Filmsite Movie Review
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Their fourth and final encounter plays out like a profound, perverted parody of a "love scene," sexual power struggle, or a complex chess game. In the remarkable scene in the tightly-guarded room, both alternatingly trade information and confide in each other - learning vital secrets that each covets. The camera moves to closer angles on their faces as the scene progresses and the intimacy level intensifies. As a teacher and fatherly guide, and as a vigilant but learning pupil, they fulfill roles that bring revealing awareness.

After Clarice confronts the doctor about his false leads given to the Senator ("Louis Friend"), he gives her hints and clues that lead to the serial killer, suggesting the madman's motivation and how the murderer might have begun his string of attacks. And Clarice yields her ultimate emotional secret of a traumatic childhood event (with reference to the film's poetic title.) Simultaneously, he psychologically analyzes her motives for being a rescuing hero and how she is attracted to vulnerability. As a frightened child, she tried to save a lamb from slaughter, and she still suffers dreams of lambs screaming:

Lecter: People will say we're in love. (He clucks at her with his tongue) Anthrax Island. That was an especially nice touch, Clarice. Yours?
Clarice: Yes.
Lecter: Yeah. That was good. Pity about poor Catherine, though. Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock.
Clarice: Your anagrams are showing, doctor. (She circles the cage, still keeping him in view) 'Louis Friend?' Iron Sulfide. also known as fool's gold.
Lecter: Oh Clarice, your problem is, you need to get more fun out of life.
Clarice: You were telling me the truth back in Baltimore, sir. Please continue now.
Lecter: I've read the case files. Have you? Everything you need to find him is right there in those pages.
Clarice: Then tell me how.
Lecter: First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing, ask: 'What is it in itself, what is its nature?' What does he do, this man you seek?
Clarice: He kills women.
Lecter: (scolding sharply) No, that is incidental. What is the first and principal thing he does, what needs does he serve by killing?
Clarice: Anger, umm, social acceptance, and umm, sexual frustrations...
Lecter: No! He covets. That is his nature. And how do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet? Make an effort to answer now.
Clarice: No, we just...
Lecter: No. We begin by coveting what we see every day. Don't you feel eyes moving over your body, Clarice? And don't your eyes seek out the things you want?
Clarice: All right, yes. Then, please tell me how...
Lecter: No. It's your turn to tell me, Clarice. You don't have any more vacations to sell. Why did you leave that ranch?
Clarice: Doctor, we don't have any more time for any of this now.
Lecter: But we don't reckon time the same way, do we, Clarice? This is all the time you'll ever have.
Clarice: Later. Now please, listen to me. We've only got five...
Lecter: NO! I will listen now. After your father's murder, you were orphaned. You were ten years old. You went to live with cousins on a sheep and horse ranch in Montana. And...?
Clarice (tears begin forming in her eyes): And one morning, I just ran away.
Lecter: No 'just,' Clarice. What set you off? You started at what time?
Clarice: Early, still dark.
Lecter: Then something woke you, didn't it? Was it a dream? What was it?
Clarice: I heard a strange noise.
Lecter: What was it?
Clarice: It was - screaming. Some kind of screaming, like a child's voice.
Lecter: What did you do?
Clarice: I went downstairs, outside. I crept up into the barn. I was so scared to look inside, but I had to.
Lecter: And what did you see, Clarice? What did you see?
Clarice: Lambs. Theywere screaming.
Lecter: They were slaughtering the spring lambs?
Clarice: And they were screaming.
Lecter: And you ran away?
Clarice: No. First I tried to free them. I-I opened the gate to their pen, but they wouldn't run. They just stood there, confused. They wouldn't run.
Lecter: But you could and you did, didn't you?
Clarice: Yes. I took one lamb, and I ran away as fast as I could.
Lecter: Where were you going, Clarice?
Clarice: I don't know. I didn't have any food, any water and it was very cold, very cold. I thought, I thought if I could save just one, but - he was so heavy. So heavy. I didn't get more than a few miles when the sheriff's car picked me up. The rancher was so angry he sent me to live at the Lutheran orphanage in Bozeman. I never saw the ranch again.
Lecter: What became of your lamb, Clarice?
Clarice: He killed him.

In a domineering close-up which fills the screen with his forehead, the intimidating Lecter compares everything to her failed attempt to rescue a frantic, bleating lamb from the slaughter when she was a child to her present day motives regarding the rescue of another innocent victim, Catherine:

Lecter: You still wake up sometimes, don't you, wake up in the dark, and hear the screaming of the lambs?
Clarice: Yes.
Lecter: 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.
Clarice: I don't know. I don't know.
Lecter: Thank you, Clarice. Thank you.
Clarice: Tell me his name, doctor. (The sound of a door opening)
Lecter: Dr. Chilton, I presume. I think you know each other.

Chilton appears with police, poised to take Clarice from Lecter's presence. Although it's Lecter's "turn" to reveal the serial killer's name, time has run out. As they pull her away, Lecter rises: "Brave Clarice. You will let me know when those lambs stop screaming, won't you?" As she reaches between the bars to take the file on Buffalo Bill from Lecter's extended hand, he strokes her finger - a brief but shocking moment.

In his cell, the camera pans over a new, realistic, charcoal drawing of Clarice with a lamb in her arms (in a Renaissance Age-style painting, and drawn as the Virgin Mary). Lecter listens to Bach's Goldberg Variations seated behind a thin toilet screen. As the two guards serve another meal, they complain about his ordering a second dinner on an elegant dinner tray with "lamb chops, extra rare." As they prepare to enter, Lecter ejects the shiny silver metallic clip from Dr. Chilton's pen from his lips, hides it between his fingers, and dutifully slides down next to the bars to position himself for hand-cuffing. After securing Lecter's wrists, the guards enter the cell and place the tray down, Lecter cleverly escapes from the cuffs and lunges at Sgt. Jim Pembry (Alex Coleman) with gruesome, face-eating cannibalism, smashing his skull against the bars, and spraying mace into his eyes. During his murderous rampage, the second guard Sgt. Boyle (Charles Napier) is mercilessly beaten to death by the bloody-faced Lecter with a police riot baton. After the two brutal attacks, the camera pans over the blood-flecked food tray over to the cassette player, where Lecter is lost listening to Bach. His hand airily drifts over the player. In the background, seriously wounded Pembry struggles to crawl away. Lecter finds a four-inch pocketknife, spilled from Boyle's pockets, and warns the wounded man: "Ready when you are, Sgt. Pembry."

On the ground floor of the Courthouse Building, officers hear shots fired, and notice the elevator moving from the fifth to the third floor. When they get up the stairwell to the third floor, the elevator is empty. In the Historical Society room on the fifth floor, they find the bloody and savaged body of Sgt. Boyle strung up high on the cell bars like Christ. "Sgt. Pembry," with an unrecognizable, gory face, lies bloodied on the floor, and Lecter appears to be missing. The near-dead officer, overwhelmed by a seizure, is whisked away to the elevator on an ambulance stretcher. As the elevator descends, spots of blood drip down from the service hatch on the ceiling of the elevator onto the sheet covering "Pembry's" stretcher. Officers draw their guns, believing Lecter is hiding on the roof of the elevator. Two SWAT officers unlock an entryway to the elevator shaft and see a distant figure dressed like Lecter lying bloodied atop the elevator [It's actually Pembry's body]. After firing one shot into the figure's leg, there is no movement, and the victim is believed to be dead. The hatch of the elevator is eventually unlatched, and "Lecter's" body half-dangles through the opening. In the moving ambulance, the EMS attendant phones in a medical report on the face-lacerated officer. Behind him, "Pembry's" bloody figure removes his disfigured facial mask and oxygen mask and sits up - it is Lecter, who approaches to kill the paramedic.

The scene abruptly cuts from Lecter's bloody face to the corridor of the FBI Academy, where Ardelia drops the phone and races toward Clarice, gasping to her in her room: "They found the ambulance in a parking garage at Memphis Airport. The crew was dead. He killed a tourist too. Got his clothes, cash. By now, he could be anywhere." Clarice feels no fear that Lecter will pursue her, explaining:

He won't come after me...He won't. I can't explain it. He would consider that rude.

Clarice still has to try and figure out Lecter's final clues to her about Buffalo Bill: "Lecter said that everything we need to catch him with is right here in these pages..." When Clarice and Ardelia study the files, they notice Lecter's newly-inked words scrawled across the map with location markings for the kidnapping and dumped-body sites:

Clarice, doesn't this random scattering of sites seem desperately random, like the elaboration of a bad liar? Ta. Hannibal Lecter.

Through insights provided by Lecter, the two wisely observe that the evidence logically shows that Buffalo Bill knew his first victim, Fredrica Bimmel, originally from Belvedere, Ohio. She was the "first girl taken, the third body found." She was the only victim who "didn't drift. He weighted her down."

Clarice: What did Lecter say about the first principles?
Ardelia: Simplicity.
Clarice: What does this guy do? He covets. How do we first start to covet?
Ardelia: We covet what we see...
Clarice: ...everyday.
Ardelia: Hot damn, Clarice.
Clarice: He knew her.

Single-handed, Clarice drives to the riverfront town of Belvedere, Ohio, where a train moves into the town behind a residential street. At the Bimmel's old wooden house, Clarice meets Mr. Bimmel (Harry Northrup) in front of pigeon coops in the backyard. According to Fredrica's father, she had taken a bus to Chicago to look for employment - [she was kidnapped there by the killer, who lived in a suburb of Chicago, called Calumet City]. She is shown into the victim's upstairs bedroom which is "how she left it." In the murdered girl's room are many photographs of Fredrica (with her father and a pigeon, with her mother and a cat) and a cheap china kitten. In a music box are concealed polaroid photographs of an almost naked and chubby Fredrica, all seen from the side or back, as she coyly looks back over her shoulder. Many of the photos show the broad expanse of skin on her naked back.

A cat's meow leads her into another room where a dress-making form sits by the window, realizing that Fredrica was a dressmaker. In the dark closet, Clarice is startled by an unfinished dress with a dressmaker's pattern still pinned to the back - the patterns are 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.

In voice-over, she exuberantly phones Crawford (who is flying in a large FBI Turbojet) with the jarring news from the Bimmel house:

Clarice: 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: Starling, Starling, we know who he is, and where he is. We're on our way right now.

Crawford promises her they will be on the ground with a Hostage Rescue Team in forty-five minutes, since he had already cross-referenced Lecter's notes with Johns Hopkins Hospital and found a man named Jame Gumb who once applied for a sex-change operation. Although she has been shrewdly instrumental in piecing together clues, her surrogate father compliments her performance, but tells her that she will not be able to be in on the seizure of the killer and fulfill her rescue fantasy regarding the girl:

Crawford: Johns Hopkins came up with some names. We fed him into Known Offenders. Subject's name is 'Jamie Gumb,' AKA 'John Grant.' Lecter's description was accurate, he just lied about the name. Listen to this. Customs had some paper on him. They stopped a carton two years ago at LAX - live caterpillars from Surinam. The addressee was a Jame Gumb.
Clarice: Well, Chicago's only four hundred miles from here. I'll be there in...
Crawford: No, no, no Starling. There's not enough time. We want him for murder, not kidnapping. I need you to link him to the Bimmel girl before he's indicted. See what you can dredge up in Belvedere.
Clarice: Yes sir, you bet, I'll do my best.
Crawford: We wouldn't have found him without you. Nobody's gonna forget that, least of all me.

Down in Gumb's cellar pit, Catherine resourcefully has thought up an ingenious plan to outwit her captor. She ties a chicken bone from the scraps of her TV dinner to the bucket string, and tosses the bucket up to the floor level as a lure for Precious, calling out: "Precious, are you up there, you little shit? Come and get it, pretty girl." The transvestite serial killer is primping before his mirror, applying makeup to his eyebrows, adjusting a nipple ring, adorning himself with jewelry, and putting on lipstick. The little white dog is tempted by the bone, but Catherine fails to coax Precious close to the pit and pull her in. With frizzed-out hair, a naked and hairless Gumb dances, spreads his arms out and opens his colorful robe like wings, and tucks his genitals out of sight between his thighs - ready to emerge ('from his cocoon' like the death's head moth) as a completely-transformed person.

Scenes with parallel streams of action are effectively cross-cut together. In Jamie Gumb's cellar, the serial killer makes preparations to "do" Catherine. At the Air National Guard Headquarters in Chicago, Crawford prepares a SWAT team that will raid a residential house in Calumet City, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. In Moxley's Drug Store in Belvedere, Ohio, Clarice speaks to the victim's best friend Stacy Hubka (Lauren Roselli), a scene which reveals much about provincial life in the Ohio town:

Stacy: Is that a good job, FBI agent? You get to travel around and stuff? I mean, better places than this?
Clarice: Sometimes you do.
Stacy: Freddy was so happy for me when I got this job at the bank. Toaster giveaways and Barry Manilow on the speakers all day - she thought it was such hot shit. What did she know, big dummy...
Clarice: Stacy, did Fredrica ever mention a man named Jamie Gumb or a Jame Gumb? How about John Grant?
Stacy: No.
Clarice: Would she have had a friend that you didn't know about?
Stacy: No way. If she had a guy, I'd have known, believe me. Sewing was her life.
Clarice: Did you two ever work together?
Stacy: Oh sure, me and Pam Malavesi used to help her do alterations for old Mrs. Lippman.
Clarice: Can you give me Mrs. Lippman's address? I need to talk to her.

As Crawford and the SWAT team swiftly creep closer to the neighborhood house in Calumet City and use a flower delivery van as a decoy, Jamie Gumb adoringly removes one of his insects from his laboratory. But then he hears his dog yelping - down in the pit where Catherine clutches the white poodle to her chest, holding the dog hostage: "Down here, you sack of shit!" He groans, caught off guard with his precious Precious squirming frantically, as Catherine bargains for her life with the deranged killer:

Catherine: Get me a telephone and lower it down here now.
Gumb: Poodle-y poo. Precious. Darling, are you all right?
Catherine: She's in a lot of pain, mister, she needs a vet. She broke her leg on the way down. I know it.
Gumb: Hey, don't you hurt my dog?
Catherine: Don't you make me hurt your dog!
Gumb: You don't know what pain is.

As Gumb flounders around with a mixture of rage and anguish, he whips out his Colt revolver. The flower delivery man rings the doorbell twice, and the loud buzzer goes off in Gumb's cellar. When the killer gets up to the front door and opens it, Clarice peers in! - it is a surprising, superbly-executed moment. Smiling and with her FBI ID, she inquires politely but firmly about the Lippman family, learning that he bought the house two years earlier. While the SWAT team and Crawford are mistakenly breaking into the wrong house in Illinois, Clarice is face-to-face with the uptight serial killer who gives her a false name (Jack Gordon).

Inside the suspect's house where she carefully observes everything as she follows him into the musty-looking parlor, a Death's-Head Moth flutters by and lands on a colorful spool of thread - two obvious clues linking "Jack Gordon" to the serial killer. She fearfully gulps, but tries to appear calm. But as he looks at her, they perceptively know each other. After asking to use the phone, she whips out her gun with shaking hands and commands him to "Freeze!" With two steps, he evades her, ducks into the kitchen, and disappears into the cellar.

In the climactic, terrifying chase sequence in the dungeon-like hideaway, she cautiously follows the madman down the stairwell into the cellar with her gun drawn. Clarice comes upon two doors, opens one of them into a brick-walled passageway, and hears a distant dog barking and distress cries from Catherine. Swiveling from side to side with her gun for protection, she comes upon the pit after hugging walls and closing off openings behind which Gumb could be lurking. She locates the kidnapped, hysterical girl who can only cry: "Get me out of here!" When she promises that she'll be back to continue her hunt and stalking of Gumb, Catherine screams: "Nooo! Don't you leave me here, you f--kin' bitch!...Please, I gotta get out of here!" Loudly, she replies: "THE OTHER OFFICERS WILL BE HERE ANY MINUTE NOW!" Gasping for breath and crouching as she weaves back and forth in passageways lit by naked light bulbs, she finds herself in Gumb's laboratory and skinning room, where big moths fly overhead, and a 'skin suit' is briefly seen on a dressmaker's dummy. In a bathroom off the workroom, a female hand and wrist extend up out of a murky mixture in a bathtub.

As Clarice reacts in horror to the sight, the lights go out and she finds herself in total darkness. Gumb has fitted himself with night-vision goggles (seen before when Catherine was abducted). From his perspective, everything appears in a greenish tint, and he watches her as she flattens herself against a wall and tries to get her bearings, in a sequence reminiscent of the final fifteen minutes of Wait Until Dark (1967). As the serial killer reaches out with one hand to stroke her hair and the skin of her face, his fingers float through the air just inches from in front of her. Then he pauses, raises his gun in the air, and cocks the hammer. Its loud metallic click tips Clarice to his location. She spins around - in slow motion - and fires flaming shots from her gun muzzle at him, at point-blank range.

She hits the floor and struggles to reload her gun cylinder, but there is no need - Gumb gurgles blood from his throat and dies a few feet away. He is prone on his back on the floor, staring upwards through his goggles. Her labored breathing decreases as she looks around - newspaper clippings commemorating his own killings, a lingering medium shot of a child's-size American flag leaning against a dusty Army helmet, and a close-up of a revolving, turquoise-blue, "Chinatown" paper mobile emblazoned with a butterfly design.

The front porch of the Gumb house is surrounded with an ambulance, TV crews, and police cars. Still hugging Precious, Catherine is led to the awaiting ambulance. Crawford protectively cradles Clarice with his arm, asking if she's OK. In an abrupt cut to applause and the FBI Academy's graduation, Clarice's name is read and she receives her diploma and congratulations. She acknowledges Ardelia in the audience who gives her a thumbs-up signal, and then smiles proudly at Crawford who applauds softly. At the celebration party following the ceremony, Crawford, who used her intelligence and ambition to help him solve the serial killer case and will ultimately be rewarded for the criminal's demise, is unable to find any words. He offers only brief congratulations, linking his pride in her to her respect for her father:

Your father would have been proud today.

After saying goodbye to him, Clarice retrieves 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 book, Clarice received a letter, not a phone call -- and Dr. Chilton was never stalked by Lecter.] Her heroic, determined rescue of Catherine, the latest female victim of a serial killer, has presumably silenced the lambs once and for all:

Lecter: Well, Clarice, have the lambs stopped screaming?
Clarice: (stunned by the familiar voice) Dr. Lecter.
Lecter: Don't bother with the trace. I won't be on long enough.
Clarice: Where are you, Dr. Lecter?
Lecter: (assuring) I have no plans to call on you, Clarice. The world's more interesting with you in it. So you take care now to extend me the same courtesy.
Clarice: You know I can't make that promise.
Lecter: I do wish we could chat longer, but I'm having an old friend for dinner. Bye.

He cuts his phone call short as he delivers his famous farewell line to her when he notices his arch-nemesis, the despicable Dr. Frederick Chilton deplaning. Lecter puts on a Panama hat and slowly walks into the crowded, narrow street of the Caribbean village and disappears. The camera pulls back and rises overhead to watch, as the end credits roll over the scene.

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