Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

On its 25th anniversary, what is The Silence Of The Lambs really about?

Illustration for article titled On its 25th anniversary, what is The Silence Of The Lambs really about?

It’s been 25 years since audiences were disturbed by Hannibal Lecter in Jonathan Demme’s The Silence Of The Lambs, adapted from a book by Thomas Harris. In that time, the Lecter mythos has grown on the silver screen and the small screen, but the Academy Award-winning film remains a touchstone for psychological thrillers (the gussied up term for a horror film that was en vogue upon its Oscar race). The performances hold up today and even some of the grislier elements of the plot are still shocking audiences who’ve never seen it before. But perhaps, on this anniversary, it’s time to investigate another layer to the film that may not be apparent at first glance.


A new video by website iO9, based on this posting by Hamish Spencer, posits that the entire film is really about mind control, and specifically about Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) getting brainwashed by Dr. Hannibal Lecter and the FBI. The theory suggests that everything in the film is leading up to (SPOILERS) Starling becoming a government operative primed and trained for killing. From the suspicious choice of a trainee handling the enigmatic and dangerous Lecter, to the sexist opposition she faces at every turn from fellow law enforcement, Starling is made to be isolated and then molded by her new guru. She opens up to him about her childhood, making her more susceptible to his worldview and also to becoming a killing machine. This mind manipulation was plumbed for further depths in Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal, as viewers watched the titular character mold various victims and pawns (including his main adversary/pseudo love interest, Will Graham) into becoming apostles for his belief that ubermenschen should be allowed to do as they see fit with the lives of others.

The evidence in the video is spotty—though Spencer’s write-up is much more thorough and persuasive—but it is still an interesting read that does poke some holes into why certain plot elements unfolded the way they did. Was Starling always set up to become the next darling of Lecter, and therefore adopt his predatory viewpoint? It’s unclear, but it is something to ponder when rewatching the excellent film.