Nuns Canceling Venders. Cunning Scanner Delves. Nuns Cancel Given Nerds.
These are all (terrible) anagrams of "cunning and cleverness." In The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter sometimes feeds Clarice anagrams as clues to the identity of Buffalo Bill (aka "A Blob if Full"). Hey, don't criticize—anagrams are better than being fed a human pancreas.
Clarice is cleverer than we are, deciphering them with a pen and paper. Maybe if the FBI doesn't work out, she can get a job as a puzzle master on an NPR game show. Clarice has to use her smarts in a lot of ways. First, she has to figure out how to deal with Lecter and enlist his help. Second, she has to piece together the clues Lecter gives her and what she tracks down on her own to locate this crazy killer before he kills his latest captive.
Hannibal Lecter is bored easily. He needs to be impressed in a game of wits before agreeing to help anyone.
Clarice has studied a lot of human psychology, because she wants to join the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI, but she has to step away from the textbook learning and think outside the box to solve this case.
The Silence of the Lambs deals with complicated gender issues, and not just trying to figure out the difference between a ram and a ewe. (That's not very hard, guys. Look for the horns.) Clarice Starling is a female FBI trainee, putting her firmly in the minority. Dr. Chilton suggests she got her assignment because of her looks, and he hits on her like Miggs does in a much cruder way. Clarice always seems to be the object of unwanted stares from men. She's trying to save a woman from a serial killer who wants to be a woman… or at least wants to be a man in woman's skin.
Clarice has to cultivate masculine traits like fearlessness and physical strength in order to excel in a male-dominated environment of the FBI.
Clarice's femininity is a double-edged sword. Lecter probably wouldn't talk to a male agent, but Clarice has to fend off sexual advances from other men while trying to get to Lecter.
As far as initialed government organizations go, the FBI is pretty well respected.
No one wants an IRS agent coming to their door. The DEA parties with drug lords instead of arresting them. And the NSA is watching you read this right now. But the FBI has Agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks, both Mulder and Scully from The X-Files, and, of course, Clarice Starling from The Silence of the Lambs. That badge earns respect, but the agents have to first earn the badge.
Hannibal has his own reputation of course, and while it's a reputation for depravity, people respect it and keep him under especially tight and secure confinement.
Hannibal Lecter initially dismisses Clarice Starling, but it isn't because of her gender; it's because of her inexperience. She has to earn his respect.
Clarice wants to earn Jack Crawford's respect, because it's a way of earning her father's respect, which she was never able to do since he died when she was so young.
In some movies, you have to figure out the identity of the characters. Who is Keyser Soze? What's Rosebud? Who is afraid of Virginia Woolf? In The Silence of the Lambs the identity of the characters is established almost right away. We're told Hannibal Lecter is a cannibal, Buffalo Bill skins women, and Clarice Starling has a badge with her name on it. But this movie isn't about figuring out identities as much as it is defying our expectations of what these identities mean. Who knew cannibals could be almost loveable?
FBI profiling is all about figuring out identities, but as we'll see, identity is a slippery concept in this film.
Clarice's identity is heavily shaped by her past as an orphan, which Hannibal Lecter conveniently points out to us.
Buffalo Bill's identity crisis is about him hating himself for unexplained reasons. His gender has very little, if anything, to do with it.
We live in a world where people try to manipulate us every minute of the day.
Advertisers want to sell you stuff. (This body spray makes you irresistible!) Charities want you to donate money (Dump water on your head and cure a disease!) And movies want you to purchase a ticket, stream them, or buy the DVD. (This is the best serial killer movie ever!) Some of these manipulations are more harmless than others. The Silence of the Lambs however, doesn't have the word "harmless" in its vocabulary. In this movie, the characters are engaged in a game with life-or-death stakes, making the way they try to influence other very interesting indeed.
At least no one tries to impersonate a Nigerian prince for money.
The Silence of the Lambs shows people manipulating others for bad (Buffalo Bill tricking Catherine into the van) and for good (Clarice making a fake offer to Hannibal Lecter in order to save Catherine). There's a big gray area when it comes to manipulation.
Despite needing to manipulate Lecter, Clarice does not like feeling manipulated herself. No one does. But she does see that it's necessary for Jack Crawford to keep things from her in order for them to succeed.