Study Guide

The Silence of the Lambs Genre

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Drama, Psychological Thriller, Monster Movie

To Catch a Predator

Despite being a sophisticated crime drama, The Silence of the Lambs takes its primary nugget of wisdom from a retort commonly heard on school playgrounds: takes one to know one.

Clarice Starling is tasked with interviewing captured serial killer Hannibal Lecter to get into the mind of another serial killer, Buffalo Bill. The FBI believes that the best way to probe the psychology of a serial killer on the loose is to consult another killer, a smarter, infinitely more dangerous one. In other words, it takes a man who's eaten someone's skin to know a man who makes clothes out of someone's skin.

This puts Clarice on a classic dramatic quest. She has to save the day and find the girl. The girl in this case being Buffalo Bill's latest victim, Catherine Martin. The film ratchets up the suspense when Martin is kidnapped, because Bill's known to kill his victims after three days. The clock is ticking.

Lecter really changes the detective-chasing-killer formula. In a way, he's a classic movie monster. When you think of classic monster movies, like Frankenstein, the Wolfman, or the Mummy, do you remember the people in them? No, you remember, and sometimes root for, the monster. Fans definitely root for Hannibal Lecter, this film's version of the movie monster. Roger Ebert even notes the Frankenstein imagery present in a few of Lecter's scenes, like when he's strapped down in the mask contraption. Lecter's an anti-hero, and even though he's much more dangerous than Buffalo Bill, it's thrilling to see him escape in the end.

Thomas Harris, Lecter's creator, definitely realized this, making him into a full blown hero in the sequel novel, Hannibal.

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