Clarice Starling is training for a new job. We've all been there. Except instead of learning how to upgrade a cell phone plan, make book recommendations, or sell a scarf to match a shirt, Clarice is running through an obstacle course. Her job is slightly less stressful and dangerous than working retail: she's training for the FBI.
Call To Adventure
Who wouldn't jump at the opportunity to descend into a grimy basement filled with psychotics and interview Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter, one of the most frightening serial killers of all time? Clarice eagerly accepts when Jack Crawford, the head of the FBI's Behavioral Science Services, gives her this assignment.
Refusal Of The Call
Even with Lecter on the other side of a thick pane of glass, he is still dangerous. Clarice is frightened, but she never considers not doing it. If she didn't interview Lecter, she could kiss her FBI career goodbye. There's no room for cowards in the bureau, especially cowardly women. As a woman, Clarice must go above and beyond to be recognized for her success.
Meeting The Mentor
Clarice gets guidance from a strange place—a cannibalistic serial killer. Hannibal Lecter can read Clarice like an open book. He knows she is ambitious and desperate to climb the ranks of the FBI. That's one of the main reasons he helps her; he wants her to succeed. And he probably has good recipes to share too. (Ugh. We shouldn't have gone there, sorry.)
Crossing The Threshold
The threshold of the Baltimore State Forensic hospital literally leads Clarice down, down, down a bunch of dark stairs into a creepy basement that resembles a dungeon, which houses Baltimore's criminally insane. There is one literal threshold she cannot cross, however: the barrier between herself and Lecter's cell. She must try to understand the man from a distance.
Tests, Allies, Enemies
Clarice is interviewing Lecter because another psycho named Buffalo Bill is kidnapping and killing women. Tension is raised when the daughter of the Tennessee governor is abducted, and Clarice as to race against the clock to get her back. To discover Bill's true identity (his driver's license doesn't say "Buffalo" on it, after all), she must walk a fine line between getting close to Lecter and keeping him at a safe distance.
Approach To The Inmost Cave
Clarice's innermost cave is an emotional one, and the meaning of the movie's title is revealed. Clarice was orphaned at a young age and raised on a farm. The screaming of the lambs haunted her. Now, she has two choices to silence them—eat a ton of lamb chops, or save the abducted innocent girl.
Clarice ends up at Buffalo Bill's lair by accident. Crawford sends her somewhere else (being a woman in the FBI is an ordeal on its own) that turns out to be where Buffalo Bill is keeping Catherine Martin. Clarice must track Bill through his darkened basement while he follows her with night vision goggles. Thankfully, her superior FBI training gives her the upper hand, and she triumphs.
Reward (Seizing The Sword)
Clarice rescues Catherine Martin—and the dog, Precious—giving her two rewards for the price of one! Clarice has three rewards if you count the recognition and respect she receives from her colleagues and superiors at the FBI for closing such a complicated case.
The Road Back
Clarice returns to the FBI academy for her graduation. Jack Crawford congratulates her for a job well done. She has proven her worth to the Bureau, and exceeded Crawford's expectations.
But aren't we forgetting a certain someone she descended into the deep dark basement to meet? You know the one.
Hannibal Lecter escapes, but he gives Clarice a happy little phone call. He lets her know that he's on the loose, but he assures her that she's safe. However, Clarice knows that her life will never be the same with Hannibal the Cannibal walking around a free man.
Return With The Elixir
Lecter asks Clarice if the lambs have stopped screaming. We have a feeling they have, giving her a bit of much-needed peace at night. Also, she gets a cake for graduation. Everyone loves cake.