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“The Silence of the Lambs” Script Analysis: Scene-by-Scene Breakdown

Over the last week, has been walking through a script analysis of The Silence of the Lambs based on a scene-by-scene breakdown that I wrote.  I have decided to re-produce that breakdown in its entirety here, and provide a link to the rest of the script analysis near the end of this piece.  The goal here is to summarize the entire script scene by scene, which will make further analyses easier.  Enjoy!

Screenplay adapted by Ted Tally from the novel by Thomas Harris

IMDB Summary:  A young F.B.I. cadet must confide in an incarcerated and manipulative killer to receive his help on catching another serial killer who skins his victims.

For a long-form review of the film, please check out this companion piece.

For a discussion of the scene made up of Pages 9-16 below (the first meeting between Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter), please check out this detailed scene analysis.

The Silence of the Lambs

Scene By Scene Breakdown

Pages: Scene Description

1-3:  Clarice Starling and her roommate Ardelia Mapp are participating in a training exercise at the FBI academy.  The exercise is mean to simulate the invasion of an hotel room during a hostage situation, though firearms instructor Brigham has included a slight twist:  the “hostage” on the bed, played by Ardelia, is in fact the suspect, and Clarice has to react quickly to avoid being “shot” by her roommate.  After a brief critique of her performance, Brigham informs Clarice that the Section Chief, Jack Crawford would like to see her.  Clarice’s worried gaze is fixed on Crawford, who was in attendance for the exercise.

3-6:  Jack Crawford and Clarice briefly engage in small talk regarding Clarice’s academic performance, and Crawford mentions that he has “an interesting errand” for her.  He explains that the FBI is engaged in a project to interview all of the serial killers currently in custody.  This is in an effort to assist ongoing investigations.  Most subjects have been helpful, but the person they are most anxious to interview refuses to cooperate:  Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the cannibal.  Crawford supplies Clarice with the necessary materials for her interaction with Lecter, and offers curt instructions and warns never to forget that Lecter is, according to a voice-over from Dr. Chilton, “A monster.  A pure psychopath”.

6-7:  Clarice is now in Dr. Chilton’s office at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.  Chilton prizes Hannibal Lecter, whom he considers an asset from a research point of view.  He immediately gazes over the young, attractive Clarice – now in a feminine skirt suit, and blatantly comes on to her.  Despite her disgust, she rebukes him with a deft excuse.  The two then begin to travel to where Dr. Lecter is held.

7-9:  Walking through a corridor of the asylum, Chilton and Starling descend into the bowels of the hospital, iron gates clanking shut behind them.  While walking, Chilton describes the horrifying crimes of Dr. Lecter and explains the logistics and rules for dealing with him.  To offer more weight to his warnings, he provides Clarice with a photograph of a nurse who was attacked by Lecter, which stops Clarice in her tracks.  As they arrive at the ward which houses Lecter, Clarice asks Chilton to allow her to go in alone, suggesting she may have more luck since Lecter openly despises Chilton.  This annoys him, but he acquiesces to her suggestion and passes her off to Barney, the orderly who oversees this part of the hospital.  Barney confirms that Clarice has understood all the rules.  He tells her that Lecter is in the last cell, and has set out a chair for her.  Pointing to a video monitor, Barney reassures her that he’ll be watching and she’ll do fine.  Clarice sets down the long corridor.

9-16:  Clarice walks through the darkness with the cells containing mentally ill occupants on her left.  She is accosted by Multiple Miggs, who hurls a crass insult at her.  As she comes to Lecter’s cell, she sees a sparse enclosure containing a few pieces of bolted-down furniture, a plethora of soft cover books and writings, and walls adorned with incredibly detailed drawings – mostly European cityscapes and studies in architecture.  And, of course, the cell’s lone occupant:  Dr. Hannibal Lecter.  The doctor sits prostrate on his bunk in pure white pajamas, pale and poised as a vampire.  He greets Clarice cordially, immediately identifies her as an underling of Jack Crawford, and asks for her credentials.  The temporary ID does not fool him, and though he hurls a few subtle insults towards Clarice, he is impressed by her toughness and willingness to stand up for herself in his presence.  The two discuss Buffalo Bill, an at-large serial killer, and Clarice offers Lecter a questionnaire.  He balks at its simplicity, and cuts into Clarice with more precise and deadly barbs that we now understand he has been holding back.  Wounded but not out, Starling fires back, but this ends her confrontation with Lecter, who instructs the “little Starling” to “fly back home”.  As she exits, Miggs throws semen in her face, which infuriates Lecter.  He offers her a chance at advancement, and provides a clue:  seek out Miss Mofet in Split City.

16-17:  Outside the institution, Clarice arrives at her car and fights back tears.  In flashback, we see Clarice as a 10-year old girl eager to greet her father, whose car has just arrived in the driveway.  As he exits, we see he is a local marshal, and he shares his daughter’s excitement at their meeting.  He sweeps her up in a hug, and the two embrace and smile as we return to the present, where the adult Clarice is hunched by her car, sobbing.

17-21:  At the FBI firing range, Clarice is shooting at a moving target, grouping the shots in the center of the chest of the dummy.  She places a final shot through the forehead.  Later that night in the library, Clarice is reading stories about Dr. Lecter on microfilm when Ardelia informs her that she has a call from Crawford.  The two discuss her interview with Lecter, and she reveals that “Split City” is a mini-storage facility outside of Baltimore.  Crawford is frustrated that Starling has not followed up, and reveals that his frustration is in part due to the death of Multiple Miggs.  According to Crawford, Lecter was whispering to a crying Miggs all afternoon, and at bedcheck they found Miggs dead, having swallowed his own tongue.  Regardless, Crawford tells Starling to continue the investigation on her own time before hanging up and leaving his study, exhausted.  He retreats to his bedroom, where his comatose wife Bella lay in bed.

21-23:  It is dark and rainy at Split City Mini-Storage as Mr. Yow explains  that Unit 31 was leased for ten years – all paid in advance by “Miss Hester Mofet”.  Clarice takes a photo of the closed padlock before opening it, but struggles to raise the door more than a few inches.  Mr. Yow, an old man, refuses to help in these conditions, and suggests they return with help later.  Clarice retrieves a bumper jack from her car, and manages to raise the rusted door about 18 inches.  Laying down, she shines her flashlight under the door and catches glimpses of boxes, the outlines of a car, and other stored items.  Small animals rustle in unseen corners, and the sound of rain on the tin roof is a constant din.  Clarice squirms under the door, but quickly re-emerges to offer her card to Mr. Yow on the off chance that the door slams shut and traps her.

23-26: On her way into the storage unit, Clarice scratches her thigh on the metal door.  As she looks around, the narrow beam of her flashlight illuminates spider webs, stacks of cardboard boxes, furniture, and an old car covered by a tarp.  She takes more pictures and removes the tarp.  In the back seat of the antique car, Clarice starts when she sees a figure resting there, but she discovers it is merely a female mannequin – and a rather well-adorned one at that.  As she investigates more, she discovers a severed head in a laboratory specimen jar.  Though initially aghast, Clarice recovers her wits and scrutinizes the head more closely.  It is a man’s head, though the addition of makeup, earrings, and a drowned wig gives it the appearance of a woman.

26-30:  Clarice rushes through the torrential rain and into the main entrance of Dr. Chilton’s hospital, bound for Dr. Lecter’s cell again.  There, as the storm rages outside, a muted television program shows a televangelist intended as a torture device for Lecter.  A drenched Clarice identifies “Miss Hester Mofet” as an anagram of “Miss the rest of me”, suggesting that Lecter was the owner of the storage unit.  At this charge, the food carrier bangs open and is shown to contain a towel.  As Clarice thanks Dr. Lecter, the two begin to discuss Buffalo Bill.  Dr. Lecter identifies the head as Benjamin Raspail.  Dr. Lecter suggests he may be able to help, and asserts that this has been Jack Crawford’s plan all along:  to dangle Clarice in front of Lecter and entice him to assist through her.  Here, it is revealed that all of Lecter’s comforts have been confiscated by Dr. Chilton, and he sits in a bare cell.  Dr. Lecter lays down his terms:  in exchange for a transfer to a state institution, he will assist in the hunt for Buffalo Bill, whom he intimates was responsible for the death of Raspail.  Clarice does not believe Bill could be responsible for the death of a man so long ago.  Dr. Lecter chides her:  who do you think Bill is stalking at this very moment, and how many more young women have to die at his hands before the FBI accepts the trade . . .?

30-32:  Catherine Martin takes a huge bong hit in the comfort of her well-furnished apartment.  A big-boned, rather fleshy girl, she rests her head on the lap of her boyfriend Cody and idly watches the TV.  Hungry, Catherine asks Cody where the groceries are and he laments that he left them in the trunk of the car.  Catherine leaps up to retrieve them.  In the parking lot, in the dimness and obscured by a slight fog, she sees an old man in a cast and sling attempting to lift an armchair into the back of his van.  The man is struggling, and Catherine offers to help him.  They easily lift the chair into the van.  The man, tall and in his mid thirties, asks her to get in the van to help him push the chair all the way to the front.  She agrees, and when they have completed the task, the man asks her, “Are you about a size 14?”  She doesn’t answer the question, but regardless the man strikes her unconscious with his cast.  He discards the fake cast and sling and cuts the back of her dress with scissors, revealing the tag which reads “14”.  He ogles her bare skin, discards the split garment, and drives away with Catherine unconscious in the back of the van.

33-35:  In a classroom at the FBI academy, and instructor is describing the “signatures” of fibers that can be revealed by electron microscopy and how this information can be used in an investigation.  The instructor offers two blouses from the Buffalo Bill case as examples, and analyzes the manner in which they were cut, concluding that Bill always uses the same pair of scissors.  John Brigham enters the classroom and calls out for Clarice.  In the hallway, Brigham reveals that a fisherman in West Virginia found an unidentified girl’s body, and that Crawford thinks it is most likely another victim of Buffalo Bill.  Clarice is to join Crawford to help fingerprint the body.  In Brigham’s car, he reassures Starling that Crawford likes her and reveals that Crawford’s wife is in a coma.  He also offers Starling his own field kit, complete with a blue gun.

35-37:  Aboard a plane, Clarice flips through the Buffalo Bill case file, moderately startled by the grisly details.  Crawford is watching over her shoulder and explaining some of their basal findings regarding the serial killer:  after capturing the women, Bill starves them for three days before shooting them, skinning them, and dumping them in a river.  The water removes all trace evidence, and the computer has been unable to find any pattern among the abductions and found bodies.  Only the very first victim, Fredrica Bimmel, was weighed down, which Crawford ascribes to laziness.

37-40:  Now in a rental car heading towards the location where the newest victim’s body rests, Crawford asks Clarice to describe Buffalo Bill from what she’s read.  He is impressed with her analysis, but recognizes a sharpness to some of her statements.  She reveals that she is upset that Crawford sent her to Dr. Lecter “naked”, and laments that she already feels like Lecter is in her head and that Crawford used her.  Crawford explains himself, claiming that the Lecter connection is only a possible strategy, not the only one.  Further, had Clarice gone to Lecter trying to hide ulterior motives, Lecter would have identified them immediately and dismissed her out of hand.  Though still angry, Clarice recognizes the truth in this approach and listens to a few more instructions from Crawford for going forward with this case as the two arrive at the funeral home.

40-41:  Walking into the funeral home, Clarice’s attention is drawn to a group of mourners filing into the building.  The music, “Shall We Gather at the River?” emanates from the open double doors and a few of the people eye Clarice.  The situation triggers another flashback to a 10-year-old Clarice, dressed in her Sunday’s best and hearing the same music.  Young Clarice walks slowly to an open casket, and as we follow her point-of-view, we recognize the body of her father in the casket, still adorned with his marshal’s badge.  Clarice is rocked back to the present by the voice of Crawford, informing her that they are ready to start the investigation.

41-42:  Clarice and Crawford enter a corridor to find an assembly of local law enforcement officers.  The Sheriff is curt and agitated, and while he offers professional courtesy to the FBI officers, it is clear that he has been shaken by the discovery of the young girl’s body.  Crawford interrupts him to suggest that they discuss the case in private due to its sexual nature and the presence of Clarice.  The Sheriff agrees, and Clarice is annoyed at Crawford using her as an excuse.  Crawford and the Sheriff discuss something behind closed doors, and eventually the Sheriff emerges and issues orders, still angry but clearly on the same page as Crawford.

42-46:  In an embalming room, Crawford shouts over the phone in an attempt to establish a link-up for transmitting the victim’s fingerprints.  The room is crowded with law enforcement agents, and their conversations add up to quite the clamor.  As Clarice pulls on some medical gloves, she raises her voice and with a more pronounced accent thanks the agents for their work, but politely asks that they leave now.  Her deft handling of the situation impressed Crawford.  The center of the room is dominated by a bright green body bag.  As Clarice prepares the fingerprint kit, the bag is opened to reveal the victim’s body.  After recoiling briefly, Clarice analyzes the body like an expert, and even impresses the locals with her knowledge of fishing regulations.  Clarice prints the body, takes a slew of pictures, and discovers a cocoon shoved in the girl’s mouth.  The skin that has been removed from this body is in a triangular pattern not seen with the other victims.

47-48:  Outside the embalming room, Clarice is comforted by Lamar before Crawford emerges and scares him off. Crawford and Starling discuss his insistence to speak with the Sheriff away from a woman.  Crawford claims that it was just an excuse to get rid of the man, but Clarice points out that everyone in that room looks to Crawford for an indication of the right way to act.  Because Crawford intimated that a woman was too squeamish for this case, the rest of the men may accept that as truth.  They also discuss how to proceed with the cocoon, and Clarice asserts that they will find another in Benjamin Raspail’s head as well.

48-50:  In a dingy cellar, we see Mr. Gumb, AKA “Buffalo Bill”.  He has Catherine in a 15-foot deep pit that he has dug in his basement.  Gumb wants Catherine to rub lotion on herself, and warns her against any funny business.  Catherine is in full-on bargaining mode, saying that her mother will pay any ransom, no-questions-asked.  Gumb is not interested, and refers to Catherine as “It” multiple times.  As he lowers a basket with a lamp on it, he instructs Catherine to place the lotion in the basket.  She does, but as the basket is being pulled up, she notices bloody trails on the walls of the pit, as though previous occupants tried to climb their way out.  She screams hysterically.

50-53  Back at the FBI Academy, Clarice is studying in her dorm room.  Ardelia comes in and implores her to come watch the television.  On the screen we see a photo of Catherine Martin.  An anchor explains that she is believed to have been abducted by Buffalo Bill on account of the cut garment discovered in her parking lot.  US Senator Ruth Martin, pleads with the captor to leave her daughter Catherine unharmed, repeating her name over and over.  Clarice recognizes the technique here:  make Catherine seem like a person, not an object.  It is further revealed that Crawford and the FBI are now on Catherine’s case.

53-56:  Clarice arrives at the Natural History Museum with a small box containing a second cocoon.  Inside, she meets a pair of entomologists playing a strange version of chess using a rhinoceros beetle as a timer.  Roden and Pilcher eagerly accept the new specimen and identify it as the same species found in the mouth of the floater from West Virginia.  The “Death’s Head Moth” lives in Malaysia, and it is presumed that Buffalo Bill imports and raises these insects himself.

56-59:  Riding among a full police armada, Clarice and Crawford discuss this new information.  It is determined that tracking down Buffalo Bill through the imported moth eggs will likely take too long to save Catherine Martin, who only has around 36 hours left according to Bill’s M.O.  Thus, Crawford decides to allow Clarice to negotiate with Dr. Lecter for his assistance, as the moth in Raspail’s head appears to have been a much-younger Buffalo Bill.  The two discuss strategy, and Crawford insists that Ruth Martin be kept away from Lecter, who will only torture the senator given the opportunity.  Dr. Chilton also must be kept in the dark, as he will look to exploit the situation for professional gain.

59:  Inside the Baltimore State Hospital, Dr. Chilton is visibly angry as Clarice insists on seeing Dr. Lecter again.  Though he continues to complain about the way he is treated and points at her with his gold pen, Clarice pushes back with authority, suggesting that if he has a problem with the way things are being orchestrated, he can take it up with the District Attorney.

59-65:  Back in front of Dr. Lecter’s cell, Clarice and Lecter discuss the logistics of his offer to help with the Buffalo Bill case.  Dr. Lecter displays knowledge of the cocoons despite the fact that their existence is not public information.  Clarice presents “the Senator’s” offer:  in exchange for finding Catherine, Dr. Lecter will be transferred to the V.A. hospital in New York and be allowed a 1-week “vacation” at Plum Island.  Dr. Lecter perceives that Plum Island is an animal disease research facility, but Clarice attempts to convince him that the deal is worthwhile.  Unimpressed by the formal deal alone, Dr. Lecter insists that if Clarice and he are going to work together, then they will do so by trading pieces of information.  Clarice wants to know about Buffalo Bill, and Dr. Lecter wants to know about Clarice’s personal life.  The two trade information:  Clarice talks about the death of her father and subsequent relocation to a ranch in Montana, and Lecter details the peculiarities of Buffalo Bill’s pathology . . .

65-67:  . . . As Lecter’s profile of Bill transitions to a voice-over, our view is transported to Mr. Gumb’s house.  The camera first pauses on a Death’s head moth emerging from its pupa and taking flight.  We leave the cage and discover a multitude of Gumb’s tools:  neatly-arranged knives, sinks, jars of chemicals.  We pass a collection of female mannequins adorned in various items of designer clothing, and hear the slow hum of a sewing machine in the distance, barely audible over show tunes.  Dr. Lecter’s analysis continues unabated as we finally arrive on Mr. Gumb himself, working feverishly over a sewing machine on a garment which we cannot see.  As Dr. Lecter finishes, the camera hovers above the precipice of a circular oubliette, and we hear the voice of Cathering screaming, “Pleeeeeeease . . .!”

67-70:  Back in Dr. Lecter’s cell, Dr. Chilton toys with his gold pen as he thumbs through Lecter’s correspondence.  Chilton reveals that after the death of Miggs he had Lecter’s cell bugged, so he has heard the entirety of Lecter’s dealings with Clarice Starling.  Dr. Chilton boasts in a smarmy tone that Jack Crawford and Clarice Starling have been playing Lecter all along, and that there is no deal with Senator Ruth Martin – until now.  Dr. Chilton has been on the phone for hours and has arranged a real deal, one that provides Chilton with exclusive publishing rights on the entire ordeal.  Throughout this tirade, Dr. Lecter’s focus shifts from Chilton’s face, to his neck, to his pen – left absently underneath his correspondence.  When Chilton insists that Lecter answer him, Lecter agrees to tell Buffalo Bill’s real name, but only in Tennessee and only to Ruth Martin herself.

70-72:  At John’s Hopkins, Crawford talks with Dr. Danielson about acquiring records on patients who have been rejected for sexual reassignment surgery.  Danielson balks at this under the guise of confidentiality, so Crawford tries to intimidate him with a photograph of the girl found in West Virginia, now indentified as Kimberly Jane Emberg.  Danielson, a former battlefield surgeon, is not squeamish and holds his ground.  Crawford decides to stop pulling punches, and begins describing the lengths he will go to hound and disgrace John’s Hopkins should they continue to refuse their assistance.  Finally, Danielson understands the severity of the situation, and offers to go through the records internally and let the agency know if they find anything.

72-73:  In the surveillance van, Crawford talks with the FBI director Hayden Burke.  Burke informs Crawford that Dr. Lecter is on a plane bound for Memphis to meet with Ruth Martin.  The senator is angry about the fake offer Crawford and Clarice made in her name, and insists that the Deputy Attorney General Paul Krendler take over the Lecter situation in Memphis.  Burke assures that Crawford has final say over Lecter, but Crawford decides to let Lecter land in Memphis.

74-76:  Back in Clarice’s dorm room, she expresses her anger at Dr. Chilton, who she thinks has doomed Catherine.  Crawford says they need to discuss how to maneuver from here.  As they are walking the grounds of the academy sipping coffee, Crawford warns Clarice that if she misses any more class time over this Lecter case, she will have to re-do the semester.  Unfazed, Clarice insists upon continuing.  They decide that Clarice needs to be in Memphis with Dr. Lecter, as there is still the outside chance that he will help her.

76-79:  In Memphis, officers Pembry and Boyle inspect the constraints of Dr. Lecter, and explain that they will take custody of him and treat him well if he behaves.  To formalize the transfer, Boyle provides a form for Dr. Chilton to sign, but the doctor cannot find his gold pen.  Boyle offers his pen to Chilton, and the transfer is made as two black limousines drive up.  Ruth Martin and Paul Krendler emerge and walk towards Dr. Lecter, who is still restrained but taut.  He is cordial at first, provides an explanation for how he met Buffalo Bill, and also gives his real name, “William Rubin”.  When Krendler pushes for more direct information, Lecter wrenches information from Martin about having nursed Catherine, and uses it to torment her.  This disgusts all those in attendance, but Lecter gives the additional information about Rubin’s appearance and whereabouts.  As the senator leaves, Lecter warns her about trusting Crawford and Clarice.

79-81:  In Mr. Gumb’s basement, we see Catherine working feverishly at a contraption and muttering under her breath.  We see she is tying a chicken bone to the string used to lower her toilet bucket.  With the trap assembled, she throws it towards the opening, but it a few feet short.  She is successful on her second attempt, and all the commotion attracts Gumb’s small dog Precious.  As the dog come upon the trap, he growls and lunges at the chicken bone, setting off a tug-of-war between the dog and Catherine.  Precious is pulled to the edge of the precipice, but lets go just before falling in.  Catherine covers her head to protect from the falling bucket, and is devastated that her snare has failed.

81-84:  In Catherine’s apartment, Clarice investigates.  While looking through Catherine’s room, she is startled by Ruth Martin, who wants to know who Clarice is and why she is there.  After hearing Clarice’s name, the senator calls in Paul Krendler and chastises Clarice for jeopardizing Catherine’s life with her Dr. Lecter antics.  Krendler formally orders Clarice off the case, and instructs her to return to Quantico and turn in her temporary badge and gun.

84-86:  Clarice emerges from her rental car near the steps of the Shelby County Courthouse.  She is carrying a roll of Dr. Lecter’s drawings, and manages to convince the man in charge, Sgt. Tate, that she is working with Krendler and has permission to see Dr. Lecter.  The lobby of the courthouse is swarming with police officers, and she is accompanied in the elevator car by Officer Murray, who expresses a morbid curiosity with Lecter that is shared by all on the force.

86-89:  On the fifth floor, Clarice meets another check point, Pembry.  She is allowed to speak with Dr. Lecter, but must leave his drawings with Pembry.  Dr. Lecter is now kept in a temporary circular cage with a few pieces of furniture bolted to the floor.  He greets Clarice, but is on guard against any more of her and Crawford’ tricks.  Clarice wants to save Catherine and believe that Dr. Lecter still wants to help.  He claims that everything she needs to catch him is in the case file, and offers her some guiding principles.  Before he’ll go any further, though, he wants her to complete the story of her childhood.

89-93:  In a third FLASHBACK, the 10-year old Clarice is startled awake by a strange sound.  The adult Clarice and Dr. Lecter speak in voice-over.  Young Clarice sees older men walking through the early-morning fog carrying small bundles from one barn to another.  Clarice describes the sound as “screaming”, and her younger version creeps outside to investigate.  She follows a stagehand into the second barn, and despite her utter terror, she peaks inside.  There, she sees a young lamb forced on a table, a bloody knife raised just above the lamb’s outstretched neck, and she screams.  The adult Clarice is still shaken by this memory:  the slaughter of the spring lambs.  She explains to Dr. Lecter that she tried to free them, but they wouldn’t run.  So, she grabbed one lamb – if she could just save one! – and ran away.  Clarice explains that the Sheriff found her only a few miles from the ranch, and that she was sent to an orphanage shortly thereafter.  Dr. Lecter inquires about the lamb she tried to save, but Clarice cannot bear to speak of it; she simply shakes her head.  Dr. Lecter asks if Clarice still wakes up to the screaming, and if she thinks saving Catherine will silence the lambs.  She isn’t sure – but she hopes so.  Dr. Lecter thanks Clarice, and returns the Buffalo Bill case file to her as Dr. Chilton arrives on the scene to kick her out.  During the exchange, the two manage to brush fingers slightly.

93-94:  In a garment sweatshop, we follow the point of view of Mr. Gumb as he pushes a rack of plastic-wrapped leather garments.  The other workers seem vaguely disturbed by his very presence.  Gumb delivers his garments to the foreman, makes awkward, antisocial small talk, and accepts and snatches an envelope of money.  Bach’s Goldberg Variations accompany the cut to . . .

94-95:  The Memphis airport, where Clarice is chaperoned by two uniformed officers to her plane.  She glances back at them over her shoulder, sighs in resignation, and boards the plane.

95-98:  The Variations continue in Dr. Lecter’s enclosure, issuing from his small tape recorder.  Pembry is carrying a dinner tray for Dr. Lecter, who is out of sight behind the screen to his toilet.  There, Dr. Lecter produces a small piece of metal from his mouth.  It is bent into a lockpick, which the doctor conceals between two of his fingers.  Pembry and Boyle absently talk about Lecter’s insistence upon a meal of rare lamb chops.  Lecter is instructed to sit with his back against the bars so that Pembry can handcuff his arms behind the bars.  That step complete, Boyle unlocks Dr. Lecter’s cage and walks inside.  He places the tray on the floor a few feet from Lecter to clear the table of the doctor’s drawings.  When Boyle reaches back to the tray, Lecter snares his hand with one end of the handcuffs and closes the other on a leg of the bolted-down table.  Lecter pounces on Pembry, bites at his face, and incapacitates him with his own mace.  As Boyle fumbles with his handcuff key, Lecter takes Pembry’s night stick, and beats Boyle senseless with it.  Both men subdued, Lecter mock conducts along with the music before picking up Pembry’s discarded penknife and leaving the cell.

99-100:  Down in the lobby of the courthouse, the bronze arrow above the elevator swings to point at the fifth floor.  Sgt. Tate and the other assembled police officers are confused and worried, until they hear a quick series of gunshots and are plunged into full-fledged panic mode.  Tate gets on the radio as the bronze arrow moves to “4” and then finally halts on “3”.  Tate asks for a 10-block radius to be sealed off, a SWAT team, and an ambulance.  He decides that they must go investigate.

100-102:  We follow Tate and his small team as they clamor up the stairwell to the third floor.  They sweep the elevator and find it empty.  As they approach the room holding Lecter’s cell, the Bach music is almost deafening.  The team forces the door open and discovers a truly grisly scene:  both officers are maimed beyond recognition, and Lecter is nowhere to be found.  As they investigate further, they find that Pembry’s breathing is labored, but he is alive.  Boyle is dead, and Lecter has taken his gun.  Officer Murray consoles Sgt. Pembry as Tate barks orders.

102-104:  Outside the courthouse, an ambulance pulls up and an EMS team rushes through a pandemonium of sirens, officers, and SWAT members aiming their weapons at the windows. Three EMS orderlies rush a gurney beside Pembry and begin to treat him.  As they begin to apply an IV, Pembry begins to seizure and the orderlies rush him out of the room and into the elevator.  Sgt. Tate accompanies them, and reports the situation to his superior.  Near the ground floor, a drop of blood falls on Tate’s shoulder from the corner of the service hatch.  As the EMS team rushes Pembry from the premises, Tate freezes the elevator and reveals that he thinks Lecter is on top of the car.

104-105:  On the third floor of the courthouse, two SWAT officers named Peterson and Kubell open the elevator doors and peer down to the top of the car with a mirror.  A green figure lay on top of the car with a silver gun just beyond his hand.  Peterson calls to the figure, but there is no answer.  Kubell fires a shot into the figure’s leg, but there is no movement.  The agents are instructed to hold their fire.

105-106:  The SWAT team rushes the elevator and opens the hatch.  As the body falls down, Sgt. Tate is astonished to find that the figure dressed in the green jumpsuit is Pembry!

106-107:  In the rear chamber of the ambulance, an young attendant speaks into the radio mic, relaying the information on his patient.  Suddenly, the figure sits upright and the penknife of Pembry flashes in the air.  Outside the ambulance, we see the vehicle continuing down the interstate normally until it begins to swerve and veer, almost to a complete stop.  As other drivers honk at the emergency vehicle, it begins to jerk back into motion as the sirens are turned off and the camera focuses on a sign:  Memphis International Airport / 2 miles.  Inside the ambulance, Dr. Lecter dries his bloody face with gauze.

107-108:  In another FLASHBACK, we are on the cold Montana plain.  We see a hunched-over Young Clarice in the snow clutching her lamb.  Utterly resigned, she rises up and turns back the way she came.  We next see her in the headlights of the Sheriff, walking slowly to the car with her lamb.  Back at the ranch, as she steps from the car, the rancher abruptly grab the lamb from her, leaving her with an expressionless affect.  We follow her POV as she looks into the barn to find her lamb stretched over the killing table.  Her gaze moves from the shiny, blood-stained knife to the face of the rancher, which is now Dr. Hannibal Lecter.  He flashes a vicious smile.

108-109:  In the FBI dormitory, Clarice is  holding the phone.  She looks stricken, devastated, and lets the receiver drop from her hand.  We next see her scrubbing herself clean in the shower with a desperate fervor. Back in her room as she dries herself off, Ardelia is explaining that Dr. Lecter parked the ambulance in a garage at the airport, and also killed a tourist and made off with his clothes and money.  Now, he could be anywhere.  Clarice is less concerned with her own safety than she is angry at her inability to understand what Dr. Lecter saw in the case file that continues to elude her.

109-111:  In the laundry room Clarice and Ardelia go over the Buffalo Bill case file with new determination.  On the map where the girl’s abduction and discovery location are notated, Ardelia finds handwriting that she thinks is Dr. Lecter’s.  Together with the doctor’s previous hints, Clarice hypothesizes that Buffalo Bill knew the first girl, Fredrica Bimmel, personally.

111-113:  At the FBI building, Clarice and Crawford are seated in the director’s office with Paul Krendler also present.  All four are reaching their breaking point, and tensions are high.  Clarice shares here theory about Buffalo Bill and Fredrica Bimmel, but director Burke is having none of it.  Kredler is furious about Lecter’s escape, and somehow blames it on Crawford and Starling’s false deal.  Burke shouts them all down, and suspends Clarice from the academy.  He also relieves Crawford of the Buffalo Bill task force, and tells him to go home and care for his wife.

113-114:  Outside the building, Clarice continues pleading her case to Crawford.  She thinks that, as a woman, she has an advantage over men while investigating Fredrica Bimmel.  Furthermore, she wants to turn the tables on Bill – and hunt him like he hunts other women.  Crawford is defeated, done, and can’t disobey director orders.  Clarice is having none of it – she is now just a citizen after being suspended from the academy.  Crawford hesitates, thinking over the stakes of this decision.  Ultimately, he gives her $300 and provides a number to reach him regardless of where he is.  Clarice wants to hug him, touch his face, but cannot.  She hails a cab to the airport.

115-117:  Inside Mr. Gumb’s Cellar, he calls for Precious while tending to the moth cage.  As he finds a new cocoon, a couple adult Death’s Head moths flutter out.  We see the macabre tools that Gumb has prepared for the day:  four shiny skinning knives and a steel Colt Python.  Despite calling for his dog multiple times, Precious will not come.  Eventually, Gumb goes looking for the dog, and is disturbed to find that he has fallen into the pit with Catherine.  She promises to hurt the dog if Gumb doesn’t give her access to a telephone.  As Precious whines, Gum takes aim at Catherine with his pistol, but she places the dog in the line-of-fire.  Gumb is irate, but cannot fire the pistol.

117-120:  On a residential street in Belvedere, Ohio, Clarice emerges from a rental car to speak with Fredrica Bimmel’s father.  As they walk inside his house, he explains that he has nothing new to tell her – he has already dealt with law enforcement officials multiple times.  Clarice investigates Fredrica’s bedroom, and we see her turn the pages of a high school yearbook, thumb through Fredrica’s LPs, and look over her possessions.  In the closet, Clarice is surprised to find an extensive wardrobe and a wide collection of sewing supplies.  One very large dress still has sewing patterns pinned to the back:  two large black triangles.  A voice-over from Dr. Lecter and flashbacks to the floated found in West Virginia connect the dots for Clarice:  Bill’s making sewing darts out of women’s skin!

120-123:  Downstairs in the Bimmel house, Clarice talks to Crawford over the phone.  She’s almost frantic with excitement, explaining her breakthrough to Crawford.  Crawford reveals that he is on an airplane and that they are on their way to Bill right now!  John’s Hopkins provided him with good information on a Jamie Gumb, including childhood trauma and a history of violence.  A cross-reference also identified him as the person signing for live caterpillars from Suriname.  They have two addresses and are going to hit them both within the hour.  Crucially, Crawford credits Clarice for the major breakthroughs, but tells her that it is important to link Gumb to the Bimmel girl.  She thanks him for the recognition, and though she is a little disappointed to be on a side-trail, she is determined to find a connection.

123-125:  Clarice first asks Mr. Bimmel if Fredrica had any male friends who could sew.  He says that she didn’t, but points Clarice to Fredrica’s best girl friend, Stacy.  In a Saving & Loan, Stacy recounts her relationship with Fredrica with a forlorn, detached tenor.  Though she also fails to identify any male friends of Fredrica’s, Stacy is able to offer a former employer:  Mrs. Lippman, who was often in demand for skilled sewers.  Clarice is disappointed to hear that Mrs Lippman moved to Florida a couple of years ago and has since died, but she gets her address anyway.  Stacy’s sadness finally overcomes her, and Clarice consoles her.

125-128:On a residential street, we see the dark-clad figures of a Hostage Rescue Team creeping towards a seemingly normal house.  We then cut to Mr. Gumb’s cellar as he grimly dons a large pair of infra-red goggles.  We cut back to the street and see individual HRT members inching towards the house and keying their rifle sights on the door.  This inter-cutting continues between the two locales:  Mr. Gumb kills the lights and activates his goggles, an HRT member removes a child on a tricycle from the adjacent driveway, Gumb creeps silently through the pitch-dark of his workrooms with the Colt in his hands, a florist’s van pulls up to the house, Gumb peers down the pit and aims his weapon at Catherine’s head and smiles, and Crawford and Burroughs wait anxiously as the florist walks to the door and slowly presses the buzzer.  Just as Gumb goes to pull the trigger, his door buzzer screams.  This wakes Precious and alerts Catherine to Gumb’s plan, so she pulls a futon cushion over both her and the dog – eliminating any clear shot that Gumb once had.  Furious, he looks towards his front door . . .

128-131:  As Gumb opens his door, we see Clarice peering in, and she inquires about Mrs. Lippman’s family.  Gumb tries to deflect, explaining that the Lippmans do not live here anymore.  We cut to the house surrounded by the HRT as the “florist” produces a 12 lb. sledgehammer and bashes the door in.  Crawford and Burroughs race towards the open door.  As before, we cut between these two situations:  Clarice asks more pointed questions of Gumb regarding Mrs. Lippman, more members of the HRT burst into the residence through windows and doors, Clarice asks if Gumb knew Fredrica Bimmel, the HRT discovers that the house they have just raided is empty, and Gumb invites Clarice in while he search for Mrs. Lippman’s son’s business card.  In the kitchen, on the stove, we see Gumb’s Colt Python.  As frustrated cops file out of the raided house, Crawford stops dead in his tracks, suddenly worried for Clarice.

131-134:  In Mr. Gumb’s house, Clarice readies her notebook and starts asking Gumb about his history with the house and Mrs. Lippman.  As Gumb is rummaging through his records, a Death’s-head moth crawls from a fold in his kimono and comes to rest on his back.  Clarice is gazing around the room and making note of its peculiarities, so she fails to see the moth until the last moment – upon which she noticeably freezes.  As she raises her gun and points it at Gumb, who she has now identified as Buffalo Bill, the man smiles and darts back into the kitchen.  Clarice hesitates for a split second, but that is enough to allow Gumb to escape downstairs with his Colt Python.

134-135:  We follow Clarice’s point of view as she descends the stairs to Gumb’s cellar.  The lighting is dim, and we hear screaming and a dog barking.  Clarice heads towards the noise and notes that there are many rooms and doors –and Gumb could be behind any of them.

135-136:  As Clarice enters the pit chamber, she notes that there are two other doors that lead to hallways besides the one she entered with, furthering her concern of an ambush.  She glances down the pit and sees Catherine holding a small white dog.  Clarice tries to reassure the girl, but Catherine is hysterical.  Clarice tells her that the other officers will be there shortly, but that she has to leave to find Gumb.

136-137:  Clarice moves down one of the passageways towards a new room.  As she bursts through the door, she come into Gumb’s workroom.  As she takes in the scene, she sees Gumb’s sewing machine, a swivel chair, and multiple large moths fluttering in the air and crashing into the light bulbs overhead.  A click behind her causes her to spin quickly, but it is only a small refrigerator cycling on.  Clarice moves on from the workroom.

137:  In the skinning room, Clarice moves past the mannequins – all naked now – and creeps towards a closed armoire, prepared to fire into it.  Its doors ease open, and it is shown to be empty.  She walks past the counter populated by several knives and the rows of chemical jars, heading towards a closed door.  Instead of opening it, she grabs a wooden chair and wedges it under the doorknob.  She makes an about-face and starts retracing her steps.

137-138:  Passing back through the workroom, Clarice listens through a curtained room for any movement and hears nothing.  She then crosses to a bathroom door and listens for any noise behind it.  Hearing nothing, she opens it quickly, and sees an old-fashioned bathroom with a big, free-standing tub covered by an opaque shower curtain.  Clarice aims her gun at the curtain and yanks it aside.  No one is standing in the tub, but lower she sees a female hand and wrist suspended in hard red plaster.  As Clarice is reacting in horror to this, the lights go out.  An instant later, we see the eerie green glow of Gumb’s night vision goggles.  Clarice stumbles in the inky darkness.

138-140:  Clarice emerges from the bathroom back into the workroom, arms-out in from of her as she nervously jerks them back-and-forth in the darkness.  In the pitch black, all of the sounds are magnified, and unseen moths fly into her face.  She keep walking, gun outstretched before her as she creeps directly in front of – and then past – Mr. Gumb, who has flattened himself against a wall and is watching Clarice stumble through the dark.  There, Gumb holds his Colt Python, and under his kimono he has donned his half-completed woman suit.  As Clarice passes him, showing her back, he slowly raises his gun and aims as the back of Clarice’s head.  When he cocks the hammer, there is a large metallic click that informs Clarice of his position.  She spins and fires her weapon immediately, the muzzle flashes illuminating the workroom for isolated instants.  On the floor and in the dark, Clarice hears a tortured whistling sound, which she crawls towards.  There, she finds Mr. Gumb, breathing his last breaths and reaching is arm upwards to the ceiling, where he has fixed his gaze.  Once his arm falls limp, Clarice confirms his death and rolls onto her own back, gazing up at the same spot.  There, on an infrared bulb, perches a Death’s-head moth.

140-141:  Outside Gumb’s house, there is a cacophony of action.  TV lights, police and ambulance flashers, and myriad cars congest the street.  Clarice emerges from the house beside Catherine, who is being wheeled on a gurney.  As the EMTs put Catherine in the back of the ambulance, Crawford climbs out of the back of a patrol car and anxiously seeks out Clarice.  When they finally see each other, Crawford is overcome with pride.  Still, he is tortured by the ordeal that Clarice has just gone through.  At a loss for words initially, he finally comforts Clarice by telling her that her father sees her.

141:  Weeks later, on the grounds of the FBI Academy, the forty members of Clarice’s class celebrate their graduation as applause from the audience mounts.  Clarice and Ardelia exchange a two-handed shake and Clarice searches the audience for Crawford, who offers a quick, proud smile and salute.  Clarice grins back, happier than we have ever seen her.

141-142:  In an academy dorm room, a raucous party is underway.  Ardelia weaves her way through the crowd to reach Clarice, who is flanked by her two guests: the entomologists.  Ardelia tells Clarice that there is a telephone call waiting for her.

142-144:  Clarice picks up the dangling phone, and is surprised to hear Dr. Lecter on the other side asking her if the lambs have stopped screaming.  Clarice tries to get the attention of Ardelia, but cannot.  Dr. Lecter is stretched out on a lounger set on a tiled patio, gazing up at the night’s sky.  He looks quite different – a beard, glasses, some noticeably cosmetic surgery.  He informs Clarice that he has no intention on calling on her, and asks for the same courtesy – which Clarice clearly cannot promise.  Finally, Dr. Lecter wishes Clarice a fond Goodbye, and comments on the beauty of the blue suit she wore to graduation.  Back in the dorm, Clarice reacts to the full weight of this revelation, but hears only a dial tone.

144:  Back on the moonlit patio, Dr. Lecter rises and turns towards the bright house.  He steps over a uniformed guard sprawled out on the ground and walks through open French doors into a book-lined study.  There, in a swivel chair, Dr. Chilton is bound with an intricacy which suggests Dr. Lecter’s previous restraints.  His eyes are wide with fear.  Dr. Lecter considers his quarry for a moment, and then raises the little penknife before asking, “Well, Dr. Chilton.  Shall we begin?”


For the rest of the analysis, you can head to Go Into The Story and check out the discussion based around the breakdown.  For my readers, let me know if you enjoy this kind of script breakdown, and if you think I should keep doing it (maybe even suggest the scripts you’d like to see!).  And, as always, share the piece with your buddies (or enemies) who you think will enjoy it (or hate it).

4 responses to ““The Silence of the Lambs” Script Analysis: Scene-by-Scene Breakdown”

  1. 138-140: that is not the way it happens in the movie though. I was wondering why the lights turn on after she shoots him. Because in the movie they are off till that point. Besides he dies almost instantly, so there is no reaching to the ceiling and to some moths, and she actually stands up in the scene to kick his gun away.


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Derek Jacobs

Chicago,IL 60606

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