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The Silence of the Lambs (film)

The Silence of the Lambs is a 1991 suspense film directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Anthony Heald and Ted Levine. It is based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Harris, his second to feature Dr. Hannibal Lecter, brilliant psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer. In the film, Clarice Starling, a young FBI trainee, seeks the advice of the imprisoned Lecter on catching a serial killer known only as "Buffalo Bill". The film won the top five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Actress.


Promising FBI Academy student Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is attending the FBI Training Facility at Quantico, Virginia when she is summoned by Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) of the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit, who tasks her with presenting a ViCAP questionnaire to the notorious Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), brilliant forensic psychiatrist and incarcerated cannibalistic serial murderer. After learning the assignment relates to the pursuit of vicious serial killer Buffalo Bill, Starling travels to the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane and is led by Dr. Frederick Chilton to Hannibal Lecter, the sophisticated, cultured man restrained behind thick glass panels and windowless stone walls.

Although initially pleasant and courteous, Lecter grows impatient with Starling's attempts at "dissecting" him and viciously rebuffs her. As Starling departs, another patient flings fresh semen onto her face, enraging Lecter. He calls Starling back and offers a riddle containing information about a former patient of his. The solved riddle leads to a storage lot where Starling discovers the severed head of a man. She returns to Lecter, who tells her that the man is Benjamin Raspail, and that he is linked to Buffalo Bill. Lecter denies killing Raspail. He then offers to help profile Buffalo Bill if he is transferred to a facility far from the venomous, careerist Dr. Chilton.

Hours and miles away, Buffalo Bill abducts Catherine Martin, the daughter of United States Senator Ruth Martin. Starling is pulled from Quantico and accompanies Crawford to West Virginia, where the body of another of Bill's victims has been found. Starling helps perform the autopsy and extracts the chrysalis of a Death's-head Hawkmoth from the victim's throat. At Quantico, as news of Catherine Martin's abduction sweeps the country, Crawford authorizes Starling to offer Hannibal Lecter a fake deal promising a prison transfer if he provides information that helps profile Buffalo Bill and rescue Catherine Martin. Instead, Lecter begins a game of quid pro quo with Starling, offering comprehensive clues and insights about Buffalo Bill in exchange for events from Starling's traumatic childhood, something she was advised not to do.

Unaware to both Starling and Lecter, Dr. Chilton tapes the conversation and after revealing Starling's deal as a sham, offers to transfer Lecter in exchange for a deal of his own making. Lecter agrees and is flown to Tennessee where he reveals what he says is Buffalo Bill's real name, physical description and past address to Senator Martin and her entourage of FBI agents and Justice Department officials. He even claims to have met Bill on a one-off occasion and that he was the lover of Benjamin Raspail, the man whose head was found earlier by Starling. Starling quickly deduces that it is all a sham as well and that Lecter is playing games with riddles.

As the manhunt begins, Starling travels to Lecter's special cell in a local Tennessee courthouse, where she confronts him about the false information he gave the Senator. Lecter refuses Starling's pleas for the truth and demands she finish her story surrounding her worst childhood memory. Starling tells of how she was orphaned, went to stay at a relative's farm, discovered the horror of their lamb slaughterhouse and made a fruitless attempt to rescue one of the lambs. Lecter gives her the case files on Buffalo Bill, saying that they are all she needs to find the killer and rescue Catherine Martin. They are then interrupted by Dr. Chilton and the police who escort her out of the building.

Later that evening, Lecter escapes from his cell. The local police storm the floor when they hear gunshots, discovering one guard barely alive and the other disemboweled and strung up on the walls. Paramedics transport the survivor to an ambulance and speed off while a SWAT team searches the building for Lecter. As the team discover a body in the elevator shaft, the survivor in the ambulance peels off his face, revealing Lecter in disguise. He kills the paramedics, murders another man for his papers and money and escapes to the airport.

After being notified of Lecter's escape, Starling pores over her case files, analyzing Lecter's annotations before realizing that the first victim, Frederica Bimmel, knew Bill in real life before he killed her. Starling travels to Bimmel's hometown and discovers that Bimmel was a tailor and has dresses with templates identical to the patches of skin removed from Buffalo Bill's victims. Realizing that Buffalo Bill is a tailor fashioning a "woman suit" of real skin, she telephones Crawford, who is already on the way to make an arrest, having cross-referenced Lecter's notes with Johns Hopkins Hospital and finding a man named James Gumb who once applied for a sex-change operation. Crawford instructs Starling to continue interviewing Bimmel's friends while he leads a SWAT team to Gumb's address in Calumet City, Illinois. Starling's interviews lead to the house of "Jack Gordon," who Starling soon realizes is actually James Gumb, and draws her weapon as Gumb disappears into his multi-room basement. Starling pursues him, discovering a screaming Catherine Martin in the dry well just before the lights in the basement go out, leaving her in complete darkness. Gumb stalks Starling in the dark with night vision goggles and prepares to shoot her when Starling, hearing the cocking of his revolver, spins around and fires several times into the darkness, killing Gumb.

Days later at the FBI Academy graduation party, Starling receives a phone call from Hannibal Lecter who is at an airport in the Bahamas. Lecter assures Starling he has no plans to pursue her and asks her to show him the same courtesy. He then excuses himself, remarking that he's "having an old friend for dinner". He hangs up the phone and casually follows Dr. Chilton through the village.



Michelle Pfeiffer was initially offered the role of Clarice Starling, but turned it down. She has said about her rejection of the part, "that was a difficult decision, but I got nervous about the subject matter." Kim Basinger, Emma Thompson, and Meg Ryan were also considered for the part before it went to Jodie Foster.

Sean Connery was initially offered the role of Hannibal Lecter, but turned it down.

Actor Gene Hackman was originally slated to direct the film, but changed his mind after reading the first screenplay draft done by Ted Tally, supposedly due to the level of violence the script contained.


The Silence of the Lambs was distributed by Orion Pictures; MGM (who bought Orion in 1997) currently holds the rights.

The majority of the film was shot in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania because it has highly variable landscapes and architecture. This variety made it easier to depict many different parts of the country.

Both the scene of Lecter in his cage at the "Memphis Court House" and the Baltimore jail scene were filmed at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh.

None of the action of the film is set by the storyline as being in Pennsylvania, even though the registration stickers on the windshields of all of the vehicles indicate a Pennsylvania residency.


Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster gained overwhelming acclaim with their portrayals of Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling, even though Hopkins' screen time in the entire film is just over 16 minutes. Their respective portrayals won both of them Academy Awards in 1992, and Hopkins' portrayal as of 2008 remains the shortest lead role ever to win an Oscar.

The film received widespread critical acclaim; Rotten Tomatoes records that Silence of the Lambs received a 96% positive response from critics. Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster also received praise for their performances. Roger Ebert specifically mentioned the "terrifying qualities" of Hannibal Lecter.

Box office

Domestic summary:

  • Opening Weekend: $13,766,814 (1,497 theaters)
  • % of total gross: 10.5%
  • Close date: October 10, 1991
  • Total U.S. gross: $130,742,922

Worldwide gross: $272,742,922


Academy Awards record
1. Best Actor, Anthony Hopkins
2. Best Actress, Jodie Foster
3. Best Director, Jonathan Demme
4. Best Picture, Edward Saxon, Kenneth Utt, Ronald M. Bozman
5. Best Adapted Screenplay, Ted Tally
Golden Globe Awards record
1. Best Actress, Jodie Foster
BAFTA Awards record
1. Best Actor, Anthony Hopkins
2. Best Actress, Jodie Foster

Jonathan Demme won an Academy Award for Best Director. Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins both won Oscars for their roles as Clarice Starling and Dr. Hannibal Lecter, respectively. The film won additional Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. The Silence of the Lambs is only the third (and most recent) film to win the five most prestigious Academy Awards (after It Happened One Night, 1934 and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, 1975).

The film is second in the department of most Oscar nominations for a horror film (7) tying the record previously set by Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte in 1964; The Exorcist is in first place with 10 nominations.

Other awards include "best picture" from CHI Awards, the "best film" from PEO Awards, and won Best Film from National Board of Review, all in 1991. In 1991, Jonathan Demme was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for best director. In 1992, Ted Tally received an Edgar Award for Best Motion Picture Screenplay. In 1991 it was nominated for "best film" at the BAFTA Awards (British Academy of Film and Television Arts). In 1998, it was listed as one of the 100 greatest movies in the past 100 years by the American Film Institute.

In 2006 at the Key Art Awards, the original poster for The Silence of the Lambs was named best film poster "of the past 35 years".

The Silence of the Lambs placed 7th on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments. The American Film Institute named Hannibal Lecter as portrayed by Hopkins the number one film villain of all time and Clarice Starling as portrayed by Foster the sixth greatest film hero of all time.

Homophobia allegations

Upon its release, The Silence of the Lambs was criticized by members of the gay community for being what they perceived as another in a long line of negative on-screen portrayals of LGBT characters in the absence of any positive portrayals. Following the announcement of the film's many nominations, rumors began circulating almost immediately that gay rights groups like Queer Nation were planning to disrupt the live Oscar telecast should the film win any awards. While ultimately no such protests materialized, the rumors did lead to media discussion of Hollywood's attitudes toward sexual minorities and an overview linking the rumored protests to other Academy Awards controversies, in media outlets ranging from the CBS Evening News to The National Enquirer. In the years following The Silence of the Lambs an increased number of gay-themed films and gay characters were created by Hollywood. Indeed, Lambs director Jonathan Demme's next project was the AIDS-related drama Philadelphia.


Marketing for the film included images of Hopkins and Foster with Death's-head Hawkmoths covering their mouths. This is a homage to Luis Buñuel's and Salvador Dalí's surrealist film Un Chien Andalou, which contains a Death's-head Hawkmoth, and also features a man whose mouth disappears and is replaced by armpit hair. The image may also be a reference to a line in Richard le Gallienne's The Worshipper of the Image: "The eyes of Silencieux were wide open, and from her lips hung a dark moth with the face of death between his wings."

In the images, the death's head on the moths' backs is not their natural pattern, but a superimposed miniature image of Salvador Dalí and Philippe Halsman's In Voluptas Mors, which forms the image of a skull from naked bodies

Cultural influence

The Silence of the Lambs has been parodied multiple times in the media:

  • In 2005, an award-winning Off-Off-Broadway parody was produced called "Silence! The Musical".
  • Ezio Greggio created The Silence of the Hams where rookie FBI agent Jo Dee Foster (Billy Zane) goes to Dr. Animal Cannibal Pizza (Dom DeLuise) to track a serial killer.
  • In Aqua Teen Hunger Force (The Shaving), Buffalo Bill is referenced (the body suit) when coaching the monster in the attic.
  • At the 1992 Academy Awards, Billy Crystal made his initial appearance on stage wearing the same straitjacket and mask that Hannibal Lecter wore in the movie, making the comment that he felt he looked like the "goalie for the SAG (Screen Actors Guild) hockey team".
  • In the film Addams Family Values, Pubert is shown wearing a Hannibal mask while sleeping in his crib.
  • In The Simpsons episode "A Star Is Burns", the character of Hannibal Lecter auditions for the role of Mr. Burns for a movie that Mr. Burns is making about himself, in order to win at the town film festival. In his dangerous prisoner restraints & mask, Lecter recites Mr. Burns's famous quote "Excellent", followed by his infamous hiss (from his own famous quote, "I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti"). In another episode, recurring villain Sideshow Bob is held by restraints similar to Lecter's - but including restraints on Bob's individual locks of hair. In yet another episode, "Marge vs. the Monorail", Burns himself is put in the familiar restraints during a hearing on his illegal dumping of toxic waste drums in the Springfield park. A return of the Lecter restraints is seen in the episode "Bart's Girlfriend", when Bart is falsely accused of stealing from the collection plate.
  • In the film Clerks 2, the character of Jay (played by actor Jason Mewes) performs the entire Buffalo Bill dance sequence, from imitating Bill putting on make-up right up to standing naked with his genitals tucked back.
  • In one scene of the film Joe Dirt, the main character, played by David Spade, is held captive by a killer named "Buffalo Bob" in a scenario very similar to the captivity of Catherine by Buffalo Bill. Bob even imitates the famous line "It rubs the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again."
  • In one scene of the film Austin Powers in Goldmember, Dr. Evil is imprisoned in an all glass cell resembling several of the scenes from Silence of the Lambs. Upon being asked about Goldmember Dr. Evil replies: "Quid pro quo, Mr. Powers" asking to be transferred to another facility.
  • In South Park episode "Bebe's Boobs Destroy Society", Eric Cartman is shown playing 'Lambs' in his basement. Cartman lowers a basket to a doll at the bottom of a hole in the floor, and quotes lines from the movie, including the "it rubs the lotion on its skin" line. He also refers to a toy dog next to him as 'Precious'.
  • In another South Park episode, "Toilet Paper", while investigating a toilet papering incident, Officer Barbrady visits Josh, an extremely prolific toilet paperer, in juvenile hall. Josh is a parody of Hannibal Lecter, right down to his distinctive hairstyle and voice (which Josh only speaks in when dealing with strangers and police), but most especially his psychological mind games and manipulation. Josh repeatedly makes outlandish claims about other's pasts, and gets Barbrady to open up extensively about his abusive childhood, with little to no provocation. When a policeman is referred to as "Policeman Brown," he instantly questions Brown why he never made "officer". Josh is last seen in a spoof of the end of the film, phoning Officer Barbrady to mock him and approaching the White House with a toilet paper roll over the credits.
  • The film has been referenced a bit in the show Mystery Science Theater 3000. For example, in one episode the crew watches the film I Was a Teenage Werewolf. At one point when Michael Landon's character is being questioned by a psychologist/mad scientist, Mike riffs "The lambs, Clarice. Tell me about the lambs."
  • Radio host Phil Hendrie often had his character Margaret Gray use Lecter's lines to Starling about being a rube from West Virginia to unsuspecting callers who thought they were speaking to a real person on his radio show.
  • In the Family Guy episode "Stuck Together, Torn Apart", Stewie and Brian are stuck together with industrial glue and Brian wants to save a little girl from inside a well. Stewie pops his head over the well and the girl screams "Help me!" to which he responds, "It rubs the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again."
  • In the Fairly Odd Parents episode "_2004" Cosmo has to get a donor organ from Anti-Cosmo: a brilliant criminal locked behind a plexiglass wall in a prison within Fairy World. When the three main characters approach the cell, Anti-Cosmo appears from the dark and says Hello Clarice! ...Oh, I'm sorry! I didn't have my monocle in!
  • In the House episode "_2006" House wakes up a Coma patient in order to ask him questions about his family medical history, and they wind up playing a similar game of question-for-question as Clarice and Hannibal. At one point House directly imitates Hannibal, creepily saying to the patient "Quid pro quo, Clarice!"
  • In the movie Loaded Weapon (which also parodies several other sources), Sgt Jack Colt (Emilio Estevez) and Sgt Wes Luger (Samuel L. Jackson) interview a character called Dr Harold Leacher (F. Murray Abraham), a direct parody of Lecter. He tells Colt "Quid pro quo", and when asked what it means, he replies "It means I'm pretentious." Before departing, Colt asks him what human flesh tastes like, to which Leacher replies: "Chicken."
  • In an episode of the animated TV series The Critic, Jay Sherman purports to preview The Silence of the Lambs 2, which features Clarice and Hannibal Lecter living together in an Odd Couple like situation.
  • On the TV series Monk, the climactic scene of the episode "Mr. Monk and the Blackout," parodies the climactic scene in the film. The ultra-phobic detective, Monk, purchases night vision goggles after having a panic attack during a city-wide blackout. When a criminal cuts the power to Monk's apartment and enters to kill him, Monk puts on the goggles and briefly toys with the criminal, gloating over the fact that he can see and the criminal can't (Ted Levine, who played Buffalo Bill, plays the regular character Captain Leland Stottlemeyer on the series).
  • In the Scrubs episode My Blind Date, Dr. Cox tells J.D. to put iodine lotion on a patient's skin by saying, "It puts the lotion on its skin." When J.D. asks why Dr. Cox is allowed to make movie jokes but he is not, Dr. Cox gets angry and says, "It puts the damn iodine lotion on its skin!"
  • The band The Greenskeepers have a song titled "Lotion", which pays homage to Buffalo Bill. The chorus of "Lotion" comes from Buffalo Bill's most recognizable line of dialogue in the film, that being "[i]t rubs the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again."
  • In the UK, female comedy duo French and Saunders performed a sketch parodying the initial meeting of Agent Starling with Dr. Lecter, with Jennifer Saunders playing Starling and Dawn French playing Lecter.
  • In the 1996 comedy The Cable Guy, Chip Douglas (played by Jim Carrey) imitates Dr. Hannibal Lecter at a restaurant, wearing fried chicken skins on his face and reciting Lecter's phrase: "Hello Clarice. It's good to see you again."


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