The Silence of the Lambs Summary
Clarice Starling, FBI trainee, runs through the woods on a not-so-snowy evening—and we don't see any lambs anywhere.
She's summoned by Jack Crawford, head of the FBI's Behavior Science division, and given a task: interview Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter. No, the FBI isn't hiring a chef; they're hoping Dr. Lecter—a psychiatrist who kills and eats people in his spare time—can give them clues to the identity of a new serial killer, nicknamed Buffalo Bill, who's been skinning women.
After dealing with the sexist head of the Baltimore State Forensic Hospital, Dr. Chilton, Clarice meets Dr. Lecter, who resides in the last cell on the left. Clarice tells Lecter about Buffalo Bill and impresses him with her analysis. Lecter, however, feels insulted by the FBI questionnaire she gives him, and he sends her away. When an inmate in a nearby cell insults Clarice (to put it mildly), Lecter offers to help her and gives her a cryptic clue.
And so the thriller begins.
The clue leads Clarice to a storage unit where she finds no lambs—but a severed head, one of Lecter's old patients. Lecter says he didn't kill him; Buffalo Bill did, meaning he knows Bill's identity. But he won't reveal it until Clarice finds a way to transfer him away from Dr. Chilton. Anywhere would be better.
Detroit. Cleveland. Russia. Anything's an upgrade.
As a new victim, Catherine Martin (still not a lamb), is kidnapped and a new body found in a river, the pressure to find Bill increases. Crawford brings Clarice to the autopsy of the latest victim. The body has diamond-shaped marks of flesh removed from its back and a bug cocoon lodged in its throat. Clarice takes the cocoon to a museum and finds out it's a death's head moth.
As far as insects go, not a cute one.
Buffalo Bill usually kills his victims in three days, so Clarice makes a (fake) offer of transfer to Hannibal Lecter to get more information out of him. Unfortunately, Dr. Chilton, who wants all the credit himself, tells Lecter the offer was fake and makes his own (real) offer. Lecter is transferred to Memphis (no lambs there either) for a meeting with Catherine Martin's mother, a senator, in his jazzy new face mask: to keep him from biting anyone's face off. Meanwhile, Bill is keeping Catherine in a pit in his house, making her apply lotion to her skin so it's nice and soft when he removes it.
Lecter gives Clarice a fake name, "Louis Friend," which Clarice deciphers as an anagram. She wants more information from him, but he wants to know about her. A little quid pro quo. She tells him about being orphaned and sent to live on a farm where the screaming of the lambs during slaughter (there they are!) kept her awake at night. Lecter suggests if she saves Catherine, unlike the lamb she tried to save years ago, maybe she can sleep at night.
Clarice, who isn't supposed to be there, is ushered away. Lecter soon uses a pen he stole from Dr. Chilton to pick his handcuffs, kill a pair of guards, and escape.
Meanwhile, Clarice, thinking about what Lecter says, investigates the first victim again. She finds some hidden photos and a dress with diamonds on the back, which leads her to a woman that the victim used to work for…
…Buffalo Bill invites Clarice in to grill her (not literally, that's Lecter's M.O.) on how close they are to catching the killer. When Clarice sees a moth with a little skull on the back, she knows this man is Buffalo Bill. She chases him through the house and into the dark basement. Bill's got night-vision goggles and the advantage, but she manages to shoot and kill him, rescuing Catherine Martin.
Clarice graduates from the FBI Academy with flying colors. Jack Crawford shakes her hand and says her dad would be proud, and she gets a very special phone call from Dr. Hannibal Lecter. He won't tell her where he is, but he promises not to come after her. Then he watches Dr. Chilton getting off a plane and tells Clarice he's "having an old friend for dinner."
We we don't think he means meeting him at Olive Garden.
- The woods near Quantico, VA, are foggy, but that doesn't stop a sweaty Jodie Foster in her FBI Academy sweatshirt from running through the trees.
- There's a little obstacle course in the woods, with a rope cargo net she easily climbs. It's like a Tough Mudder with a lot less mud.
- A guy runs up and tells Starling that Crawford wants to see her in his office. She runs to the office, taking an elevator filled with men who are all bigger than she is.
- Crawford's office is in a wing labeled Behavioral Science Services, and Starling waits in his office for him to return.
- And what a charming office it is. The walls are covered with grisly photos of skinned women, and a newspaper headline, BILL SKINS FIFTH.
- Mr. Crawford pops in to greet Clarice Ann Starling, the top student in her class.
- He has a job, and she's just the trainee for it.
- They're interviewing a load of serial killers to get information on current cases.
- But the one they want to speak to most, Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter, won't talk.
- Crawford thinks he'll talk to Starling, though.
- Starling asks if there's a connection between Lecter and Buffalo Bill.
- Crawford says no, but tells her she still needs to be very careful with him, and not tell him anything personal.
- Foreshadowing alert.
- Clarice speaks with Dr. Chilton at the Baltimore State Forensic Hospital.
- "He's a monster. A pure psychopath," he says about Hannibal Lecter.
- Then the sleazeball flirts with Clarice, asking her if she's staying in Baltimore overnight. (Maybe they could go see a John Waters movie together.)
- She declines his advances, so he leads her to the cells, spouting off the rules along the way:
- Do not touch the glass.
- Do not approach the glass.
- Pass him nothing but soft paper, no pencils or pens.
- No staples or paper clips.
- Use the sliding food carrier.
- If he passes her anything, she is not to accept it.
- The reason for all these rules is because when Lecter complained of chest pains, and a nurse leaned over him, he chewed off her face and ate her tongue.
- Alrighty then.
- A guard named Barney lets Clarice in through the thick gate.
- Hannibal is at the end of the hall, the last cell.
- All the creeps behind bars leer at Clarice, saying words we can't print in mixed company.
- Lecter's different, standing calmly in the middle of his cell. "Good morning," he says. Classy guy—we're surprised a little bluebird doesn't land on his shoulder. (Maybe he ate it already.)
- He asks to see Clarice's credentials, so she holds out her ID.
- "Closer, please. Closer," he asks, so she brings the ID closer.
- He notices that she's a trainee, and she tells him she's there to learn from him. (Perhaps he has a nice recipe for human a la flambe.)
- She sits in the provided chair outside Lecter's cell.
- Lecter sniffs the air, noting she uses Evian skin cream and sometimes she wears L'Air du Temps, "but not today."
- Now that's just creepy.
- Clarice asks Lecter about his drawings of Italy that he's done from memory.
- Then she clumsily segues into asking him to fill out her questionnaire.
- Lecter calls her out on her lack of skills. He thinks Crawford must be desperate to send a student.
- He starts talking about Buffalo Bill, and asks Clarice why he's called that.
- She tells him a homicide detective commented, "This one likes to skin his humps."
- Lecter wonders if Clarice knows why.
- She says that Buffalo Bill is excited by it, and wants to keep a trophy from his victims.
- "I didn't," says Lecter.
- "No, you ate yours," observes Clarice, dryly.
- He gives her permission to send the questionnaire through the tray, and she does.
- He flips through it, and becomes offended. He insults Clarice, calling her a "rube" with no taste, and he gives her a quick rundown of what he thinks her past was like.
- "Are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at yourself?" she dares him.
- Bad idea. He sends the questionnaire through unanswered, and tells her what he did to a census taker once. (There's the recipe we'd hoped for. Fava beans. Chianti. Census taker, whole.)
- Lecter sends Starling away, so she sulks back down the hall.
- When she passes Miggs' cell, he flings some fluid at her, maybe hoping Clarice will style her hair like Cameron Diaz does in There's Something About Mary.
- Lecter calls out for Agent Starling, and she runs back to his cell.
- He's offended that Miggs mistreated her in this way, so he wants to help her. He tells her to "Look deep within yourself," and visit a patient of his, Miss Mofet.
- She quickly exits the asylum, without getting anything chucked at her face this time.
- Clarice goes to her little junky car, crying from the stress, and thinking about her childhood in the South.
- Clarice takes out some anger at the shooting range, then she participates in a training exercise, one that ends up with her dead.
- Pretend dead, of course. She didn't check her blind spot.
- She goes for a jog with her roommate, Ardelia, then does some research on Lecter.
- Ardelia tells Clarice she has a call from Crawford.
- He tells Clarice Miggs is dead. Lecter seems to have talked to the man until he killed himself.
- Crawford asks Clarice about Mofet. No leads, but she did think "Look deep within yourself" was hokey, and she found a storage facility in Baltimore called Your Self Storage.
- Time for Clarice to play Storage Wars. We love that show!
- Clarice arrives at Your Self Storage, where there's a storage unit in the name of Miss Hester Mofet. No one's been there since 1980.
- The door's stuck, so Clarice gets the jack from her car and forces it open as far as she can.
- She slides under the door armed with only a flashlight, ripping her pant leg and cutting herself on some jagged metal.
- Inside is a taxidermied owl, some mannequin parts, a dusty piano, and inside a hearse, a transvestite's head in a jar. You know, the usual stuff.
- Clarice returns to Lecter, saying "Hester Mofet" is an anagram for "the rest of me." She knows Lecter rented the garage.
- He slides open the drawer, and Clarice looks inside. There's a small towel there, to dry her wet hair.
- She asks whose head is in the jar, but Lecter wants to talk about Buffalo Bill. He wants Clarice to bring him the case file.
- Lecter says the head in the jar belonged to Benjamin Raspail. He didn't kill him; but he stored him after he found him dead. He has no idea who killed him.
- Lecter asks Clarice if she thinks Jack Crawford is sexually attracted to her, and she tells him that's "the sort of thing Miggs would say."
- Finally, the lights in Lecter's cell come on, and all his drawings are gone. He's being punished for basically killing Miggs.
- Clarice brings Lecter back to the issue at hand (or more like at head), but Lecter, channeling E.M. Forster, wants a room with a view.
- He knows that Benjamin Raspail was killed by Buffalo Bill, but he won't tell her who Bill is just yet.
- Now we're walkin' in Memphis. Well, we're drivin' in Memphis.
- A woman listening to the stereo loudly in her car, parks and gets out at her apartment.
- Nearby, a man with a broken arm tries to load a large chair into a van.
- The woman asks if he needs help, and he forces her into the van. "Are you about a size 14?" he asks, before punching her unconscious and locking the van.
- He checks her shirt tag and yes, yes she is.
- He cuts the blouse off her, and caresses her back.
- Then he tosses the cotton/poly blend garment into the street and drives away.
- Clarice is called out of training. She's headed to Clay County, WV, with Crawford. A new body has been found in the river.
- Crawford lays out Buffalo Bill's M.O.—he keeps them trapped for three days, shoots them, skins them, then dumps them.
- Clarice looks at gruesome crime scene photos on the plane. We hope she didn't just eat.
- In the car, Crawford asks Clarice for her profile of Bill.
- She believes he's a white male in his 30s or 40s, with his own house, who has physical strength and patience.
- She asks Crawford about Lecter's offer, and he says he's considering it.
- The local sheriff, Sheriff Perkins, leads the FBI agents to a funeral home, and Crawford goes to talk to the sheriff in private, leaving Clarice alone with the rest of the male police officers. Awkward.
- Being in the funeral home reminds Clarice of a funeral, the funeral for her father.
- Crawford shakes Clarice from her flashback and calls her into the back room.
- All the officers are talking loudly, so Clarice speaks up and tells them, politely, to get out so the FBI can do their job.
- Everyone left in the room puts some Vicks Vapo-Rub type stuff underneath their nose to block out the smell of the bloated corpse they're about to unzip.
- Clarice steels herself for what she's about to see, and she turns to face the victim.
- Clarice does an examination, speaking into a tape recorder.
- She notes a bullet wound in the chest, and that the girl's ears are pierced, so she must not be local.
- She tried to claw her way through something, Clarice notes from the dirt under her broken fingernails.
- The photographer takes photos of the victim, including down her throat, and Clarice notices there's something down there.
- An examiner reaches inside with tweezers and pulls out a little cocoon. Clarice believes someone shoved it in there.
- They flip the body over, and find two large diamond shaped sections of skin removed. Gross.
- In the car, Crawford tells Clarice that he only told the sheriff he didn't want to talk in front of a woman to suck up to the sheriff, so he wouldn't get in their way.
- Well, that's sweet, we guess.
- Clarice takes the bug specimen to a museum for them to examine.
- One scientist cuts it open while the other man asks her out. She deflects his advances.
- The cocoon is slit open to reveal Acherontia styx, "the death's head moth."
- They only live in Asia. He'd have to be imported.
- Cut to Buffalo Bill's house, where these creepy moths are flying around all over the place while Bill, naked, works at his sewing machine.
- A woman's screams for help are heard in the background.
- She's in a hole in the ground, and Bill's little white dog stands at the edge, barking at her.
- Breaking news: Catherine Martin, daughter of Senator Ruth Martin, is believed to have been kidnapped by Buffalo Bill from Memphis. That's the woman we saw Bill take earlier.
- The Senator speaks on TV, pleading for whoever took her daughter to release her.
- Clarice returns to Lecter's asylum, where Chilton is furious she's been interviewing his patient and not giving his nosy little butt all the details.
- She tells Chilton it's just a routine follow-up, but he won't let her through that easily.
- She suggests he call the U.S. Attorney's office if he has a problem.
- At Lecter's cell, she tells him that if he helps them catch Buffalo Bill and rescue Catherine Martin, they'll give him a transfer to a room with a view.
- Bonus offer, for a limited time only, a one-week vacation to Plum Island. Clarice dumps the case file and offer into the drawer.
- He says he'll only help her with a quid pro quo. He wants to know more about her.
- She agrees, and he asks her what her worst memory of childhood is.
- Clarice talks about the death of her father, a town marshal who was shot by burglars.
- She was 10, and her mother had already died, leaving her alone.
- Lecter asks if the victims were "large girl[s]" and Clarice says yes. And the girl from West Virginia had a bug in her throat.
- Lecter asks if it was a butterfly.
- Clarice says it was a moth, the same one they found in Benjamin Raspail's head.
- Lecter says the moth represents change. Buffalo Bill wants to go through a transformation.
- Before he'll say more, he wants more information about Clarice's personal life.
- Clarice says she went to live with her mother's cousin on a ranch in Montana. She ran away after two months.
- Lecter wants to know why, but Clarice wants more info from him first.
- Buffalo Bill isn't a real transsexual, Lecter says, but he wants to be. He suggests Buffalo Bill may have applied for sex reassignment surgery, but been rejected.
- As Lecter speaks about Buffalo Bill hating his own identity, Chilton listens in from a hidden microphone.
- Buffalo Bill perches on the edge of the hole and tells Catherine, "It rubs the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again."
- Catherine begs to be let go.
- She notices a bloody fingernail stuck in the wall, and she starts screaming uncontrollably.
- Buffalo Bill mocks her.
- Chilton speaks to Lecter, saying he called the Senator, and she said she didn't make a deal with Lecter. Clarice made it up!
- So Chilton went and made a deal. What a good guy. (Gag.)
- Lecter is restrained, but he keeps staring at Chilton's pen, which is resting on the bed.
- Chilton demands to know Buffalo Bill's real name.
- Lecter reveals his first name is Louis, but he'll only tell the rest to Senator Martin in Memphis.
- Lecter, in his iconic mask, is unloaded at Memphis International Airport. (We're not sure how they fit him in the overhead bin.) He should have made a visit to Graceland part of the deal…
- When Chilton reaches for his pen to sign the transfer documents, he can't find it. Uh-oh.
- Lecter is rolled over to the Senator, who gives Lecter her word that she'll help him if he helps her.
- Lecter says Bill's real name is Louis Friend. He met him once. He was a patient who knew Benjamin Raspail. "Knew" in the Biblical sense.
- But Raspail was scared because Bill killed someone. Yeah, that'd be scary.
- Lecter taunts the Senator with crude remarks, but then gives more details about Bill's identity. Sounds like he's telling the truth.
- Chilton brags to the press about Lecter's revelations.
- Clarice shows up to speak to Lecter, where she has to check her gun with officers at the door. He's being kept in a cage in the middle of a large room.
- In the elevator, Clarice tries to find out if Louis Friend is another anagram, which is a little more difficult in these pre-Internet days.
- Clarice brings Lecter a package: his drawings. That'll brighten up his cage a bit.
- They make small talk…well, as small as talk with a serial killer cannibal can get, before Clarice tells him that she did decode "Louis Friend" – iron sulfide. "Fool's gold."
- She asks him to continue telling her the truth.
- Lecter quizzes her. "What needs does he serve by killing?"
- She can't answer, so he tells her. "He covets."
- When she asks him to elaborate, he wants more quid pro quo. Why did she leave the Montana ranch?
- It was the screaming that scared her. The screaming lambs as they were being slaughtered.
- She tried to free them, but they wouldn't leave. She grabbed a lamb and ran. But the lamb was heavy and the sheriff caught her. The rancher sent Clarice to an orphanage.
- Her lamb was killed.
- Lecter tells her that she still wakes up in the dark, hearing the screaming of the lambs.
- He wonders if she thinks she can stop the screaming of the lambs if she saves Catherine.
- "I don't know," she says. It's an intense and strangely intimate moment.
- Chilton shows up to kick out Clarice.
- She begs Lecter to tell her Buffalo Bill's name as she's escorted away.
- He holds her case file from between the bars, and she rushes back to get it.
- He caresses her finger! At least he didn't bite it off.
- Lecter has a new drawing: Clarice with a lamb.
- Guards arrive with dinner, a plate of lamb chops, extra rare.
- Lecter puts his hands through the bars to be handcuffed, but he has something concealed in his palm.
- He picks the lock on his cuffs, and when the guard sets down the tray, Lecter cuffs him!
- Then he bites the other's guy's face off and sprays him with mace.
- Finally, he beats the cuffed guard to death with his own nightstick. Piece of cake.
- With the guards dead, Lecter relaxes to some classical music.
- Oh, one of them isn't dead. He's crawling away, but Lecter picks up a knife and follows him.
- The guards on the ground floor watch the elevator moving, even though no one should be in it.
- Then the elevator comes back down. This won't be good.
- The force suits up in vests and goes up the stairs.
- On the third floor, the elevator's open and empty.
- In Lecter's room, one of the guards has been gutted and hung from the cage.
- Lecter is missing, and the other guard is on the floor, his face mutilated.
- But the guard is alive.
- Reinforcements show up to look for Lecter while the injured guard is loaded onto the elevator.
- In the elevator, blood drips from the ceiling.
- The guard's wheeled out on a stretcher, and into an ambulance, while the cops get ready to check the top of the elevator.
- Lecter is lying on the elevator, so the guards shoot him in the leg. He doesn't move.
- So they open the elevator panel from below, and a dead body falls through!
- In the ambulance, the incapacitated guard suddenly gets up, and pulls his face off. It's Lecter.
- Back at Quantico, Ardelia tells Clarice that Lecter killed everyone in the ambulance and escaped.
- Clarice believes she's safe. Lecter won't go after her. "He would consider that rude."
- She fears that Catherine's dead.
- Briefly we see Buffalo Bill's abode, where he's at the sewing machine, just like grandma.
- That is, if grandma were an evil serial killing fashionista wannabe.
- In her room, Clarice and Ardelia go through the case file, zeroing in on the first victim, Frederika Bimmel.
- First girl taken, but third found, because she was weighted down. What made her different?
- Clarice believes that Bill knew her personally. Well, it's off to Ohio…
- In Belvedere, Ohio, Clarice speaks to Mr. Bimmel, Frederika's father.
- He lets her into Frederika's bedroom, which is exactly as she left it.
- Clarice finds some photos hidden in Frederika's music box, photos of her posing, embarrassed, in her underwear.
- Next, Clarice checks the closet and finds something interesting—a dress with diamond shapes in it.
- Clarice realizes that Buffalo Bill is making a woman suit out of real women. Like Girl Scout cookies made from real Girl Scouts.
- She calls Crawford, and he's like, yeah, whatever, they already found Buffalo Bill. His name is Jamie Gumb. He's outside of Chicago, and he imported those creepy moths.
- Crawford has a pic of the guy…and it's not the Buffalo Bill we've seen.
- Speaking of Buffalo Bill, Catherine is in the well tying a bone to a piece of twine.
- She's fishing for Precious, Bill's dog.
- Meanwhile, Bill is applying a tasteful shade of eye shadow and a shiny gold nipple ring.
- He puts on his lipstick and talks to the mirror. "Would you fuck me? I'd fuck me." Um, you're the only one, dude.
- Precious approaches the hole, and Catherine springs her trap. But she fails to get the dog.
- Bill gyrates around as if he has moves like Jagger.
- But there's one thing Jagger has that he doesn't want…Bill tucks his little Bill between his legs and poses.
- Clarice interviews one of Frederika's friends, Stacy, to see if she knows Jamie Gumb.
- However, Stacy does mention a Mrs. Lippman, whom they used to do alterations for.
- Back at Bill's lair, he plays with one of his creepy moths, pulling it from its cocoon and putting it on its face.
- Precious yips. Bill follows the noise to the hole, where Catherine finally has the dog!
- Things aren't looking good for Bill. The FBI is surrounding the house, too.
- Bill lowers the bucket, but Catherine won't put the dog in it.
- She wants a live telephone line, or she'll kill the dog.
- Bill gets his gun, but the FBI rings the doorbell. How polite.
- Bill opens the door... and it's Clarice. The FBI has the wrong house.
- She asks the creepy man if he knows Mrs. Lippman, and he says the Lippmans don't live there anymore.
- Clarice informs him that she's investigating the death of Frederika Bimmel, and his name is?
- He says it's Jack Gordon.
- Clarice asks if he knew Frederika. He says no, then, "Oh wait… was she a great big fat person?" Charming.
- He says Mrs. Lippman had a son, and he has his number somewhere. Maybe Clarice should come inside the big creepy serial killer's lair.
- She does.
- While looking for the number, Bill tries to find out if the police are close to catching the killer.
- She says no, of course, and she notices one of those creepy moths.
- Clarice takes the safety off her gun.
- Bill holds out the card with the number on it, as if she'll just walk over and take it.
- She asks to use the phone, then she pulls her gun on him.
- He runs into the other room, grabbing his own gun off the oven, where he left it, and dashing into the eerie basement.
- Inside one of the rooms, she finds the half-completed woman suit. That is a fashion don't.
- Clarice finds Catherine in another room, but she has to find Bill first. There's no sign of him anywhere.
- She continues searching, finding a severely decomposed corpse in a bathtub. Mrs. Lippman, we presume.
- Then the lights go out. Oh, crap.
- Bill observes Clarice through night vision goggles. She fumbles in the dark and falls over.
- He's right behind her, but she can't see him in the pitch dark.
- Bill raises his gun and cocks it, Clarice spins around and fires, hitting Bill and shattering a blacked out window.
- He dies on the floor, having been shot in the chest.
- We'd say Clarice got very lucky that time.
- The rest of the FBI shows up, and Catherine, with Precious the dog, is retrieved from the hole.
- Flash-forward to Clarice graduating from the academy and receiving her badge.
- A fancy cake with the bureau's logo on it is served for dessert. Yum, cake.
- Clarice hasn't even had a slice when she gets a phone call.
- On her way to the phone, she thanks Crawford and shakes his hand.
- He tells her that her father would have been proud.
- Clarice grabs the phone. It's a familiar voice. Dr. Lecter.
- "Have the lambs stopped screaming?" he asks.
- He won't tell her where he is, but he does say he doesn't plan on visiting her personally.
- He says the world is ore interesting with Clarice in it.
- "I'm having an old friend for dinner," he says, watching Chilton get off a plane.
- Lecter hangs up the phone, and follows Chilton into the crowd.
- The end.