witty dialogue inject life into the characters, somehow sculpting believable people that are so bizarre and morally corrupt that the concept of hero versus villain goes out the window. Once you become fully invested in the unpredictable lives of these troubled people, Fincher draws you in with clever shots and action sequences, balancing bloody fists with genius cinematography and a bold anti-capitalist war cry. The plot never stays in one place, constantly escalating and spinning, but the ride is exhilarating and somewhat relieved by clever deadpan humor. Each shot is a stunning puzzle that offers perfectly placed hints.  Fight Club is a total psychological riddle garnished with tasteful edginess and outright fury— a dangerous recipe that Fincher does best.

My admiration grows with each movie screening I attend at the Michigan Theatre. Historic and timelessly elegant, the theatre somehow still feels cozy, offering a sense of community through the collective anticipation that all moviegoers feel. There is something especially magical about an energized group experience in the midst of a lonesome pandemic. Throngs of students chatting and munching popcorn on a weekend night is an almost forgotten spectacle. The Michigan Theatre’s elaborate COVID-19 precautions ensure that the experience is free of anxiety, allowing a couple of hours of carefree escapism into a world untainted by COVID numbers and homework deadlines. If you find yourself longing for a temporary vacation from the burdens of college life, or you’re noticing that your Friday nights could use more excitement, check out the Late Nights at the Michigan series. Upcoming screenings include Princess Mononoke, Star Wars: Episode II, and The Princess Bride. Student tickets are only $8.50, so get them while you can!

PREVIEW: Schwarze Adler (Black Eagles)

Tomorrow afternoon, you could kick off the weekend as I usually do — plant yourself down at the library and glue your eyeballs to your laptop screen for two hours.

ALTERNATELY, you could plant yourself down in a comfy chair in the neat North Quad collaborative space and glue your eyeballs to a different screen to live and learn through the experiences of Black players on the German national soccer team.

UM’s German department is hosting a curated screening of the 2021 documentary film “Schwarze Adler” or “Black Eagles” tomorrow from 2-4PM in North Quad 2435.

“The documentary lets black players of the German national soccer team tell their personal stories for the first time. What road did they take and what obstacles did they have to overcome before they got to where we cheer for them?”

As we head into a weekend of events celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, I strongly encourage you to make time to reflect on the values that drove his and countless other lesser-mentioned civil rights leaders to fight inequities in their community, and how you are upholding those values.

I think we can all agree that working and living as an athlete is extremely challenging. There are a heap of pressures riding on these people’s backs: the internal drive to win, press and media attention, and the demands of your coach and teammates. It’s stressful at all levels, from high school to the NCAA to the pro leagues.

Those pressures are multiplied for athletes of color, who are often dehumanized. In the U.S. today, Black athletes are dogged by stereotypes that chalk their talent up to “inherent physical ability” rather than the actual years of hard training and practice they put into the game. They have to deal with antiquated competition restrictions that center the needs of their white counterparts (Exhibit A:, and then are shamed for using their platforms to protest their unjust treatment or prioritizing their mental health (ex: Colin Kaepernick, Naomi Osaka). Here’s an interesting history of Black athletes at our very own university:

Now move the map to Germany. The personal stories of these players will likely be entirely different, and yet…similar in some fundamental ways to what we see in our country. What I think will be invaluable about this film is that the soccer players will be telling their own stories directly to the camera — no filtering or watering down included. This will be a thought-provoking way to get out of the U.S-centric perspective bubble I live in.

I hope to see some of you there!

PREVIEW: CSEAS Film Screening–Thai Movie Night. Ploy / ‘พลอย’

It’s always good to break up the tedium of the school week with something a little more interesting than differential equations. Too often we get stuck in the poisonous mindset not just of continuous labor, but of reliance on the same tired relaxants–rewatching The Office for the twentieth time, stress-eating entire loaves of day-old bread from Jimmy Johns, compulsively list-making in your agenda.

This week, expose yourself to something a little different, and a little more mind-enriching: foreign film! As a part of CSEAS’s continuing Thai movie night series, Ploy (2007) will be shown in North Quadrangle’s Video Viewing Room in the Language Resources Center at 7PM this Thursday, September 26th.

The movie follows a couple trapped in a hotel room with a stranger, whose behavior begins to sneakily find cracks in their relationship. It’s a story of the fragility of trust inside the seemingly strong walls of love and marriage, and it leads viewers to wonder whether anything is built to last.

PREVIEW: CMENAS Film Screening: “Rachel”

The first film to kick off a series organized by UMich’s Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies, “Rachel” is the story of a young American woman who was killed tragically while fighting for peace in the Gaza strip. Her death had little coverage in the time it occurred, and though witnesses claimed it was an intentionally committed murder, American and international investigators brushed it under the rug and soon forgot about it. With the poignancy and engagement of a great storyteller, director Simone Bitton does the work that should have been done during her tragic death, showing the injustice of Rachel’s story and the larger Palestinian narrative in which is takes part. You can watch this film on 4:00pm – 6:00pm in Weiser Hall – Room 555. It is a free screening.

PREVIEW: The Wanted 18: Contemporary Cinema from the Islamic World

If you’re interested in the intersection between art and politics, this film screening is just right for you. With tasteful and clever genius, the creators of “Wanted 18” tell the true story of a group of Palestinian civilians that subtly resist Israeli forces who label Palestinian farms “a threat to the national security of the state of Israel.” The Palestinian farmers privately buy 18 cows and produce their own milk; in little time, the cows become local celebrities and a symbol of resistance. This film combines stop motion animation and in-person interview for an intriguing artistic documentary film about the power of grassroots activism. “Wanted 18” premiered in 2014 at the Toronto International Film Festival. You can watch the screening on Tuesday, September 18th at 7 p.m. in East Quadrangle’s Benzinger Library. Entrance is free and the viewing is open to all students!

This screening is also part of a series of movies on contemporary Islamic films: