(detailed information about this entry from Wikipedia)
- This article is about the film. For the novel, see The Silence of the Lambs (novel).
The Silence of the Lambs is a 1991 film directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. It is based on the novel by Thomas Harris, his second to feature Lithuanian count, sociopathic psychiatrist and cannibal Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter. In the film, Clarice Starling, a young FBI trainee, is sent to see the imprisoned Lecter in order to ask his expert advice on catching a serial killer given the name Buffalo Bill, who is abducting women and skinning them.
The film adaptation was released in 1991. 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. Thus, it is the last of the only three films to win the five most prestigious Academy Awards (after It Happened One Night, 1934 and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, 1975).
Also, Hopkins' performance as Lecter remains one of the shortest lead acting Oscar-winning performances ever, as Hopkins is only on screen for about sixteen minutes in the entire film.
Note: This summary is based on the novel, but the movie adaptation remains rather faithful to the book. See below for differences between the book and film version.
The novel opens with Clarice Starling, a young FBI trainee, being asked to carry out an errand by Jack Crawford, the head of the FBI division that draws up psychological profiles of serial killers. Starling is asked to present a questionnaire to a serial killer named Hannibal Lecter, a former psychiatrist and genuine sociopath, currently serving a life sentence in a Maryland insane asylum.
We also learn of the hunt for a serial killer dubbed Buffalo Bill, who has abducted five different women, keeping them for up to three days before killing them, taking parts of their skins and dumping them in rivers. The nickname was started by Kansas City Police Homicide Division, on the theory that "he likes to skin his humps." Starling asks if she should ask Lecter about Bill, but Crawford tells her not to.
At the asylum, Starling is clumsily chatted up by its warden, Dr. Frederick Chilton. Eventually, Starling gets to talk to Lecter, who is seemingly quite polite and civil, but after toying briefly with Starling, he refuses to take the questionnaire. As she leaves, 'Multiple' Miggs, the prisoner in the cell next to Lecter flings his semen at Starling. Lecter, offended at this display of bad manners, calls Starling back and gives her some cryptic information: he tells her to look in Raspail's car for a Valentine. He tells her to see it herself. Lecter later talks Miggs into killing himself by swallowing his own tongue, which results in Chilton stripping Lecter's cell of everything, including his books; Lecter has quite an attachment to books; the name "Lecter" may come from the Latin word "lector," which means "reader".
The information leads Starling to a rent-a-storage lot where the possessions of Lecter's last victim, Benjamin Raspail, are contained. Hidden in Raspail's vintage car is a severed head in a jar. Back at the asylum, Lecter explains that the head is that of a man named Klaus; he was Raspail's lover, before Raspail killed Klaus in a fit of jealousy over a new partner. Lecter predicts that the next victim will have been scalped. He suggests an insight on Buffalo Bill's motivation: "He wants a vest with tits on it." Finally he offers some thoughts of his own. He has been in a windowless, stone-walled cell for eight years and will never get out while he is alive. He draws pictures of his favorite sights, ("The Duomo, as seen from the Belvedere" in Florence, Italy is brought to our attention), but these can be taken away from him. What he wants is a room with windows. Lecter wants to be free, and though this is not stated in the movie it can easily be understood).
Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling
When Bill's sixth victim is found, Starling helps Crawford perform the autopsy. Crawford's wife has a terminal condition and is not expected to survive for much longer; many at the Bureau marvel at Crawford's ability to function. Regardless of home-life distractions, he and Starling fly to West Virginia to investigate. A moth chrysalis is found in the throat of the victim. She has been scalped. Star shaped patches of skin have been taken from her shoulders. Autopsy reports, furthermore, indicate that he killed her within four days of her capture; whatever it is he does with them, he's getting better and faster at it. On the basis of Lecter's prediction, Starling believes that he knows who Buffalo Bill really is. Lecter, however, is not going to reveal such information easily.
Starling takes the chrysalis to the Smithsonian where, (much later in the book than the film), it is eventually identified as the "Death's Head Moth," so named because of the signature skull design on its back. It lives only in Asia and in the United States must be hand-raised.
In Memphis, Tennessee a young woman, Catherine Ruth Martin, is just getting home in her car and is just outside her home when she finds a man struggling to lift a couch into the back of his van as he has a cast on his arm. She assists him in moving the couch but is then trapped inside the van. He knocks her unconscious and drives off, having removed her shirt and left it at the roadside. However the woman's mother is Ruth Martin, a junior U.S. Senator from Tennessee. Crawford is advised that no less than the President of the United States has expressed "intense interest" in the case, and that a successful rescue is preferable. Crawford estimates they have three days before Catherine is killed.
With the stakes heightened, Starling is sent back to Lecter to obtain more information from him. After his correct predictions and, most notably, the discovery of another Death's Head Moth cocoon in Klaus's throat, the inside word is that Lecter must know who Buffalo Bill is. Starling presents a deal: if he gives information which leads to Bill's arrest and saves Catherine Martin's life, Senator Martin will have Lecter transferred to a new institution where he will be given greater freedom. Unknown to Starling, the deal is phony, concocted by Crawford as a last-ditch effort to get Lecter to talk. Lecter, in turn, demands information from Starling: in exchange for details of her personal life, he will offer his views on who Buffalo Bill might be.
He starts by asking Starling about her worst childhood memory: the death of her father, a policeman who was killed by two crooks on a night patrol. In exchange, Lecter explains that Bill is seeking to change himself, and that he is a transsexual, or rather, someone who thinks he is a transsexual. Bill's obsession with moths stems from the metamorphosis they go through, caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly. He has probably tried to apply for gender-reassignment surgery and been rejected. Starling doesn't pick up on how this will help her, so she asks for more information. Lecter probes further into her past: After her father's death, her mother couldn't support her and she was sent to her uncle's ranch in Montana. Two months later she ran away. Lecter, quid pro quo, explains that checking through the records of people turned down for gender-reassignment surgery because of convictions for violence would be a good place to start a search for Bill's true identity. He explains that "Buffalo Bill" was not born a criminal, but made one through years of systamatic abuse. He hated his own identity, and now identifies himself as a transsexual, which he actually isn't.
Lecter, reminiscing on the past, recalls a conversation with Benjamin Raspail, in which Raspail explains Klaus's death at the hands of Raspail's jealous former lover, James Gumb, who then used Klaus's skin to make an apron. Raspail also points out that Gumb was obsessed with butterflies and moths. Lecter's pleasant ruminations are interrupted when Chilton steps in. A listening device allowed him to overhear Starling's conversation, and Chilton has found out that Crawford's deal is a lie. He offers one of his own: If Lecter reveals Buffalo Bill's identity, he will indeed get a transfer to another asylum, but only if Chilton gets credit for getting the information from him. Lecter insists that he'll only give the information to Senator Ruth Martin in person, in Tennessee. Chilton agrees. Unknown to Chilton, Lecter has managed to fashion and conceal a handcuff key. He knows that once he is outside the asylum, he will be in the custody of police officers who will use handcuffs on him, rather than strait-jackets.
In Tennessee, Lecter toys with Senator Martin briefly, enjoying the woman's anguish, but eventually gives her some information about Buffalo Bill: his name is William Rubin, (changed to Louis Friend in the movie), and he has elephant ivory anthrax, a knifemaker's disease. This information in hand, the FBI races off to save Catherine.
The next day, with Lecter held in a makeshift cell, Clarice Starling confronts him. She suspects that Lecter has misled everyone about "Billy Rubin". Their conversation continues from before, with Lecter giving clues as to Buffalo Bill's identity in exchange for stories about Starling's childhood. One night at the ranch, she awoke to hear lambs screaming, as they were being slaughtered, and tried to save one by carrying it away. She was soon caught and the lamb returned to slaughter. Hannibal asks if she can still hear the lambs crying and wonders if she imagines that saving Catherine will finally give her some peace. Lecter now understands Clarice Starling, but Chilton interrupts the conversation, preventing Lecter from transmitting to her a parallel understanding of Buffalo Bill. Starling is escorted from the building. She is further ordered by Justice Department deputy Paul Krendler to return to Quantico and study like she's supposed to; failure to do so will result in her flunking out. Krendler later figures prominently in the plot of the sequel Hannibal.
Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter
That evening, Lecter requests a second meal. Using his makeshift key, he picks the lock of his handcuffs while an officer puts the second meal in his cell. He beats both officers to death with a truncheon and cuts the face off of one of the officers and puts it on himself, and dresses in his clothing. He puts the officer in his uniform and throws him down an elevator shaft. When the police and SWAT teams arrive, they think that the man in the elevator is an injured or dead Dr. Lecter. However, Lecter pretends to be one of the police officers by wearing his clothes and face (although severely mangled, the other officers believe that Lecter has bitten him) and escapes when he is taken to hospital in an ambulance.
Starling's shock at all these events is put on hold when she realizes that Lecter has left some further clues for her. With the help of her roommate, Starling realizes that there is something significant in the way Buffalo Bill's first victim, Frederica Bimmel, was killed. She was killed first but found third, suggesting that Bill wanted to hide her body. Starling surmises that she knew Bill in personal life, as Lecter had told her that the needs which Bill serves by killing those women is his eager desire; he had coveted those women and their identities. She accepts that she will flunk out of Quantico and Crawford sends her to Bimmel's home town, Belvedere, Ohio. There, Starling discovers that Bimmel was a tailor. Dresses in her closet have star shaped templates on them, identical to the patches of skin removed from Buffalo Bill's latest victim. Recalling Lecter's summary of Buffalo Bill's motivem, "He wants a vest with tits on it", Starling realizes that Buffalo Bill is a capable tailor who wants to make himself into a woman by fashioning himself a "woman suit" of real skin. She telephones Crawford, who is already on the way to make an arrest. Lecter's transsexual-surgery theory has yielded a positive ID from Johns Hopkins: a "Jame Gumb" just outside Chicago. Crawford is leading a strike on Gumb's business address in Calumet City, Illinois, while Chicago SWAT takes a home address. Starling is to continue interviewing Bimmel's friends.
Starling learns (from Bimmel's friend "Stacy") that Bimmel once worked for a woman named Mrs. Lippman. At Lippman's house, however, the door is answered by Jame Gumb. Starling has no idea who he is, but when she spies a Death's Head Moth flapping around in the background, she knows whom she is dealing with. Starling attempts to arrest Gumb, who flees into the basement. She follows him down. She manages to make contact with Catherine Martin, fortunately still alive, and is hunting Bill when the lights go out, leaving her in darkness. Gumb, wearing night vision goggles, creeps up behind Starling and cocks his gun. Starling hears the click and fires back, killing him. Starling calls for back up, and Catherine Martin is finally rescued.
Life returns to normal for Starling. She is not going to flunk out, but the FBI is cutting her very little slack. With her roommate's help, she plans to graduate. She has approval where it counts, though: from Crawford, from some of her instructors, and of course from Catherine and Ruth Martin.
In a St. Louis hotel room, we find Lecter writing farewell letters. He is planning some self-administered cosmetic surgery to keep his anonymity, but for now he has some loose ends to tie up. To Chilton, he promises horrible retribution and tells Starling that he is having an old friend "for dinner", implying Chilton. To Barney, a nurse at the ward who was civil, Lecter appends a generous tip. Finally, to Starling, he sends a promise that he will not come after her, "the world being more interesting with you in it". He also reminds her that she owes him an answer in future; he would like to know about it, should she ever defeat her inner demons, and find herself in the silence of the lambs.
The Silence of the Lambs was distributed by Orion Pictures.
- The majority of the film was shot in southern Ohio because it has many different landscapes and architecture. This variety made it easier to display many different parts of the country.
- Both the scene of Lecter in his cage and the Baltimore jail scene were filmed in the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
- None of the action of the film takes place in Pennsylvania; however, the registration stickers on the windshields of all of the vehicles indicate a Pennsylvania residency.
- Despite the acclaim garnered for the role, Anthony Hopkins is only in the film for a little over 16 minutes.
- Gene Hackman was originally slated to play Hannibal Lecter.
- John Lithgow was the producers second choice to play Hannibal Lecter
- Opening Weekend: $13,766,814 (1,497 theaters)
- % of total gross: 10.5%
- Close date: Oct. 10, 1991
- Total U.S. gross: $130,726,716
Worldwide gross: $272,700,000
- In 1998, won the 100 Greatest American Movies award from the American Film Institute Awards.
- In 1991, won “best picture” from CHI Awards.
- In 1991, won “best film” from PEO Awards.
- In 1991, was nominated for “best film” from British Academy Awards.
- In 1991, won Best Film from National Board of Review.
- In 1991, Craig McKay was nominated for an Academy Award for best editing.
- In 1991, Jonathan Demme won an Academy Award for best director.
- In 1991, Jonathan Demme was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for best director.
Differences from the book
- Starling's struggles as an FBI trainee are downplayed, with only occasional hints at difficulties, often based on sexism. It is not directly suggested that she was in danger of flunking out.
- Crawford's subplot, regarding the death of his wife, is eliminated for simplicity (neither Crawford nor his wife were in Hannibal either, and no mention of Crawford's wife is made in Manhunter). Likewise, Klaus is removed, with Raspail's head in the jar instead. Lecter's relation to Gumb is as his former therapist.
- Lecter's red herrings are altered to include anagrams: Clarice is told to investigate "Miss Hester Mofet" (AKA "miss the rest of me") and his false Buffalo Bill name becomes "Louis Friend" (iron sulfide, i.e. fool's gold); however, the novel has the false name Billy Rubin, which is a play on bilirubin, the pigment found in feces.
- Bimmel's hometown is depicted as Belvedere, Ohio, the same as Gumb's. On Starling's first visit to Lecter, she comments on one of his sketches, which the doctor informs her is "The Duomo seen from the Belvedere." Some interpret this as Lecter having given Buffalo Bill's whereabouts to Starling from the get go.
- Lecter never tells Starling that Buffalo Bill wants "a vest with tits in it." Starling deduces this specific motive of Buffalo Bill on her own after seeing a dress in Bimmel's closet.
- After escaping from his cell in Memphis, Lecter is next shown at the end of the movie contacting Starling by telephone immediately following her graduation ceremony from the FBI Academy. Lecter, who informs Starling he is "having an old friend for dinner" is shown ostensibly on a Caribbean island while his nemesis Chilton nervously deplanes nearby.
Jame Gumb is evidently based on five real-life serial killers:
- Ed Gein, a Wisconsin man who robbed graves and murdered women in order to flay their bodies and make clothing out of them. Gein was also the inspiration for Norman Bates in the Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece Psycho.
- Ted Bundy, who killed dozens of women in the 1970s, often luring victims by pretending he was injured with a cast on his arm, a technique Gumb used to lure Catherine Martin into his van. Similar to Lecter, Bundy also offered to help investigators find other serial murderers by "giving insights" into their psychology while he was in death row, specifically about the Green River Killer.
- Ed Kemper, who killed his grandparents when he was an adolescent, just like Gumb.
- Gary Heidnik, who held women captive in a deep hole in his basement.
- Robert Mawdsley
- Hannibal Lecter bears some similarities with Andrei Chikatilo (a Russian serial killer), in that during their childhoods both experienced a sibling being cannibalised during a famine. (It is not known however how true the story of Chikatilo's experience is). He has also been compared to the infamous cannibal and child murderer Albert Fish.
Manhunter sequel controversy
Three of the characters from this film (Hannibal Lecter, Jack Crawford, and Frederick Chilton) also appeared in an earlier film, Manhunter, though portrayed by different actors. Though there is no evidence to suggest that any of the three actors were asked to reprise their role in The Silence of the Lambs, some argue that The Silence of the Lambs is a sequel to Manhunter, but the fact that Orion was willing to produce the film without the rights to the three characters that previously appeared in Manhunter suggests that it was never intended to be a cinematic follow up to Manhunter. In Ted Tally's second-draft script, he notes: "For legal reasons, the names of three of Tom Harris's characters have had to be changed. It is my hope, and certainly Tom's, that the original names can be restored in time for the making of this movie. For the purposes of this draft, however, Jack Crawford has become 'Ray Campbell,' Frederick Chilton has become 'Herbert Prentiss,' and Dr. Hannibal Lecter is called 'Dr. Gideon Quinn.'" Manhunter producer Dino De Laurentiis saw little future potential for the characters and allowed Orion to use the characters of Lecter, Crawford and Chilton for free. Further distancing The Silence of the Lambs from Manhunter is the fact that Frankie Faison and Dan Butler appear in both films, but as completely different characters. This matter was settled in 2002 when Manhunter was remade as Red Dragon, in which Hopkins and Heald reprised their roles from The Silence of the Lambs, firmly establishing itself as the official adaptation of the book as it relates to the other two Hopkins films. It should also be noted that, in Manhunter, Lecter's last name is officially spelled "Lecktor", and no mention is ever made of cannibalism. He is stated to have killed young women, in effect condensing Lecter and another character mentioned in Red Dragon for time's sake. In addition, the events of Red Dragon are mentioned several times in the novel The Silence of the Lambs, but were all omitted in the screenplay.
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