That Scene From ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ (1991)

“Hey, have you seen this movie? What did you think about THAT SCENE?!” We have all used that phrase at one point during our discussions of movies with the other person’s eyebrows raising, “Oh yea, THAT SCENE!” You go on to pick that memorable scene apart by listing what you loved or didn’t like, how it made you feel and the impression it left on you. 

In this series, we will do just that. We will take a scene from a movie and discuss its impact on us. Some of these scenes may be frightening, weird, iconic, controversial, hilarious, and everything in between. Let us know your impression of the scene and the impact it left on you the first time you watched it down below in the comments. Enjoy!

 *Warning: May Contain Spoilers*


Movie: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Scene: Screaming Lambs

THE PLAYERS

Director: Jonathan Demme

Characters: Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) and Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster)

THE SETUP

Clarice Starling is pulled from her FBI training to speak to the notorious serial killer Hannibal Lecter in order to gain any insight she can to help track down a current serial killer nicknamed “Buffalo Bill”, who kills young women and removes their skin from their bodies. They form a complicated connection as Lecter uses this opportunity to psychoanalyze the young trainee and Clarice tries her best to prove she is worthy of her position in this male-dominated field. Starling reluctantly dives into her traumatic past at the pronging of Lecter. She is forced to relive her father’s death and the time she ran away from her new home. Lecter isn’t just taking however, he gives her clues to help find “Bill” with this quid pro quo arrangement.

There are two flashbacks that provide a deep insight into Clarice’s psyche. The first one is right after she has had her initial meeting with Lecter and had a disturbing experience with the prisoner in the next cell Miggs. As Clarice leaves the prison and heads toward her car, she revisits a moment in her past: Her father, dressed in his sheriff’s outfit, coming home from work, Clarice, then 11 years old, surprising him, then as he swoops her up into his arms, she asks, “Did you catch any bad guys today, Daddy?” The second flashback reveals that her father died when Clarice was a young girl but also demonstrates how Clarice’s issues about her father’s death lie close to the surface of her consciousness. It drives home a key point: She has never recovered from the loss of her father.

There was supposed to be a third flashback to wrap this mini flashback story up but Demme decided to go a different way. This brings us to our scene.

THAT SCENE

THE EXECUTION

Dropping the flashback scene here proved to be a stroke of genius from Demme as he simply allows the actors, mainly Jodi Foster, to act out the flashback through her words and emotions. Demme filmed this scene and was going to shoot the flashback last because he needed to wait for the spring. However, after shooting this scene, he realized cutting away from these powerful performances was going to hurt the scene. Screenwriter Ted Tally explains this process with the director:

I could see that if we were going to have flashbacks, they should culminate, there should be some climactic thing, and we should see the child Clarice encountering the slaughter of the lambs and trying to save one of them. Jonathan was willing to shoot them, it was going to be the last thing we shot as we had to wait for the lambing season in spring, and it was going to cost a million dollars to set up the whole thing. Then Jonathan shot the scene where Clarice tells Lecter about the killing of the lambs. He sent the dailies to me and said to watch them and give him a call. So I watched these performances, and they were extraordinarily powerful, and Jonathan, said, “How can I cut away from these performances to a flashback? It’s all there: she’s [Jodi as Clarice] telling us the entire story in her face, in her words, we don’t need to see it as well.” He said it’s just primary rule of filmmaking that if you can show it instead of telling it, you show it, but don’t show it and tell it. He was right, but it was scary to me.”

There is a chilling calmness to this scene with Hopkins’s monotone voice and emptied soul stare. Demme’s slow zoom on his dead eyes is entrancing and Foster’s ability to show everything with her facial expressions and trembling voice is remarkable. Cutting the flashback and allowing the actors to use dialogue has proven to be the correct choice to complete Demme’s masterpiece.


What do you think of this scene? Do you agree with the decision to leave out the flashback?

Author: Vincent Kane

I hate things.