Study Guide

The Silence of the Lambs Quotes

  • Cunning and Cleverness

    CRAWFORD: We're interviewing all the serial killers now in custody for a psycho-behavioral profile. Could be a real help in unsolved cases.

    We describe this method of catching a killer as "takes one to know one." Who knew such cunning wisdom would come from an elementary school taunt, or the mouth of Pee Wee Herman? We'd guess that criminal profiling requires more smarts than just any other branch of FBI work.

    CRAWFORD: You're to tell him nothing personal, Starling. Believe me, you don't want Hannibal Lecter inside your head.

    Because he'll eat your brain!

    Also, Lecter has a habit of picking up on what people hate most about themselves and exploiting it. He picks up on Clarice's insecurity and taunts her. However, he later turns that around and tries to help her help herself. Maybe he was a good therapist after all…as long as he's not hungry.

    CHILTON: We've tried to study him of course, but he's much too sophisticated for the standard tests.

    Lecter's definitely too smart for Chilton. Lecter is a thinker. This line from Dr. Chilton lets us, and Clarice, know that analyzing Lecter is going to be challenging. Dr. Lecter is usually a few steps ahead. He's kind of a genius.

    CLARICE: Yes, I'm still in training at the Academy. We're talking about psychology, Doctor, not the Bureau. Can you decide for yourself whether or not I'm qualified?

    Here we start to see Clarice's cleverness come forward. She's trying a bit of flattery to see if she can get into the doctor's good graces. It works—for a while, at least. Lecter ultimately thinks the questionnaire ploy is insulting to his intelligence, and sends her away.

    CLARICE: It excites him. Most serial killers keep some sort of trophies from their victims.

    LECTER: I didn't.

    CLARICE: No. No, you ate yours.

    Clarice's cleverness here is twofold. First, she knows her Serial Killer 101. But more importantly, her directness with the doctor impresses him, and it's at this moment when he agrees to see the questionnaire.

    CLARICE: Lecter altered or destroyed most of his patients' histories, so there's no record of anyone named Mofet, but I thought the "yourself" reference was too hokey for Lecter, so I figured he's from Baltimore and I looked in the phone book and there's a "Your Self" storage facility right outside of downtown Baltimore, sir. […] The contract is in the name of a Miss Hester Mofet.

    Lecter had earlier told Clarice to "Look at yourself." That just didn't sit right with her, didn't sound like something he'd say, so she takes it to have some other meaning and comes up with this storage facility. Either Clarice is a genius or the novelist really needed to move the plot along. This seems a little too clever.

    CLARICE: Hester Mofet. It's an anagram, isn't it, doctor? Hester Mofet. The rest of me. Miss the rest of me.

    These anagrams are presented to us as bits of cleverness, even though anyone who reads the Sunday Jumble on a regular basis could figure them out. Lecter's intelligence doesn't find much expression in his hospital cell, so he welcomes any opportunity to demonstrate it.

    CLARICE: 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 30s or 40s. He's got real physical strength, combined with an older man's self-control. He's… 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.

    This is like auditing an Intro to Serial Killers course. Buffalo Bill fits exactly into Clarice's analysis, but it's also very vague in certain points, like a newspaper horoscope. Is she being clever here, or is Buffalo Bill simply not clever enough?

    CLARICE: Your anagrams are showing, Doctor. Louis Friend. Iron Sulfide. Also known as Fool's Gold.

    This anagram is cleverer than the previous one, and Clarice knows the doctor by this point, so she figures it out. In the 90s this was especially clever because they didn't have anagram-solver.net. Clarice needs paper, pen, and her brain.

  • Gender

    [In the first scene, Starling runs obstacle course, alone. She climbs a cargo net.]

    The beginning of the film shows Clarice in a stereotypically masculine setting: running an obstacle course, dripping with sweat. Also, she's the only person doing it. She's by herself, not with a group. As a woman, she needs to work harder to get noticed by the FBI.

    [As Starling walks through the FBI academy, the vast majority of the trainees are men. At one point, she's the sole woman in an elevator full of men.]

    Men men men, manly men everywhere. Men are cleaning guns and otherwise dominating the screen as Clarice walks the halls. She's definitely an outsider because of her gender.

    CHILTON: You know, we get a lot of detectives here, but I must say I can't ever remember one as attractive. […] Will you be in Baltimore overnight? Because this can be quite a fun town if you have the right guide.

    Clarice is also subjected to sexist comments like this one from Dr. Chilton. He would rather flirt with her than respect her. She knows better than to let a sleazeball like him "guide" her through Baltimore. He's barely one step subtler than Miggs.

    CLARICE: I graduated from UVA, doctor, it's not a charm school.

    This is the perfect comeback to shoot down Dr. Chilton's remarks about her gender. But because she's a woman, she has to remind him of her credentials to get his mind off other things.

    CRAWFORD: This type of sex crime has certain aspects I'd just as soon discuss in private. You know what I mean?

    Starling isn't aware at this moment that Crawford is doing this to appease the local police force. He's appealing to their gender bias and sucking up to them in a way by leaving Clarice out of the discussion. They would feel threatened if she were put on the same level as the rest of them.

    CLARICE: Excuse me! Excuse me, gentlemen! You officers and gentlemen, listen here now. Uh, there's things we need to do for her. I know that y'all brought her this far and that her folks would thank you if they could for your kindness and your sensitivity. And now please, go on now and lets us take care of her. Go on now. Thank you.

    After being left standing in a room full of men who disregard her and lack respect for her, Clarice feels the need to stand up for herself. The men do leave, but they hesitate. Would they hesitate if given the same order by a male superior officer?

    PILCHER: What do you do when you're not detecting, Agent Starling? […] You ever go out for cheeseburgers and beer? The amusing house wine?

    CLARICE: Are you hitting on me, doctor?

    PILCHER: Yes.

    It doesn't stop. Dr. Pilcher, at the museum, hits on Clarice in a similar way as Dr. Chilton. But at least Pilcher acknowledges Clarice's credentials. It seems like he respects her, and that might make her more attractive to him.

    LECTER: Billy is not a real transsexual. But he thinks he is. He tries to be. He's tried to be a lot of things, I expect.

    Dr. Lecter analyzes Buffalo Bill's gender in a scene that some trans activists object to. What do you think Buffalo Bill's gender identity really is? Is it up to us to decide?

    [Clarice finds Frederika Bimmel's Polaroids hidden in her music box.]

    Even though the FBI has combed the victim's room many times, these pictures remain hidden until Clarice finds them. How does Clarice find them? Maybe because she's a woman, and she knows where other women might hide things.

  • Respect and Reputation

    CRAWFORD: Your instructors tell me you're doing well. Top quarter of your class.

    The reason Jack Crawford selects Clarice for the job is because she did well in her classes. The moral of this story, kids: do well in school, and maybe you'll be used as bait for a serial killer, too!

    LECTER: Jack Crawford sent a trainee to me? […] Jack Crawford must be very busy indeed if he's recruiting help from the student body.

    Jack Crawford has seen how promising Clarice can be. Hannibal Lecter has not. Clarice has to earn his respect. She had to earn Crawford's respect too, but that happened before the movie started. Lecter sees the situation as disrespectful to him—he probably thinks he deserves their most experienced agent.

    LECTER: I will make you happy. I'll give you a chance for what you love most. […] Advancement, of course.

    Hannibal Lecter recognizes how ambitious Clarice is. She earns his respect during their interview with her candor, and in return, he wants to help her earn respect from others.

    CRAWFORD: Starling, we wouldn't have found him without you. Nobody's gonna forget that. Least of all me.

    Clarice wants to impress Jack Crawford because he's like a father figure to her. Lecter is, too, in a way, but Crawford is a person Clarice can actually look up to. Their relationship is not romantic, despite what Lecter suggests earlier.

    CRAWFORD: Your father would have been proud today.

    This is one of the last things Jack Crawford says to Clarice in the movie, giving her exactly what she wanted for the whole movie: respect from her father. But her father is dead, so this surrogate father will just have to work.

  • Identity

    [FBI Academy]

    We learn Clarice Starling's job before we learn her name. She's wearing a sweatshirt that has "FBI Academy" embroidered on it. That is the critical part of her identity that matters. Her goal is to become a full-fledged FBI agent.

    "Bill Skins Fifth"

    Here is something else we learn from text on the screen. When Starling enters Crawford's office, he has newspaper articles all over the wall. This shows us the identity of the antagonist, and what his motivations are: skinning people.

    "Hannibal the Cannibal."

    This is one more bit of exposition telling us the identity of our third major player: Hannibal Lecter. Clarice knows him as "Hannibal the Cannibal." His reputation precedes him.

    CHILTON: Oh, he's a monster. A pure psychopath. So rare to capture one alive. From a research point of view, Lecter is our most prized asset.

    Dr. Chilton up-sells Hannibal Lecter's mystique. At this point, we've heard him called "monster," "cannibal," and "psychopath" before we see him. All these adjectives shape our image of him.

    LECTER: You're not more than one generation from poor, white trash, are you, Agent Starling?

    Dr. Lecter is a skilled therapist, able to analyze Clarice's background just from talking to her. However, he uses this insight against her. He sees her trying to hide that part of her identity, and he pulls it out to insult her.

    CLARICE: If he sees Catherine as a person and not just an object, it's harder to tear her up.

    Senator Martin wants people, especially Buffalo Bill, to see her daughter, Catherine, as her daughter Catherine, not as an anonymous victim or an object. Establishing her identity is important for humanizing her. So in her television plea, she uses her name over and over.

    LECTER: Billy hates his own identity, you see, and he thinks that makes him a transsexual. But his pathology is a thousand times more savage and more terrifying.

    Buffalo Bill will try anything to try on a different identity because he hates himself too much. If he weren't caught at the end, he would finish his woman suit and probably still hate himself. Then he'd probably start skinning actual lambs to be a human sheep.

    MURRAY: Is it true what they're saying? […] He's some kind of vampire?

    CLARICE: They don't have a name for what he is.

    There's a mystique around Hannibal Lecter, like he's some sort of mythical figure or super-villain. We have a feeling that Dr. Chilton might be spreading some of these rumors. The scarier Dr. Lecter appears, the more heroic Chilton seems for keeping him behind bars.

  • Manipulation

    CHILTON: Crawford's very clever, isn't he? Using you. […] A pretty young woman to turn him on.

    Jack Crawford is doing the best he can to manipulate Lecter into talking, even if he has to use Clarice to do it. We'll see later on that he has manipulated her too, in a way.

    CLARICE: If Lecter feels that you're his enemy, then, um, well maybe we'll have more luck if I go in by myself.

    Clarice can play the manipulation game too. She puts up with Dr. Chilton just long enough to get access to Lecter, then she sends him away.

    LECTER: Closer, please. Closer.

    Here, Lecter manipulates Clarice into moving closer to his cell, which she isn't supposed to do. But the director also manipulates us, by using close-ups of the actors almost exclusively. These camera angles make us feel a lot closer than we'd ever want to be.

    LECTER: You think you can dissect me with this blunt little tool?

    Clarice is doing a good job at convincing Lecter to talk to her, but she blows it when she hands him the FBI questionnaire. Lecter requires skill and subtlety. The FBI questionnaire is too blatant a move.

    CRAWFORD: The orderly heard Lecter whispering to him all afternoon and Miggs crying. They found him at bed check. He'd swallowed his own tongue.

    Lecter is so good at manipulating people, he convinces Miggs to kill himself, without even touching the man. That's so crazy, we want to know what he said to him. Or maybe we don't…

    [Dr. Chilton takes away Lecter's drawings, turns off the lights, and puts a televangelist show on the TV.]

    Dr. Chilton uses psychiatry as punishment. In this way, he and Lecter are kindred spirits. If they weren't on different sides of the bars, and if they played nice with others, they might make a diabolical team. The filmmakers are geniuses at manipulating us to the extent that we're almost happy at the end to see Chilton being Lecter's next victim.

    CRAWFORD: If I had sent you in there with an actual agenda, Lecter would have known it instantly. He would have toyed with you, and then turned to stone.

    This quote references the first one in this section, and what we said about Crawford manipulating Starling too. He keeps her in the dark, and says it's for her own good. Is he right to do this, or is he not giving her enough credit?

    LECTER: Quid pro quo. I tell you things, you tell me things. […] Quid pro quo. Yes or no?

    Here we have Lecter's ultimate manipulation. Clarice is told not to let Lecter inside her head, but now she must, or else he won't help her. It's a power play. Lecter removes any power Clarice might have, and he finds out things that he could use against her. But by this point, he likes her, and it's a good thing too. Or else he could use these facts to destroy her.