‘Silence of the Lambs’ is a classic thriller with a lot to digest

The poster for Academy Award-winning film, “The Silence of the Lambs.” (photo by Orion)

“Silence of the Lambs,” a 1991 crime thriller directed by Jonathan Demme, is a critically acclaimed film about a young FBI cadet Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) who is tasked by FBI director Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) to interview deranged former psychiatrist and cannibalistic killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). The plot is based around innocent yet stern Clarice’s attempts to gain insight fr

om the incarcerated Lecter about the mind of a serial killer and one specifically – Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine). Buffalo Bill led authorities on a rabid killing spree, forcing Agent Starling to resort to Dr. Lector’s advice to solve the murders. The title of the film, “Silence of the Lambs,” comes from Clarice’s omission to Dr. Lecter about the traumatizing lamb slaughter house at her uncle’s ranch in Montana. Dr. Lecter later asks, “Well, Clarice. Have the lambs stopped screaming?” which serves as a metaphoric motif for Clarice to end the suffering of the lambs by putting away serial killer Buffalo Bill.

The film sets up Clarice Starling as the clear protagonist; a young, naïve and ambitious FBI Behavioral Science Unit candidate. Clarice has a strong West Virginian twang and is calculated in her responses to Dr. Lecter. The relationship between Clarice and Dr. Lecter is an element of the movie that is constantly changing and morphing as the murders of Buffalo Bill continue. Dr. Lecter seems to be more interested in the personal background of Clarice rather than stopping Buffalo Bill.

Clarice is often underestimated due to the simple fact of her being a woman in a male dominated field. Upon her initial interview with Dr. Lecter, she is approached by the director of the institution where he is being held, who is clearly trying to make advances on Clarice. When she denies his advances, he becomes standoffish towards Clarice. When she is looking for Buffalo Bill, it often seems as if she has minimal support when hunting for him. Clarice embraces her role as the underdog: an inexperienced FBI cadet attempting to track down one of the most notorious serial killers of the time.

After watching this film for the first time, I have an appreciation for the comprehensive dialogue and depth of the characters in the film. The story arc of Dr. Lecter, who is presumed to be an antagonist but somehow turns out to be a protagonist(?), is truly up to the viewer’s interpretation. The film ends without ever hearing a lamb; they have been silenced.