Silence of the Lambs has been called both brilliant
and reprehensible. A careful look at the film's
structure reveals that this in fact is a
finely-crafted and often fascinating script, but not a
Self-Revelation: Starting at the endpoint of a
good script, the hero's self-revelation, we see that
Clarisse achieves success but has no insight about
herself. The delving that Lecter has forced her to do
has no payoff. Has she stopped hearing the screaming
of the lambs? Has she seen the ways in which she too
is a hunter? Not in this film. Obviously her lack of a
self-revelation is partly due to this film being the
second in a trilogy. Clarisse's real insights must
come, if at all, in the final story when she faces her
greatest challenge in Lecter. But this flaw prevents The
Silence of the Lambs from reaching its true
Need: The need, the wellspring of any film, is
established in a unique way when Lecter
"analyses" Clarisse in their first meeting.
He calls her ambitious and petty, one generation
removed from white trash. Daughter of a slain,
small-town cop, Clarisse is indeed out to prove her
worth and rise above her roots. But as the model FBI
trainee, she has taken the "good girl"
route. She is superficial, with no sense of the
limitations in herself or the "lawful" way
Desire: Clarisse's desire is also set up early
on. She is assigned to find out about serial killers
from ex-psychiatrist and serial killer, Hannibal
"The Cannibal" Lecter. She soon realizes her
true mission is to try to find the identity of serial
killer "Buffalo Bill," who skins his female
desire dictates that the film will be a detective
story, and probably a thriller. What sets this film
apart is that the writers have tied the thriller form
- in which the detective is a woman in danger - with a
main character who is determined to prove herself in
the ultimate male world of the FBI. In short, the
structure itself expresses both the successes and
failures of a woman's liberation in a deadly world.
Opposition: The opposition in this script is
extremely tricky, and would defeat most writers. The
main outside opponent is Buffalo Bill. But Clarisse
will only come into contact with him at the very end.
The deeper opponent, Lecter, is in jail, so his
opposition to Clarisse is somewhat limited as well.
of the keys to the success of this film is that the
writers have grafted a mythical structure onto the
thriller form. In her journey to uncover and catch
Buffalo Bill, Clarisse has, as her guide, the wise man
from hell, the dark Yoda, the rotted Raskolnikov.
Lecter is an opponent, but he is also her ally. As any
great opponent does, Lecter attacks Clarisse's
weakness with the precision of a brain surgeon. More
than make her win, Lecter forces her to grow.
relationship of Clarisse and Lecter also points up a
grave weakness in the film. Lecter is the mastermind
criminal, the great-souled man who, tragically, has
turned to murder to exercise his power. In return for
his criminal insights, he requires that Clarisse let
him feed on her soul by exploring her ghost.
This is a brilliant
step, but to really pay off, it requires a hero worthy
of Lecter. Clarisse's self-exploration must be worthy
of Lecter's fascination. True, Clarisse recalls her
efforts to save the lamb, and she sees the connection
between that event and her current efforts to save the
women not much younger than herself. True, Clarisse is
inherently talented at investigation and is a quick
learner. But none of this potential comes close to
justifying Lecter's obsession with her.
Plan: As in any detective-thriller, the plan involves
tracking physical evidence to find the killer. Again
this film sets itself apart by the unique details,
especially the use of the moth cocoon and the sewing.
The film also goes too far on occasion, showing
Clarisse making jumps of logic that aren't supported
by the evidence or her own ability.
Battle: The battle, the final conflict, pits Clarisse
against Buffalo Bill. While this completes Clarisse's
desire line, it doesn't give us the true battle, which
must be between Clarisse and Lecter. That of course
must wait for part three of the trilogy. But that
means that this battle is not completely satisfying
(and Clarisse's going into the basement to catch the
criminal is the height of stupidity).
Self-Revelation: A deeper problem with the final
battle is that it makes a self-revelation for Clarisse
impossible. Buffalo Bill is a man who ironically kills
women in order to "become" a woman. Shooting
him can give Clarisse no insight into herself. Lecter
is the real hunter, and only by confronting him can
Clarisse finish the self-exploration that Lecter made
her start. Clarisse must see the Lecter in herself.
But that too must wait for the next film.
The Silence of the Lambs is a textbook example of how
to weave a story from characters who are variations on
a theme. But it also shows us how a structure that
limits the opposition and the self-revelation of the
hero can prevent a script from achieving true