The Silence of the Lambs Movie Meaning & Plot Summary

The Silence of the Lambs: What Really Happened Between Agent Starling & Maniac Lecter? Analysis Of The Plot & Meaning Of The Film The Silence of the Lambs With Anthony Hopkins, A Summary, What Real Events It Is Based On, Similar Films

Country: USA

Genre: psychological thriller, horror, detective, drama

Year of production: 1991

Directed by: Jonathan Demmy

Actors: Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine

Tagline: From the terrifying best seller

Awards and nominations: Oscar – 5 awards for 1991 (best: film, director, male role (Anthony Hopkins), female role (Jodie Foster), screenplay (Ted Tully). 2 BAFTA awards) for 1991 for the best main roles (Hopkins and Foster). 4 American Saturn Awards in 1991 (best: horror film, actor (Anthony Hopkins), screenplay (Ted Tully), makeup (Karl Fullerton, Neil Martz).

In The Silence of the Lambs, Jonathan Demme outlined his vision for Thomas Harris’ book about Hannibal Lecter, the notorious serial killer. Anthony Hopkins was able to masterfully play an obsessed psychopathic maniac who can see through people.

The meaning of the film “The Silence of the Lambs” with Anthony Hopkins is that every person is an unsolved mystery, traumas experienced in childhood do not disappear anywhere, and the actions of a mentally ill serial killer can be explainable and logical.

Based on real events

After the release of a series of books by Thomas Harris about Hannibal Lecter, readers for a long time thought that several cannibal killers became the prototypes of the protagonist at once. Their atrocities in those years shocked the public. This is the New York maniac Albert Fish, who kills children, and William Coyne from Mississippi. Later, the writer himself admitted that another person prompted him to create the image of Lecter.

Anthony HopkinsAnthony Hopkins is the main actor of the thriller, who played the role of Hannibal Lecter. Frame from the film.

The prototype of Hannibal was a certain Dr. Salazar from the Mexican city of Monterrey (real name – Alfredo Balli Trevino). He worked as a prison doctor and made an indelible impression on the writer.

"Silence of the Lambs": what really happened between agent Starling and maniac LecterLecter’s prototype Dr. Salazar.

The script was also based on a real story, when University of Criminology professor Robert Keppel was forced to ask for help from a prisoner maniac Ted Bundy. So we can say that the film “The Silence of the Lambs” was partly based on real events, and the main character had prototypes.

Plot Summary

In the first frames of the film, the viewer meets Clarissa Starling (Jodie Foster), an FBI academy cadet, a future agent. The beginning is rather gloomy – a girl runs through a dense forest, frightening music sounds, a sign hangs on the trees with the words “pain, agony, suffering – love them.” Directly from a run, Agent Starling is called to the boss. In his office, she reads newspaper clippings about the terrible murders that took place in their city. A maniac is operating, nicknamed Buffolo Bill. He kills young girls and skins them.

Starling’s boss Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) gives her the difficult task of talking to a notorious cannibal maniac named Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). Trying to find at least some clues, the FBI decide to interrogate Dr. Lecter and get a psychological portrait of the killer from him. But he does not communicate with anyone. Clarissa will have to talk to Hannibal and get everything he knows about Buffolo Bill from him.

The girl goes to the isolation ward of a psychiatric hospital to meet with Lecter. She is met by the head physician Dr. Chilton (Anthony Heald) and tells the details of the atrocities of the maniac Hannibal, pretty scaring her. When she first meets Dr. Lecter, Clarissa realizes that he is a very intelligent person who can see through people.

She does not give in to the doctor, but boldly says: “Try to look at yourself and describe your portrait. What will you see? Or are you scared?” No one has ever spoken to Lecter like that. It can be seen that he is interested in a brave girl, so he decides to give her a hint. He says: “Understand yourself, Clarissa. Find my patient Miss Costa.”

Starling figures out a warehouse in Baltimore called All in Itself, breaks into it, and finds someone’s head in a jar. She goes to Lecter again to find out who the victim is. The Doctor is impressed with Clarissa’s quick wit and continues to put her on the trail of Buffolo. Hannibal confesses that the unfortunate man found by the girl was called Benjamin Raspail. Lecter said that he did not kill him, but only dismantled the remains. He promised Clarissa to help find and capture the maniac if she would “be able to wait.”

Jodie FosterJodie Foster as Clarissa Starling. Frame from the film.

Meanwhile, Buffolo has already chosen a new victim. She was the daughter of a senator, 25-year-old Katherine Martin (Brooke Smith). The maniac kidnapped her and imprisoned her in his house in a deep well. But Clarissa Starlig and Jack Crawford don’t know it yet. They fly to West Virginia, where they find another mutilated body of a Buffolo victim. Upon examination, a moth chrysalis was found in the girl’s throat.

Clarissa meets with Dr. Lecter again. Hannibal decides to make a deal with the girl. She must tell something from her past in exchange for facts about the maniac. Clarissa talks about her father, a police sheriff who was killed by criminals. In response, Dr. Lecter explains why the maniac puts butterfly pupae in the throats of the murdered girls. This is a symbol of transformation: first an ugly cocoon, and then beauty. Buffolo also wants to transform and become a woman.

Lecter is transported to another state for a meeting with Senator Ruth Martin. He is being held at the police station in a large cage. Clarissa comes to meet him again. She wants more clues, but Lecter demands more facts from her childhood. And then the girl tells about the story of the lambs on the ranch. For her revelation, Clarissa receives the main details for the portrait of the maniac Buffolo.

Scott GlennClarissa’s boss, Jack Crawford, was played by Scott Glenn. Frame from the film.

Their meeting with Lecter turns out to be their last. After that comes the most terrible scene of Hannibal’s escape, when he brutally dealt with the police, and then with the ambulance team. Clarissa guesses that Buffolo knew his first victim. She finds out her address in Ohio and goes there. Meanwhile, her boss Jack Crawford claims to have found the real maniac (later it turns out he was wrong).

Clarissa examines the house of the murdered Frederica Bimel and finds out that she sewed things to order for a certain Mrs. Lipman. Starling goes there, the same maniac Buffolo opens the door. Clarissa does not yet know who is in front of her. She asks about the former owner of the house and suddenly sees a moth sitting next to her. Everything becomes clear. But as soon as Starling grabs a gun, the maniac runs away and hides in the basement. In the darkness, Clarissa finds a well with Catherine imprisoned. The girl desperately calls for help.

Buffolo Bill is watching Starling with a night vision goggle. He approaches her, but stumbles. Clarissa immediately turns around and fires. Maniac falls dead. The police arrive at the scene. Katherine is led out of the building, followed by Clarissa and Crawford. The following is a gala where Agent Clarissa Starling is presented with a badge and ID. John Crawford congratulates her and says, “Your father would be proud of you.”

Agent Starling is called to the phone. On the phone, she hears a familiar voice: “Well, Clarissa, are your lambs silent?” She realizes it’s Dr. Lecter. He asks not to trace his call and promises not to follow her. Then he says, “I’d love to chat a little longer, but an old friend came over for dinner.” Dr. Chilton is seen leaving the plane, Lecter goes to meet him.

Ending explanation

The point of the Silence of the Lambs ending is how strong the bond between Agent Starling and Lecter is. Breaking free, the doctor still could not resist and called Clarissa. It was very important to him to know whether her lambs were silent, whether the denouement of this affair brought her satisfaction, whether it made her happy.

Until now, no one cared about her state of mind, and only a psychopathic maniac became her spiritual mentor, personal psychotherapist and even, in part, a friend. Also understandable is the unenviable consideration of Dr. Chilton, about whom Lecter said that he “come to him for dinner.” Apparently, Hannibal wants revenge for the years of bullying he was subjected to in the clinic.

The meaning of the film

The essence of the film is that the psychology of each person is the most interesting material, an unopened book. Inside any of us, a lot of things are mixed, and you can’t judge anyone and “hang labels”.

Maniac killer Hannibal Lecter turned out to be closer and more humane to Clarissa than everyone who surrounded her before. He was the first to show real concern for the girl and helped her get rid of the fear and pain that had tormented her since childhood.

Also, the point is that our childhood, although we do not remember it, leaves an imprint on the rest of our lives. All maniacs (including Buffolo Bill and Lecter) are fraught with trauma experienced at an early age, and ordinary people (such as Agent Starling) also carry pain “from childhood” inside.

The brilliant psychoanalyst Dr. Lecter knew this and skillfully put it into practice. After watching the film, you involuntarily begin to rethink your life and understand why it turned out this way and not otherwise. And this “journey” inside each of the characters, and then inside themselves, is the main thing that gives The Silence of the Lambs to everyone who watches it at least once.

Hannibal and ClarissaFrame from the film.


Everything Wrong with The Silence of the Lambs With A Side of Fava Beans

FAQ The Silence of the Lambs Endinf Explained


How old is Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs?
The actor was 54 at the time of filming. Anthony Hopkins managed to masterfully convey the image of the maniac described in the book: “Hannibal is of medium height, but tries to keep himself in such a way as to appear taller. The eyes are unusual – sometimes they light up like two sparks. A real gentleman and aesthete. Interested in Renaissance art. There is always sophistication and sophistication in it. Possesses a photographic memory sharpened by charm.


What is the meaning of the name The Silence of the Lambs?
The meaning becomes clear when Dr. Lecter begins to question Clarissa about her childhood. The girl talks about her life on the ranch with her uncle after the death of her father. She was only 10 years old when she witnessed the heartbreaking scene of the slaughter of little lambs. Wanting to save at least one of them, Clarissa ran away from the ranch at night with a lamb in her arms. But the girl was found and returned home, and her lamb was killed. The cry of the lambs has haunted Agent Starling ever since. But she believes that once she solves the case, finds the maniac and frees his victim, her childhood lambs will be silenced. This is the meaning of her life and the meaning of the title of the book and the film.


What was Hannibal Lecter's diagnosis?
If we talk about a mental diagnosis, then Lecter probably had several of them. It cannot be attributed to any of the existing psychotypes, but the film is diagnosed as a “true sociopath”. Lecter did not experience pleasure during the killings, his pulse did not even quicken. Hannibal himself spoke of his essence as “internal evil.” Hannibal Lecter in Harris’ book had congenital polydactyly – the perpetrator had an extra finger on his left hand, which he later surgically removed. 


What other movies have been made about Hannibal Lecter?

“Manhunter”, 1986. Will Graham, a retired FBI agent, returns to the service at the request of the leadership. Only he can catch a maniac nicknamed the Tooth Fairy. He turns to cannibal killer and psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter for help.

“Hannibal”, 2001. Continuation of the plot shown in “Silence of the Lambs”. It’s been 10 years since Hannibal Lecter escaped. And then a maniac and pervert Mason Verger appears on the horizon – a former patient and victim of Lecter’s terrible bullying. He wants to take revenge on the doctor and opens a hunt for him.

“Red Dragon”, 2002. FBI agent Will Graham was able to catch the maniac Hannibal Lecter, became a “live bait” for him. Barely surviving, he vowed not to get involved in police work anymore. But after 7 years, he had to see Lecter again and even ask him for advice in order to find a manka who brutally kills entire families.

“Hannibal Rising”, 2007. A film about the childhood of Hannibal Lecter and how he became a cannibal maniac. The terrible details of his life are shown, when during the war the Lithuanian marauders-collaborators killed and ate his little sister Misha. The boy was also forced to eat human flesh, which caused a powerful shift in his psyche.

Movies similar to The Silence of the Lambs

  • Copycat, 1995, USA. A serial maniac is operating in San Francisco, imitating the most high-profile murders. Helen Hudson, an expert on maniacs, volunteers to help investigators.
  • The Bone Collector, 1999, USA. Lincoln Rhyme was a forensic scientist, but, having become disabled, retired. When a maniac began to operate in the city, Lincoln was the only one who was able to unravel his plans and get on his trail.
  • Seven (also Se7en), 1995, USA. Detective William Somerset is 7 days away from retirement. But he does not have time to leave – a maniac appears in the city, punishing people for 7 deadly sins. Together with a young partner Mills, he solves the riddle and goes to the criminal.

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