The Silence of the Lambs is often regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made, and certainly one of the greatest crime dramas. While it includes many tropes of the “catching a serial killer” movie, it transcends the genre thanks to some masterful writing, acting, and directing.
The Silence of the Lambs has an incredible script, and its numerous sequels and prequels have failed to match its quality. Ted Tally even won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, a fine reward for filling this film with some of the finest dialogue ever heard in a crime drama.
10“Jack Crawford Sent A Trainee To Me?”
The first scene between Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter is packed with meaning and foreshadowing. Upon glancing at Clarice’s badge, Hannibal notices that it expires in one week. When Clarice tells him that she’s a trainee, a look of surprise crosses his face, and he can’t help but ask, “Jack Crawford sent a trainee to me?”
It displays Hannibal’s incredible ego. Not only is he one of the country’s most feared criminals (not exactly something a trainee should be dealing with), but he also believes that a trainee will crumble under his intelligence and machinations. With these few words, audiences already glean an understanding of how Hannibal Lecter thinks and behaves.
9“A Census Taker Once Tried To Test Me. I Ate His Liver With Some Fava Beans And A Nice Chianti.”
This is arguably Hannibal Lecter’s most famous quote, and the one guaranteed to give viewers goosebumps. By this point in the movie, Hannibal’s horrific crimes have been well exposited and understood by Clarice, but when she meets Hannibal, she sees a rather polite and agreeable man who treats her with respect.
But when she throws a snide remark his way, he offhandedly mentions how he once ate a man’s liver. The sly, almost inconsequential way he so matter-of-factly states it finally reveals the monster underneath the façade.
8“I’m Having An Old Friend For Dinner.”
In one of the greatest puns in the history of film, Hannibal Lecter reveals to Clarice that he’s “having an old friend for dinner” while hiding out in Bimini. The “friend” in question is Dr. Frederick Chilton, the director of the “Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane”.
It’s a masterful final line, proving both threatening and darkly hilarious in equal measure. While it sounds like some type of cordial get-together, Clarice knows exactly what Hannibal means.
7“Well, Clarice. Have The Lambs Stopped Screaming?”
Upon making his violent escape from prison, Hannibal flees to Bimini and phones Clarice after she catches Buffalo Bill. The first thing he asks her is if the lambs have stopped screaming, referencing a prior discussion that the two had shared. The Silence of the Lambs is a brilliant crime thriller, but it’s also a psychological drama concerning the mind of Clarice Starling.
Clarice is a good person, and she desperately wants to help the defenseless of the world. By asking her if the lambs have stopped screaming, Hannibal is both confirming the capture of Buffalo Bill and the appeasement of Clarice’s desire.
6“Not ‘Just’, Clarice. What Set You Off?”
The pivotal and most important moment of the entire film sees Hannibal and Clarice discussing her childhood inside the Memphis courthouse/makeshift prison. Hannibal wishes to discuss her past traumas, but Clarice seems reluctant.
When she coldly states, “One day I just ran away,” Hannibal digs deeper, stating, “Not ‘just’, Clarice” and asking “What set you off?” By probing further, Hannibal is able to break Clarice’s shell, and she finally admits the truth about the metaphorical screaming lambs and her desire to help the helpless.
5“Why Don’t You Look At Yourself And Write Down What You See? Or Maybe You’re Afraid To.”
When Clarice first meets Hannibal, he remains one step ahead of her throughout the length of their conversation. He’s aware of the numerous FBI tricks she’s pulling to gain trust, and he’s easily able to read Clarice’s past, character, and desires.
But Clarice is a strong woman, and she eventually turns the tables on Hannibal by asking him to analyze himself. It works. Not only does the line establish Clarice as a strong, take-no-nonsense agent, but it also demonstrates that she can go toe-to-toe with Hannibal in conversation. This could be the moment in which Hannibal agrees to help her, perhaps respecting her drive and fortitude.
4“It Rubs The Lotion On Its Skin Or Else It Gets The Hose Again!”
The Silence of the Lambs contains two terrifying villains, and fans continue to debate about who is the scariest. This iconic line from Buffalo Bill is perhaps the movie’s most famous, proving a nightmare-inducing glimpse into the detached mind and practices of the prolific serial killer.
He wants Catherine to lotion so her skin is clean and suitable for wearing, and he uses a hose against her when she disobeys. Perhaps the most important thing to take away is his use of “it” rather than “she”, establishing the complete disassociation he undergoes when interacting with his victims.
3“Cops Look At You To See How To Act. It Matters.”
Clarice Starling is one of the strongest female leads of the ’90s (maybe even of all time), and the movie is as much about her strength as it is about the hunt for a serial killer. Jack Crawford pulls the Sheriff away from Starling, knowing that he won’t want to talk business in front of a woman.
This understandably irritates Starling, and she later confronts Crawford about it. It’s not only important to Clarice’s character development, but it also proves one of the movie’s most important sequences in terms of its feminist themes.
2“Memory, Agent Starling, Is What I Have Instead Of A View.”
One of the first thing that Clarice notices in Lecter’s cell is his incredibly detailed drawing of Florence, Italy. When she inquires about the detail, Lecter simply states, “Memory, Agent Starling, is what I have instead of a view.” This line does a couple of things.
Not only is it gorgeously written and performed, but it also depicts Lecter as a cultured savant, with both a deep knowledge of Florence and a great talent for art. But it also sets up his frustrating lack of a view, which is something that Clarice will utilize to her advantage while trying to sway Lecter later in the movie.
1“You Won’t Wake Up In The Dark Ever Again To That Awful Screaming Of The Lambs.”
During the movie’s most pivotal sequence, Clarice finally unveils her lamb dream to Dr. Lecter. Lecter in turn sheds his eerie, serial killer persona for just a second and inhabits his past life as a psychiatrist, helping Clarice to understand her dream.
When she spills the details, Hannibal finally understands her desire and motivations – the motivation to clear her head of past trauma and help the helpless. With this, he finally understands Clarice and is able to let her go, both as an FBI agent and now as a client.