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The Silence of the Lambs (film)

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Title: The Silence of the Lambs (film)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Chicago Film Critics Association Awards 1991, Jonathan Demme, Craig McKay (film editor), Hannibal Lecter (franchise), Jodie Foster
Collection: 1990S Crime Thriller Films, 1990S Thriller Films, 1991 Films, 1991 Horror Films, American Crime Thriller Films, American Films, American Horror Films, Best Picture Academy Award Winners, Cannibalism in Fiction, Edgar Award Winning Works, English-Language Films, Film Scores by Howard Shore, Films About Abduction, Films About Psychopaths, Films Based on Thriller Novels, Films Directed by Jonathan Demme, Films Featuring a Best Actor Academy Award Winning Performance, Films Featuring a Best Actress Academy Award Winning Performance, Films Featuring a Best Drama Actress Golden Globe Winning Performance, Films Set in Baltimore, Maryland, Films Set in Illinois, Films Set in Memphis, Tennessee, Films Set in Ohio, Films Set in Tennessee, Films Set in Virginia, Films Set in Washington, D.C., Films Shot in Pennsylvania, Films Shot in West Virginia, Films Whose Director Won the Best Director Academy Award, Films Whose Writer Won the Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award, Hannibal Lecter, Johns Hopkins Hospital in Fiction, Orion Pictures Films, Police Detective Films, Reboot Films, Serial Killer Films, Transgender in Film, United States National Film Registry Films
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

The Silence of the Lambs (film)

The Silence of the Lambs
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Produced by
Screenplay by Ted Tally
Based on The Silence of the Lambs 
by Thomas Harris
Music by Howard Shore
Cinematography Tak Fujimoto
Edited by Craig McKay
Distributed by Orion Pictures
Release dates
  • February 14, 1991 (1991-02-14)
Running time 118 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $19 million[2]
Box office $272.7 million[2]

The Silence of the Lambs is a 1991 American thriller film that blends elements of the crime and horror genres.[3] Directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, and Scott Glenn, the film is based on Thomas Harris' 1988 novel of the same name, his second to feature Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer.

In the film, Clarice Starling, a young U.S. FBI trainee, seeks the advice of the imprisoned Dr. Lecter to apprehend another serial killer, known only as "Buffalo Bill".

The Silence of the Lambs was released on February 14, 1991, and grossed $272.7 million worldwide against its $19 million budget. It was only the third film, the other two being It Happened One Night and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, to win Academy Awards in all the top five categories: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Adapted Screenplay. It is also the first Best Picture winner widely considered to be a horror film, and only the second such film to be nominated in the category, after The Exorcist in 1973.[4][5] The film is considered "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant by the U.S. Library of Congress and was selected to be preserved in the National Film Registry in 2011.[6]


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
    • Development 3.1
    • Casting 3.2
    • Filming 3.3
    • Music 3.4
  • Release 4
    • Critical reception 4.1
    • Accolades 4.2
  • Accusations of homophobia, transphobia and sexism 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is pulled from her training at the FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia by Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) of the Bureau's Behavioral Science Unit. He assigns her to interview Hannibal Lecter, a former psychiatrist and incarcerated cannibalistic serial killer, whose insight might prove useful in the pursuit of a serial killer nicknamed "Buffalo Bill", who skins his female victims' corpses.

Starling travels to the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where she is led by Frederick Chilton (Anthony Heald) to Lecter's solitary quarters. Although initially pleasant and courteous, Lecter grows impatient with Starling's attempts at "dissecting" him and rebuffs her. As she is leaving, one of the prisoners flicks semen at her. Lecter, who considers this act "unspeakably ugly", calls Starling back and tells her to seek out an old patient of his. This leads her to a storage shed where she discovers a man's severed head with a sphinx moth lodged in its throat. She returns to Lecter, who tells her that the man is linked to Buffalo Bill. He offers to profile Buffalo Bill on the condition that he be transferred away from Chilton, whom he detests.

Buffalo Bill abducts a U.S. Senator's daughter, Catherine Martin (Brooke Smith). Crawford authorizes Starling to offer Lecter a fake deal promising a prison transfer if he provides information that helps them find Buffalo Bill and rescue Catherine. Instead, Lecter demands a quid pro quo from Starling, offering clues about Buffalo Bill in exchange for personal information. Starling tells Lecter about the murder of her father when she was ten years old. Chilton secretly records the conversation and reveals Starling's deceit before offering Lecter a deal of Chilton's own making. Lecter agrees and is flown to Memphis, Tennessee, where he verbally torments Senator Ruth Martin (Diane Baker) and gives her misleading information on Buffalo Bill including the name "Louis Friend".

Starling notices that "Louis Friend" is an anagram of "iron sulfide"—fool's gold. She visits Lecter, who is now being held in a cage-like cell in a Tennessee courthouse, and asks for the truth. Lecter tells her that all the information she needs is contained in the case file. Rather than give her the real name, he insists that they continue their quid pro quo and she recounts a traumatic childhood incident where she was woken by the sound of spring lambs being slaughtered on a relative's farm in Montana. Starling admits that she still sometimes wakes thinking she can hear lambs screaming, and Lecter speculates that she is motivated to save Catherine in the hope that it will end the nightmares. Lecter gives her back the case files on Buffalo Bill after their conversation is interrupted by Chilton and the police who escort her from the building. Later that evening, Lecter kills his guards, escapes from his cell and disappears.

Starling analyzes Lecter's annotations to the case files and realizes that Buffalo Bill knew his first victim personally. Starling travels to the victim's hometown and discovers that Buffalo Bill was a tailor, with dresses and dress patterns identical to the patches of skin removed from each of his victims. She telephones Crawford to inform him that Buffalo Bill is trying to fashion a "woman suit" of real skin, but Crawford is already en route to make an arrest, having cross-referenced Lecter's notes with hospital archives and finding a man named Jame Gumb, who once applied unsuccessfully for a sex-change operation. Starling continues interviewing friends of Buffalo Bill's first victim in Ohio while Crawford leads an F.B.I. tactical team to Gumb's address in Illinois. The house in Illinois is empty, and Starling is led to the house of "Jack Gordon", who she realizes is actually Jame Gumb, again by finding a sphinx moth. She pursues him into his multi-room basement, where she discovers that Catherine is still alive, but trapped in a dry well. After turning off the basement lights, Gumb stalks Starling in the dark with night-vision goggles but gives his position away when he cocks his revolver. Starling turns around just in time and kills him, firing the whole magazine of her pistol onto him.

Some time later at her FBI Academy graduation party, Starling receives a phone call from Lecter, who is at an airport in Bimini. He assures her that he does not plan to pursue her and asks her to return the favor, which she says she cannot do. Lecter then hangs up the phone, saying that he is "having an old friend for dinner" and starts following a newly arrived Chilton before disappearing into the crowd.




The Silence of the Lambs is based on Thomas Harris' 1988 novel of the same name and is the second film to feature the character Hannibal Lecter following the 1986 film Manhunter. Prior to the novel's release, Orion Pictures partnered with Gene Hackman to bring the novel to the big screen. With Hackman set to direct and possibly star in the role of Lecter, negotiations were made to split the $500,000 cost of rights between Hackman and the studio.[7] In addition to securing the rights to the novel, producers also had to acquire the rights to the name "Hannibal Lecter", which were owned by Manhunter producer Dino De Laurentiis. Owing to the financial failure of the earlier film, De Laurentiis lent the character rights to Orion Pictures for free.[8]

In November 1987, Ted Tally was brought on to write the adaptation;[9] Tally had previously crossed paths with Harris many times, with his interest in adapting The Silence of the Lambs originating from receiving an advanced copy of the book from Harris himself.[10] When Tally was about halfway through with the first draft, Hackman withdrew from the project and financing fell through. However, Orion Pictures co-founder Mike Medavoy assured Tally to keep writing as the studio itself took care of financing and searched for a replacement director.[11] As a result, Orion Pictures sought director Jonathan Demme to helm the project. With the screenplay not yet completed, Demme signed on after reading the novel.[12] From there, the project quickly took off, as Tally explained, "[Demme] read my first draft not long after it was finished, and we met, then I was just startled by the speed of things. We met in May 1989 and were shooting in November. I don't remember any big revisions."[13]


Jodie Foster was interested in playing the role of Clarice Starling immediately after reading the novel. However, despite Foster having just won an Academy Award for her performance in the 1988 film The Accused, Demme was not convinced that she was right for the part.[14][15] Having previously collaborated on Married to the Mob, Demme's first choice for the role of Starling was Michelle Pfeiffer, who turned it down, later saying, "It was a difficult decision, but I got nervous about the subject matter".[16] As a result, Foster was awarded the role due to her passion towards the character.[17]

For the role of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Demme originally approached Sean Connery. After the actor turned it down, Anthony Hopkins was then offered the part based on his performance in The Elephant Man.[18] Other actors considered for the role included Derek Jacobi and Daniel Day-Lewis.[19]

Scott Glenn was cast in the role of Jack Crawford, the Agent-in-Charge of the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI in Quantico, Virginia. To prepare for the role, Glenn met with John E. Douglas, whom the character is modeled after. Douglas gave Glenn a tour of the Quantico facility and also played for him an audio tape containing various recordings that serial killers Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris had made of themselves raping and torturing a 16-year-old girl.[20][21] According to Douglas, Glenn wept as he experienced the recordings and even changed his liberal stance on the death penalty.[22]


Principal photography for The Silence of the Lambs began on November 15, 1989 and concluded on March 1, 1990.[23] Filming primarily took place in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with some scenes shot in nearby northern West Virginia.[24] The exterior of the Western Center near Canonsburg, Pennsylvania served as the setting for Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.[25] In what was a rare act of cooperation at the time, the FBI allowed scenes to be filmed at the FBI Academy in Quantico; some FBI staff members even acted in bit parts.[26][27]


The Silence of the Lambs: The Original Motion Picture Score
Film score by Howard Shore
Released February 5, 1991
Recorded August, 1990 in Munich
Length 57:09
Label MCA Records
Producer Howard Shore
Howard Shore chronology
The Silence of the Lambs
Naked Lunch
Hannibal Lecter chronology
The Silence of the Lambs
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars 3/5 stars

The musical score for The Silence of the Lambs was composed by Howard Shore, who would also go on to collaborate with Demme on Philadelphia. Recorded in Munich during the latter half of the summer of 1990, the score was performed by the Munich Symphony Orchestra.[28] "I tried to write in a way that goes right into the fabric of the movie," explained Shore on his approach. "I tried to make the music just fit in. When you watch the movie you are not aware of the music. You get your feelings from all elements simultaneously, lighting, cinematography, costumes, acting, music. Jonathan Demme was very specific about the music."[29]

The tune played by the music box which Starling finds in the bedroom of Buffalo Bill's first victim is taken from Mozart's opera The Magic Flute. It is, ironically, the tune played by Papageno's magical bells, which charms his enemies and protects him from danger.

A soundtrack album was released by MCA Records on February 5, 1991.[30] Music from the film was later used in the trailers for its sequel, Hannibal.[31]

The Silence of the Lambs: The Original Motion Picture Score
No. Title Length
1. "Main Title"   5:04
2. "The Asylum"   3:53
3. "Clarice"   3:03
4. "Return to the Asylum"   2:35
5. "The Abduction"   3:01
6. "Quid Pro Quo"   4:41
7. "Lecter in Memphis"   5:41
8. "Lambs Screaming"   5:34
9. "Lecter Escapes"   5:06
10. "Belvedere, Ohio"   3:32
11. "The Moth"   2:20
12. "The Cellar"   7:02
13. "Finale"   4:50
Total length:


The Silence of the Lambs was released on February 14, 1991, grossing $13,766,814 during its opening weekend. Surpassing its own budget after one week, the film proved to be a major box office success. At the time it closed on October 10, 1991, the film grossed $130,742,922 domestically with a total worldwide gross of $272,742,922.[32] The film was the fourth highest-grossing film of 1991.[33]

Critical reception

The Silence of the Lambs was a sleeper hit that gradually gained widespread success and critical acclaim.[34] Hopkins, Foster, and Levine garnered much acclaim for their performances. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 94% of 69 film critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 8.4 out of 10. The site's consensus reads: "Director Jonathan Demme's smart, taut thriller teeters on the edge between psychological study and all-out horror, and benefits greatly from stellar performances by Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster."[35] Metacritic, another review aggregator, assigned the film a weighted average score of 84 out of 100, based on 17 reviews from mainstream critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[36]

Gene Siskel. Writing for the Chicago Tribune, Siskel said, "Foster's character, who is appealing, is dwarfed by the monsters she is after. I'd rather see her work on another case."[39]


Academy Awards record
Best Picture, Edward Saxon, Kenneth Utt, Ronald M. Bozman
Best Director, Jonathan Demme
Best Actor, Anthony Hopkins
Best Actress, Jodie Foster
Best Adapted Screenplay, Ted Tally
Golden Globe Awards record
Best Actress, Jodie Foster
British Academy Film Awards record
Best Actor, Anthony Hopkins
Best Actress, Jodie Foster

The film won the Big Five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director (Demme), Best Actor (Hopkins), Best Actress (Foster), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Ted Tally), making it only the third film in history to accomplish that feat.[40] It was also nominated for Best Sound Mixing (Tom Fleischman and Christopher Newman) and Best Film Editing, but lost to Terminator 2: Judgment Day and JFK, respectively.[41]

Other awards include being named Best Film by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, CHI Awards and PEO Awards. Demme won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 41st Berlin International Film Festival[42] and was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Director. The film was nominated for the prestigious Grand Prix of the Belgian Film Critics Association. It was also nominated for the British Academy Film Award for Best Film. Screenwriter Ted Tally received an Edgar Award for Best Motion Picture Screenplay. The film was awarded Best Horror Film of the Year during the 2nd Horror Hall of Fame telecast, with Vincent Price presenting the award to the film's executive producer Gary Goetzman.[43]

In 1998, the film was listed as one of the 100 greatest films in the past 100 years by the American Film Institute.[44] 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".[45]

The Silence of the Lambs placed seventh on Bravo's The 100 Scariest Movie Moments for Lecter's escape scene. The American Film Institute named Hannibal Lecter (as portrayed by Hopkins) the number one film villain of all time[46] and Clarice Starling (as portrayed by Foster) the sixth greatest film hero of all time.[46]

In 2011, ABC aired a prime-time special, Best in Film: The Greatest Movies of Our Time, that counted down the best films chosen by fans based on results of a poll conducted by ABC and People magazine. The Silence of the Lambs was selected as the No. 1 Best Suspense/Thriller and Dr. Hannibal Lecter was selected as the No. 4 Greatest Film Character.

The film and its characters have appeared in the following AFI "100 Years" lists:

Organization/Association Award Actor/Crew Outcome Remarks
64th Academy Awards Best Actor Anthony Hopkins Won
Best Actress Jodie Foster Won
Best Adapted Screenplay Ted Tally Won Adapted from The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Best Director Jonathan Demme Won
Best Picture Edward Saxon, Kenneth Utt, Ron Bozman Won
Best Film Editing Craig McKay Nominated
Best Sound Mixing Tom Fleischman, Christopher Newman Nominated
49th Golden Globe Awards Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Jodie Foster Won
Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama Anthony Hopkins Nominated
Best Director Jonathan Demme Nominated
Best Motion Picture – Drama Kenneth Utt Nominated
Best Screenplay Ted Tally Nominated
45th British Academy Film Awards Best Actor in a Leading Role Anthony Hopkins Won
Best Actress in a Leading Role Jodie Foster Won
Best Adapted Screenplay Ted Tally Nominated
Best Cinematography Tak Fujimoto Nominated
Best Direction Jonathan Demme Nominated
Best Editing Craig McKay Nominated
Best Film Ron Bozman, Edward Saxon, Kenneth Utt Nominated
Best Film Music Howard Shore Nominated
Best Sound Skip Lievsay, Christopher Newman, Tom Fleischman Nominated

Accusations of homophobia, transphobia and sexism

Upon its release, The Silence of the Lambs was criticized by members of the LGBT community for its portrayal of Buffalo Bill as bisexual and transsexual. In response to the critiques, Demme replied that Buffalo Bill "wasn't a gay character. He was a tormented man who hated himself and wished he was a woman because that would have made him as far away from himself as he possibly could be." Demme added that he "came to realize that there is a tremendous absence of positive gay characters in movies".[47]

In a 1992 interview with Playboy magazine, notable feminist and women's rights advocate Betty Friedan stated, "I thought it was absolutely outrageous that The Silence of the Lambs won four [sic] Oscars. [...] I'm not saying that the movie shouldn't have been shown. I'm not denying the movie was an artistic triumph, but it was about the evisceration, the skinning alive of women. That is what I find offensive. Not the Playboy centerfold."[48]

See also


  2. ^ a b "The Silence of the Lambs (1991)".  
  3. ^ Matt Zoller Seitz (2010-09-10). """Trash-talking nine classic movies: "The Silence of the Lambs.  
  4. ^ "Academy Awards Best Pictures - Genre Biases". Retrieved 2012-06-05. 
  5. ^ "An Introduction to the American Horror Film". Mendeley. Retrieved 2012-06-05. 
  6. ^ "Silence of the Lambs added to U.S. film archive". BBC. 28 December 2011. Retrieved 28 December 2011. 
  7. ^ Tiech, John (June 20, 2012). Pittsburgh Film History: On Set in the Steel City.  
  8. ^ Bernstein, Jill (February 8, 2001). "How Ridley Scott's Hannibal came to be made".  
  9. ^ Medavoy, Mike (June 25, 2013). You're Only as Good as Your Next One: 100 Great Films, 100 Good Films, and 100 for Which I Should Be Shot (Reprint ed.).  
  10. ^ Konow, David (October 2, 2012). Reel Terror: The Scary, Bloody, Gory, Hundred-Year History of Classic Horror Films.  
  11. ^ Engel, Joel (February 12, 2013). Screenwriters on Screen-Writing: The Best in the Business Discuss Their Craft (Kindle ed.).  
  12. ^ Kapsis, Robert E. (December 19, 2008). Jonathan Demme: Interviews (Conversations With Filmmakers Series).  
  13. ^ Scott, Kevin Conroy (April 28, 2006). Screenwriters' Masterclass: Screenwriters Discuss their Greatest Films.  
  14. ^ "The Total Film Interview - Jodie Foster".  
  15. ^ Davis, Cindy (February 27, 2012). "Mindhole Blowers: 20 Facts About The Silence of the Lambs That Might Make You Crave a Nice Chianti". Pajiba. Retrieved March 14, 2014. 
  16. ^ The Barbara Walters Special, American Broadcast Company, 1992
  17. ^ Maslin, Janet (February 19, 1991). "How to Film a Gory Story With Restraint".  
  18. ^ Odam, Matthew (October 26, 2013). "AFF panel wrap: Jonathan Demme in conversation with Paul Thomas Anderson".  
  19. ^ Lang, Brent (September 11, 2013). "Derek Jacobi, Daniel Day-Lewis Almost Played Hannibal Lecter in ‘Silence of the Lambs’". The Wrap. Retrieved April 8, 2014. 
  20. ^ Newton, Michael. "Lawrence Bittaker & Roy Norris: Killing Time".  
  21. ^ Kessler, Ronald (October 1, 1993). The FBI.  
  22. ^ Douglas, John E.; Mark Olshaker (October 31, 1995). Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit.  
  23. ^ "The Silence of the Lambs (1991) - Miscellaneous Notes".  
  24. ^ "City lands good share of movies". The Vindicator. 10 December 1995. Retrieved 30 December 2011. 
  25. ^ Kirsch, Tom. "Western Center - Abandoned Photography". Opacity. Retrieved March 11, 2014. 
  26. ^ Edwards, Carl N. (January 2, 2001). Responsibilities and Dispensations: Behavior, Science, & American Justice.  
  27. ^ Lurie, Rod (June 1991). "Dr. Lecter Will See You Now". Empire Magazine. Retrieved 24 July 2014. 
  28. ^ "Howard Shore – The Silence Of The Lambs (The Original Motion Picture Score)".  
  29. ^ Büdinger, Matthias; Luc Van de Ven (1991). "Howard Shore on The Silence of the Lambs". Soundtrack Magazine 10 (37). Retrieved March 11, 2014. 
  30. ^ "Filmtracks: The Silence of the Lambs (Howard Shore)".  
  31. ^ "Trailer Music: Hannibal (2001)".  
  32. ^ "The Silence of the Lambs". Box Office Mojo. 
  33. ^ "1991 Yearly Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 21, 2012. 
  34. ^ Collins, Jim (1992). Film Theory Goes to the Movies. Routledge. p. 35.  
  35. ^ "The Silence of the Lambs - Rotten Tomatoes".  
  36. ^ "The Silence of the Lambs Reviews".  
  37. ^ Ebert, Roger (February 14, 1991). "The Silence of the Lambs Movie Review (1991)".  
  38. ^ Ebert, Roger (February 18, 2001). "The Silence of the Lambs Movie Review (1991)".  
  39. ^ Siskel, Gene (February 15, 1991). "'"Jodie Foster Appealing, But Not 'Silence Of The Lambs.  
  40. ^ Pristin, Terry (March 31, 1992). Silence of the Lambs' Sweeps 5 Major Oscars"'".  
  41. ^ "The 64th Academy Awards (1992) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-10-22. 
  42. ^ "Berlinale: 1991 Prize Winners". Retrieved 2011-03-26. 
  43. ^ 2nd Annual Horror Hall of Fame Telecast, 1991
  44. ^ AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies Accessed 14 March 2007. Archived March 5, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  45. ^ "'Sin City' place to be at Key Art Awards". The Hollywood Reporter. 9 October 2006. Retrieved 7 October 2007
  46. ^ a b AFI 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Accessed 14 March 2007. Archived March 12, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  47. ^ Schmalz, Jeffrey (28 February 1993). "From Visions of Paradise to Hell on Earth".  
  48. ^ "Interview of Friedan" by David Sheff, Playboy, September 1992, pp. 51–54, 56, 58, 60, 62, 149; reprinted in full in Interviews with Betty Friedan, Janann Sherman, ed. Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2002, ISBN 1-57806-480-5.

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