The Silence of the Lambs

Orion Pictures presents The Silence of the Lambs

“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”

dividerWhen a young FBI cadet named Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is pulled from her training at Quantico to assist in the Buffalo Bill serial murder case, she is irrevocably placed in the path of Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins).  Famous in his own right for killing then eating his victims, Lecter takes a shine to Starling, putting in motion a dangerous game.  Quid pro quo.

Also starring Scott Glenn as Starling’s boss and teacher, Jack Crawford, Anthony Heald as Dr. Chilton, Kasi Lemmons as Starling’s friend and classmate, Ardelia, Ted Levine as Buffalo Bill/Jame Gumb, and Brooke Smith as Catherine Martin.  The Silence of the Lambs was adapted by Ted Tally from the novel of the same name by Thomas Harris, and directed by Jonathan Demme.

Orion Pictures presents The Silence of the Lambs

When The Silence of the Lambs arrived in theaters, on Valentine’s Day 1991, we got our first taste of not only one of film’s strongest female leads and heroes embodied in Foster’s Clarice Starling, but also one of its most memorable villains, Dr. Hannibal Lecter.  The Silence of the Lambs created indelible images that would forever change the way the world looked at fava beans, women in service, and psychiatry.

A taut, suspenseful, intricate tale of transformation, The Silence of the Lambs took the audience into some truly dark corners.  Only through the lens of hindsight is it strange that not everyone liked the film, and that some downright deplored it.

Orion Pictures presents The Silence of the Lambs


Gene Siskel, the reknown film critic who shared a seat next to the man, Roger Ebert, as Siskel & Ebert went to the movies, hated the film.

“A depressingly brutal thriller,” Siskel said, leading him to wonder why and how its cast of talent came to be involved.  So, too, was the film protested by members of the LGBT community who felt the depiction of transvestism in the movie implied that those who dress up as women must be sick and deranged.

I would remind them that Buffalo Bill (Levine) is not the only homicidal character in the film.  And while there has been debate over the sexuality of Dr. Lecter, most evidence points to a heterosexual leaning.  Do you see (…my Red Dragon reference)?  Thomas Harris believes in equality.  Everyone has an equal right to be a nutter.


Personally, I hold the belief that inclusion of any kind is a step forward – it shows, if anything, that we (members of the LGBT community) are as messed up, crazy, boring, normal, awesome, beautiful, freaky, or downright twisted as anyone else.  Which we are.  In the struggle for acceptance, sometimes too much importance is placed on that first step, the first depictions of who we are, as if they will somehow become insurmountable by any future depiction.

Basic Instinct fell under similar fire the following year when gay rights activists protested the film.  As a fledgling lesbian myself at the time, just being able to see Catherine Trammell (played by Sharon Stone) kiss another woman onscreen put me over the moon.

Visibility, my friends, matters.  Being on the radar, matters.  Without it, we are invisible, voiceless, powerless.  And there is no arguing that The Silence of the Lambs started a dialogue.

Orion Pictures presents The Silence of the Lambs

As for the atmosphere, direction, performances, and storytelling of The Silence of the Lambs, one thing is certain.  The film is special.  More than 20 years later, the characters and story continue to pervade our culture.  The Silence of the Lambs has been referenced in countless media outlets from Family Guy, 30 Rock, South Park, to Friends.

The Silence of the Lambs embodies a kind of intimacy rarely found in films of the horror genre.  Make no mistake, The Silence of the Lambs is a horror film, preying and playing on your most primal fears.

Director Jonathan Demme carefully chose to use close-ups, relying heavily on point of view (POV) camerawork whenever a character is speaking to Starling.  This added to the psychologically intense nature of Starling’s dealings with her boss and mentor, Jack Crawford, and her chilling exchanges with Lecter.  These POV shots became the most important method for bringing the audience into the story, engaging them so they no longer felt like passive observers.  Brilliant in its simplicity and effectiveness.

When Lecter is speaking to Starling, it’s you he’s looking at.

Orion Pictures presents The Silence of the Lambs

The film opens with Starling on the obstacle course, a change to the original script suggested by Foster.  She is a trainee, a cadet, a caterpillar if you will (the metaphor is a bit heavy handed, I realize).  As the film progresses, we see Starling working through her training until finally, as her investigation leads her to Buffalo Bill, she is fully transformed into the instrument of justice she has longed to become.

This motif of transformation in the The Silence of the Lambs also creates a certain sensitivity within the audience.  You care about Starling when she bursts into Buffalo Bill’s hidden lair because, somewhere in the back of your mind, you remember she was “shot and killed” during a training exercise for failing to check her corners.

What makes The Silence of the Lambs such a chilling film, has surprisingly little to do with violence depicted onscreen; although there is plenty of it.  As an audience member, you are forced to look Lecter, and then Buffalo Bill, in the eye, to face their insanity and their true natures.  It’s a one of a kind experience.

You must face evil and, in turn, that evil will face you.

A must-see.


Fun Facts

Silence of the Lambs is one of only a handful of films that have won the Academy Awards “Big Five”: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Hopkins), Best Actress (Foster), and Best Adapted Screenplay/Writing (Tally).[1]  As of 2013, the only other two films to achieve this were It Happened One Night (1934) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.[2]

Anthony Hopkins, whose turn as Hannibal the Cannibal chilled audiences and became synonymous with The Silence of the Lambs, is only onscreen for 16 minutes of the film’s 118.  It’s the shortest Academy Award winning lead role. [2]

Master of horror George A. Romero has a brief cameo in the film, as does Roger Corman and Jonathan Demme. [2]

Orion Pictures presents The Silence of the Lambs

Clarice Starling was chosen by the American Film Institution as the sixth greatest film hero (out of fifty), the highest ranked female on the list; Hannibal Lecter was chosen as the #1 greatest film villain (also out of fifty). [3]

Before this movie, only two other horror films were ever so much as nominated for a Best Picture (The Exorcist and Jaws). As of 2010, The Silence of the Lambs remains the only horror film to win an Oscar for Best Picture. [3]

Selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry in December 2011 as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” [3]


Did get it right?

1.) Yes.   Always do your best to be polite.  You never know whom you may be … testing.

2.) Yes.  Three words: Night. Vision. Goggles.

3.) Yes.  Serial killers.  Cannibals.  Kidnapping.  Mental institutions.  Heads in jars.  Moths.  Trying to get ahead in a man’s world.  I mean, come on.  The Silence of the Lambs has everything.




Silence of the Lambs – the Inside Story:

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Wiki facts: The Silence of the Lambs

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Watch or buy The Silence of the Lambs on Amazon

Check out the book The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

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[1] “The Silence of the Lambs (film)” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 15 Feb. 2013. Web.  Feb. 2013. <>

[2] “Movie Trivia: The Silence of the Lambs” Neatorama. 22 Feb. 2009. Web.  Feb. 2013. <>

[3] “The Silence of the Lambs: Did You Know?” Internet Movie Database. Unknown. Web.  Feb. 2013. <>


One response to “The Silence of the Lambs

  1. Pingback: The List to End All Horror Film Lists | c.taylor·

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