Greatest Movie Series
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The "Hannibal Lecter" Films

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Hannibal Lecter Films (Original)
Manhunter (1986) | The Silence of the Lambs (1991) | Hannibal (2001)

Hannibal Lecter Films (Prequels)
Red Dragon (2002) | Hannibal Rising (2007)

The "Hannibal Lecter" Films (Original)
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
d. Jonathan Demme, 118 minutes

Film Plot Summary

The film opened during the credits sequence in the "Woods near Quantico, Va," where young Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) in a bluish-gray sweatshirt was undergoing a physical challenge to her endurance through an obstacle course. Midway, she was called in to see her supervisor, FBI Special Agent Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) in the Behavioral Science Services section of the Academy. His wall was covered with glossy pictures and clippings of a current investigation into multiple murders committed by "Buffalo Bill", with photos of mutilated female corpses. The National Inquisitor reported: "BILL SKINS FIFTH." Crawford entered and explained that he thought of the young trainee with an Appalachian twang for a job - more like an "interesting errand," to interview and obtain a psychological-behavioral profile - in a purely scientific way - on an uncooperative, psychotic psychiatrist who has been in prison for many years. The interviewee was the quick-witted, brilliant, convicted and imprisoned serial murderer - Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), known as Hannibal, the Cannibal. Crawford hoped that Clarice would find special insights into the personality of "Buffalo Bill" - the at-large, random serial killer. She was cautioned: "And you're to tell him nothing personal, Starling. Believe me, you don't want Hannibal Lecter inside your head. Just do your job, but never forget what he is."

In the next scene at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, Starling met with the head of the facility, smarmy Dr. Frederick Chilton (Anthony Heald), who cautioned about his "most prized asset": "Oh, he's a monster. Pure psychopath." The doctor divulged that her employer Crawford might be exploiting his young trainee - deceiving the attractive Starling into her mission with a fake questionnaire - using her as bait to lure, provoke and inspire psycho Lecter into providing the Bureau with information into the case. After a maze-like journey through the hallways to the high-security area, she took a tense walk along a dank row of medieval, high-security underground prison cells on her left to meet the notorious Lecter. There was a chair in the middle of the corridor next to Lecter's cubicle - down a gauntlet in Hell itself, where one of the crazy inmates named Miggs (Stuart Rudin) hissed abusively: "I c-can sssmell your c--ttt!" Lecter was imprisoned in a windowless, glassed-in, dungeon-like cell, decorated with his own charcoal or crayon drawings of European cityscapes (mostly Florence, Italy). The menacing, fiendish, but polite, suave and gracious Hannibal took the initiative and urged the clever, intelligent, but inexperienced Clarice to step closer to his cell to show her ID credentials: "Closer, please. Clo-ser."

The elegantly-evil, brilliant, omniscient Lecter was skillfully observant with extraordinary, diabolically-developed human faculties, perceptively capable of acutely deducing much about her identity, life, and character ("You use Evyan skin cream, and sometimes you wear L'Air du Temps, but not today"). Contemptuous of her from the start, Lecter was initially insulted when he learned that Crawford sent a neophyte "trainee" to him. Regarding his sketches, he told her: "Memory, Agent Starling, is what I have instead of a view." Regarding the mass murderer "Buffalo Bill," Lecter sarcastically asked about trophy-taking: "Why do you think he removes their skins, Agent Starling? Thrill me with your acumen." He then acted insulted by her questionnaire: "Oh, Agent Starling, do you think you can dissect me with this blunt little tool?" He then dissected her personality with a witty, but perversely intimate portrait of her soul based upon her West Virginia accent and "cheap shoes," with assumptions about her hillbilly roots, her limitations, and her aspiring ambitions. She became visibly shaken and ashamed, yet she composed herself and managed to swing back with concentrated anger about completing the questionnaire. Then he delivered his most famous, very graphic line about his ferocious oral impulses and how he ate parts of his victims: "A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chi-an-ti." He then turned his back on her.

She departed from his cell after being rebuffed, as Miggs flung a handful of fresh semen at her, spattering her hair and face with it. Agitated, stirred, and shaking with rage, Lecter called out to her and she ran back to him. He gave her a cryptic suggestion to see one of his former patients: "Look deep within your self, Clarice Starling. Go seek out Miss Mofet, an old patient of mine. M-O-F-E-T. Go now. I don't think Miggs could manage again so soon, even though he is crazy. GO NOW!" Outside the hospital, Starling experienced a short flashback when she was ten years old (Masha Skorobogatov), the daughter of a small-town West Virginia policeman/marshal (Jeffrie Lane). Following up on the "Mofet" lead, Clarice discovered that Lecter altered or destroyed most of his patients' histories prior to capture and there was no record of anyone named Mofet. However, Clarice intelligently figured out that the "Your Self" reference in his words meant a "Your-Self Storage" facility outside downtown Baltimore close to where Lecter had his practice. Lecter's storage unit had been leased for ten years and the contract was pre-paid in full since 1980: "The contract is in the name of 'Miss Hester Mofet.'" In the jam-packed storage unit, she made a horrifying find - a grotesquely-bloated man's severed head preserved in a laboratory specimen jar. The face had been transformed into the face of a woman with the addition of heavy makeup (now smeared).

Upon her return to speak to Lecter, she told him that she had figured out his clues: "It's an anagram, isn't it, Doctor? Hester Mofet, 'The rest of me. Miss The-Rest-of-Me,' meaning that you rented that garage." He identified the head's identity: "His real name is Benjamin Raspail. A former patient of mine..." He hinted that Raspail was linked to Buffalo Bill: "A fledgling killer's first effort at - transformation." During their conversation, the ex-psychiatrist Lecter psychologically penetrated and pressed into Clarice with personal questions, exposing more of the mind-messing, exploitative game he had prepared for her. Powerfully desirous of knowing more about her, he circled around her in a dance of questions like a predator or in a courting ritual, asking if Crawford was using her. He then attempted to bargain, in exchange for helping her on the case: "I've been in this room for eight years now, Clarice. I know they will never, ever let me out while I'm alive. What I want is a view. I want a window where I can see a tree, or even water. I want to be in a federal institution, far away from Dr. Chilton."

Meanwhile, Buffalo Bill abducted his next female victim in Memphis, Tennessee -- 25 year-old Catherine Martin (Brooke Smith) - kidnapped from her apartment complex parking lot. He noted that she was size 14 with smooth skin. Starling was summoned from Quantico by Crawford to accompany him to another "Buffalo Bill" murder scene in Clay County, West Virginia, where there was evidence of post-mortem mutilation (the corpse's nude back was skinned): "They found a girl's body down in West Virginia. Been in the water about a week. Looks like a Buffalo Bill-type situation." They had a descriptive profile of the killer: "He's a white male. Serial killers tend to hunt within their own ethnic groups. He's not a drifter. He's got his own house somewhere, not an apartment...What he does with them takes privacy. He's in his thirties or forties. He's got real physical strength combined with an older man's self-control. He's cautious, precise, and he's never impulsive. He'll never stop. He's got a real taste for it now. He's getting better at his work." At the Grieg Funeral Home, Starling experienced another flashback - a scene when she was 10 years old viewing her dead father in a mortuary. During a gruesome autopsy performed on the body, Clarice noticed something in the dead girl's throat: "She's got something in her throat." She extracted a bug cocoon of some sort, tweezered out with forceps from deep inside the victim's throat behind the soft palette - it was probably "shoved" in there. On the girl's back, two neat triangular patches of skin were missing. After further investigation, the cocoon was revealed to be the chrysalis of a Death's-head moth.

The next scene provided a glimpse into mad psychopath and dressmaker Buffalo Bill's cellar liar, where he raised moths in a dark laboratory filled with breeding tanks. In the home, filled with fearsomely sharp utensils, wall hangings and strangely-clothed mannequins, the serial killer was naked and hunched over his old-fashioned sewing machine, working on his latest piece of clothing. He kept his latest "moth" and kidnapped victim Catherine trapped in a round pit dug fifteen feet deep into his cellar floor, who screamed: "Let me out of here, why won't you answer me, please?" TV news broadcasts publicized the news of the abduction of Catherine Martin, the daughter of US Senator Ruth Martin (Diane Baker), who delivered a personal plea to the killer to release her "little girl."

During her third encounter with Lecter, Clarice expressed her need for information to lead her to serial killer Buffalo Bill and save Catherine. She promised a "non-negotiable" and final offer [later revealed to be a phony deal thought up by Crawford]: "If your profile helps us capture Buffalo Bill in time to save Catherine Martin, the Senator promises you a transfer to the VA Hospital at Oneida Park, New York with a view of the woods nearby. Maximum security still applies, of course. You'd have reasonable access to books. Best of all, though, one week of the year, you'd get to leave the hospital and go here - Plum Island, every day of that week, you may walk on the beach. You may swim in the ocean for up to one hour. Under SWAT team surveillance, of course. And there you have it...If Catherine Martin dies, you get nothing." The charismatic, advanced, erudite, yet primitive and deranged Lecter offered her a counter-offer and diabolical deal - he would help her search for and capture the serial killer, but to fulfill her rescue fantasy for the vulnerable Catherine (and for all the world's victims), she had to share her deepest secrets and fears with him from her traumatic childhood so that he could cure her of her inner demons. He called the game "Quid pro quo. I tell you things, you tell me things. Not about this case, though. About yourself. Quid pro quo. Yes or no? Yes or no, Clarice?"

The fatherless heroine confessed to him her father's senseless death when she was ten years old, and when orphaned, living with her mother's cousin and husband on a sheep ranch in Montana, before running away. In exchange, she learned about the moth: "The significance of the moth is change. Caterpillar into chrysalis or pupa. From thence into beauty. Our Billy wants to change too." She also was told: "Billy is not a real trans-sexual, but he thinks he is. He tries to be. He's tried to be a lot of things, I expect." In addition, Buffalo Bill might have applied for trans-sexual surgery. In any case, the criminal serial killer wasn't born one, but suffered childhood abuse: "He was made one through years of systematic abuse. Billy hates his own identity, you see, and he thinks that makes him a trans-sexual. But his pathology is a thousand times more savage and more terrifying." Both of them were unaware that Dr. Chilton was eavesdropping ('bugging') their conversation with a tape player and earphone speaker. Shortly later, Dr. Lecter was made captive by being strapped and strait-jacketed to a rolling hand truck. His face was imprisoned in a grotesque hockey mask, and he was being mocked by his keeper, Dr. Chilton. Chilton revealed that the deal Starling had offered Lecter was a complete sham ("They scammed you, Hannibal"), and then described his own deal with the Senator: "Identify Buffalo Bill, by name, and if the girl is found in time, Senator Martin will have you transferred to Brushy Mountain State Prison, in Tennessee."

Lecter was transferred to another prison facility in Memphis at Senator Martin's request. There while restrained at the airport, he played another insulting "quid pro quo" game with Senator Martin, FBI agents, and other Justice Department officials, about Buffalo Bill: "Buffalo Bill's real name is Louis Friend. I met him just once. He was referred to me in April or May 1980 by my patient Benjamin Raspail. They were lovers, you see. But Raspail had become very frightened. Apparently, Louis had murdered a transient and done things with her skin." He then yelled out: "Five-foot-ten, strongly built, about 180 pounds. Hair blonde, eyes pale blue. He'd be about thirty-five now. He said he lived in Philadelphia but may have lied. That's all I can remember, Martin, but if I think of any more, I will let you know. Oh, and Senator, just one more thing. (The Senator turned back) Love your suit!"

Afterwards, Lecter was held in a massive iron cage in the middle of the fifth floor, the Historical Society Room, of the Shelby County Courthouse in Memphis. Starling visited Lecter there during a fourth and final memorable encounter ("Good evening, Clarice"), and first confronted him about his false leads given to the Senator. Dr. Lecter gave Clarice other hints and clues that led to the serial killer, suggesting the madman's motivation and how the murderer might have begun his string of attacks. And Clarice yielded her ultimate emotional secret of a traumatic childhood event when she tried to save a spring lamb from slaughter at her relative's sheep farm - and was still suffering dreams of lambs screaming: "And you think if you save poor Catherine you could make them stop, don't you? You think if Catherine lives, you won't wake up in the dark ever again to that awful screaming of the lambs." Dr. Chilton interrupted their conversation and she was escorted by police from the building. Later that evening, as Lecter listened to Bach's Goldberg Variations, Lecter escaped from his cuffs and lunged at Sgt. Jim Pembry (Alex Coleman) with gruesome, face-eating cannibalism, finishing the man off by spraying mace into his eyes. During his murderous rampage, the second guard Sgt. Boyle (Charles Napier) was mercilessly beaten to death by the bloody-faced Lecter with a police riot baton. After Lecter escaped from his cell, officers found the bloody and savaged body of Sgt. Boyle strung up high on the cell bars like Christ, and surviving "Pembry" was barely alive. Atop the elevator, a SWAT team found the 'dead' body of "Lecter." As the faceless "Pembry" was transported by ambulance, it was revealed that "Pembry" was actually Lecter, who had created the deception by switching clothes. After removing his facial mask in the ambulance, he approached to kill the paramedic. It was learned that Lecter had killed the ambulance crew and a tourist for his clothes and cash, and deposited the ambulance at the Memphis airport for his escape.

Using Lecter's last clue, about how Buffalo Bill coveted what he saw every day, Starling realized that the serial killer knew his first victim, Fredrica Bimmel, who was from the riverfront town of Belvedere, Ohio, but who had traveled to Chicago by bus to see about a job - where she was abducted. Single-handedly, Clarice drove to the Bimmel household where she discovered that Fredrica had been a dressmaker. She was startled by an unfinished dress with a dressmaker's pattern still pinned to the back - the patterns were of two, white-shaped triangles - sewing darts similar to the missing triangles of skin on the dead girl's back in the West Virginia funeral home. She phoned Crawford with the news: "He's making himself a 'woman's suit,' Mr. Crawford, out of real women. And he, he can sew, this guy. He's, he's very skilled. He's a tailor or a dressmaker. That's why they're all so big. He has to keep them alive, so he can starve them awhile, so he can loosen their skin..." Crawford had already discovered the killer's name, Jame Gumb (aka John Grant), after cross-referencing Lecter's notes with John Hopkins Hospital and finding that Gumb had once applied for a sex-change operation, and had also ordered live caterpillars from Surinam. Crawford was planning a SWAT team raid on Gumb's residence in Calumet City, Illinois. At the same time back in Belvedere, Ohio, Clarice spoke to the victim's best friend Stacy Hubka (Lauren Roselli), and learned that Fredrica used to do alterations for a woman in town named Mrs. Lippman. Meanwhile, the crazed transvestite serial killer was making final preparations to kill Catherine, by primping before his mirror, applying makeup to his eyebrows, adjusting a nipple ring, adorning himself with jewelry, and putting on lipstick. With frizzed-out hair, a naked and hairless Gumb danced, spread his arms out and opened his colorful robe like wings, tucking his genitals out of sight between his thighs - he was ready to emerge ('from his cocoon' like the death's-head moth) as a completely-transformed person.

Starling's interview led her to the Lippman house, where she was confronted by Jame Gumb himself, who revealed he had bought the house two years earlier. While the SWAT team and Crawford were mistakenly breaking into the wrong house in Illinois, Clarice came face-to-face with the uptight serial killer who gave her a false name (Jack Gordon). As she entered, she saw a Death's-Head Moth flutter by and land on a colorful spool of thread - two obvious clues linking "Jack Gordon" to the serial killer. She whipped out her gun with shaking hands and commanded him to "Freeze!" With two steps, he evaded her, ducked into the kitchen, and disappeared into the cellar, where she followed and discovered distress cries from Catherine. In the climactic, terrifying chase sequence in the dungeon-like hideaway, Gumb extinguished the lights and menacingly watched Starling with night-vision goggles. When he cocked the hammer of his gun, the loud metallic click tipped Clarice to his location, and she fired flaming shots from her gun muzzle at him, at point-blank range, killing him. Catherine was successfully rescued, as the house was surrounded with an ambulance, TV crews, and police cars.

At her FBI Academy graduation party, Crawford told Starling: "Your father would have been proud today." Clarice retrieved a long distance phone call from Lecter-at-large, disguised and calling from a phone at an open-air cafe at a tropical airport terminal in the Caribbean. Her heroic, determined rescue of Catherine, the latest female victim of a serial killer, had presumably silenced the lambs once and for all. Lecter assured her: "I have no plans to call on you, Clarice. The world's more interesting with you in it. Say, you take care now to extend me the same courtesy." She replied: "You know I can't make that promise." And then he excused himself: "I do wish we could chat longer, but I'm having an old friend for dinner. Bye." Literally, he noticed his arch-nemesis, the despicable Dr. Frederick Chilton deplaning - he put on a Panama hat and slowly walked into the crowded, narrow street of the Caribbean village and disappeared. The camera pulled back and rose overhead to watch, as the end credits rolled over the scene.

Film Notables (Awards, Facts, etc.)

With seven Academy Award Oscar nominations and five wins: Best Actor (Hopkins) (win), Best Actress (Foster) (win), Best Director (Demme) (win), Best Picture (win), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Ted Tally) (win), also Best Film Editing (nomination) and Best Sound (nomination).

With a production budget of $19 million, and box-office gross receipts of $131 million (domestic) and $273 million (worldwide).

Clarice Starling
(Jodie Foster)

Agent Jack Crawford
(Scott Glenn)

Dr. Frederick Chilton
(Anthony Heald)

Dr. Hannibal Lecter
(Anthony Hopkins)

Jame Gumb/"Buffalo Bill"
(Ted Levine)

Catherine Martin
(Brooke Smith)

Senator Ruth Martin
(Diane Baker)

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