“Well, Clarice – have the lambs stopped screaming? “
Believe it or not Anthony Hopkins is in this 2 hour movie for only 16 minutes. Only 16 minutes of Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter. A slight bit over one eighth of the film. But he seems to be in every scene. And what makes him so creepy is how oddly polite he is, even when being horrifically evil his demeanor is always calm and somehow considerate. What is so frightening about Lecter is that he isn’t easily placed in a box. He isn’t the devil who is evil for the sake of evil, all the violence he commits in the film is directed with the goal of achieving freedom (not that this makes it forgivable, but it isn’t evil for evil’s sake). He’s not a psychopath (like the other serial killer in this film) who acts in an irrational manner he’s quite rational in everything he does. He’s not a sociopath as he seems to have great empathy for Clarice, wanting to help silence her inner demons (although he replaced the screaming of the lambs in her mind, so I’m not sure if that’s a step forward). As Clarice says “They don’t have a name for what he is” because something as self-contradictory as Lecter doesn’t, probably can’t exist, but the fact that we can’t wrap our minds around the layers of contradictions that define Lecter is what makes him so disturbing. (Harris did a great disservice to his character with the back-story that tried to explain Hannibal in “Hannibal Rising.” He was far more horrifying when we couldn’t understand him).
I remember seeing this movie when it first came to VHS (just spelling those letters seems so long ago) at the time it was the most disturbing thing I had ever seen…it’s sad that re-watching it now it comes off as tame compared to some of the movies that come out now (which is a sad statement about how Hollywood has degraded into just cheap thrills).
There are no more supernatural monsters in this list…why? Because the supernatural in many ways is comforting, it allows an excuse for the terrible things they do, they’re just that way…but human beings being that perverse…that’s so much more frightening. We may not ever see the likes of Hannibal the Cannibal in real life, but there are sadly just a few too many in the vein of Buffalo Bill for comfort and that’s what makes this movie so terrifying an evil we can’t understand and one we can understand all too well…
…and that’s also why we like Clarice she is willing to both stare in to the abyss, let it stare into her, and not become the monster she fights…
Up tomorrow…well, we all go a little mad sometimes… followed of course by the single greatest Halloween movie ever made. The one movie that no Halloween is complete without…
“Philosophy failed. Religion failed. Now it’s up to the physical sciences.”
Like most scientists in horror films the characters of Flatliners think that science can reveal everything, damn the consequences…
…and be it a sci fi or horror movie that always works really well.
The movie posters had the rather cheesy catch phrase “Some lines shouldn’t be crossed.” (Terrible pun). But this goes to the heart of an the issue of should science have boundaries. And as so many horror stories came out of the Romantic era it will always be tied to the Romantic’s distrust of the arrogance of science to find all answers. And they’re not entirely wrong. The history of science, while a great story of the progress and advancement of the human race, has these dark side notes of human experimentation and only considering the consequence of one’s actions only after the fact (Oppenheimer…”I am become death…”). We see it in Frankenstein. We saw it in The Island of Dr. Moreau. We saw it throughout the X-files, Fringe, Outer Limits, Fringe, and the Twilight Zone and a dozen other stories, movies and TV shows. They’re cautionary tales to remind people that science has always been and always will be a double edged sword that when misused or misunderstood can do far more damage than good. And the idea of killing yourself to scientifically see what’s on the other side of death does seem to be one of those lines science shouldn’t be so eager to go past.
In this case how would you like all of your worst sins and things your regret come back not just as memories but as tangible, physical things to torment and torture. I assume for many of us this would be a nightmare…more so for the highly flawed characters of this movie.
Now, somewhere between being a cool vampire and being the most deadly force in the history of counter-terrorism, Kieffer Sutherland played the rather arrogant and guilt-ridden character of Nelson. This character was the driving force behind these experiments of Flatliners, Nelson, is also the one most tied to death. He claims he has no fear of what is on the other side and it is just pure curiosity on his part, but he is also suffering from the buried guilt of having killed someone in his youth. In fact you find that the only other character so interested in the experiments is Julia Robert’s character, who also lost someone to death, shows that their desire to know about death isn’t curiosity, it is very much the fear of not knowing what death it.
The fear of death is often tied to the fear of being judged for your actions (it’s sad people have such a limited view of God they think he is so willing to damn you). And that is what ties each of the characters of Flatliners together. Whether what happened was their fault or not, whether it was major or minor, they felt guilty about it and in this film their guilt became a physical manifestation. Now I don’t know if the writers were intentionally going for this or it’s just an interesting parallel, but this does partially match up to the idea that when you die you review your life and you the parts that you review in most detail are the ones that you are most emotionally tied to…and there are few emotions stronger than guilt. It also seems to parallel the Buddhist idea that in the afterlife one of the things you will face is the karmic consequences of your actions and if you can’t move past these (move past the guilt) then you will be forced to live through the karmic consequences of those actions in your next life (but this may be reading too much into the screenwriter’s intent).
Whatever the actual purpose the writer and director were attempting to bring out about the nature of the afterlife, they do have a fairly clear point that the way out is not death but forgiveness.