Classic Scene: Clarice Meets Hannibal

Clarice meets Hannibal

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Directed by Jonathan Demme

The Scene: After a few kind words and reassurance from the orderly Barney, young FBI agent Clarice Starling descends into the depth of madness both literally and figuratively. Mustering her confidence she passes a row of cells each inhabited by those so dangerous they can not even be held among the others in a hospital for the criminally insane. Naturally they all leer at Agent Starling and make crude comments, until she makes it to the final cell. In this cell she finds the notorious serial killer and cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Instead of gawking at her like the others, she finds him standing composed and observant in the center of the room. From the first moment they meet Dr. Lecter as already gone to work analyzing and breaking down Clarice. She discovers this herself when she hamfistedly tries to get him to fill out a questionnaire and he admonishes her tone and technique. Despite his mocking her and toying with her, Clarice is more than willing to stand up to him, which leads to Hannibal’s famous line concerning a census worker, fava beans, and a nice chianti. Despite this, she seems to endear herself to the cannibal in a weird way and after another prisoner attacks her, Hannibal calls her back and gives the agent information which could be useful in her case.

The Breakdown: First and foremost what sets the scene is director Jonathan Demme’s change of setting leading to a change in tone. Like Clarice we have gone from a normal mental hospital into a gothic dungeon-like basement which looks ripped straight from a Universal Monsters film. While Sir Anthony Hopkins is not the first actor to play Hannibal Lecter he gave people the definitive take on the character. By simply standing and carrying a conversation he oozes of menace. He does not blink and never raises his voice, he makes it clear from the first time you see him, that he is in control. Under Demme’s direction the thespian is staring directly at the camera giving the audience the impression that he is all-knowing. Hopkins even improvised a mocking of Clarice’s accent just to make sure you knew what the balance of power was. Jodie Foster’s role was incredibly nuanced in this scene as she has to walk into lion’s den showcasing the confidence which comes with being young, while you can see a nervousness lingering just beneath the surface. Despite this she pushes any fear and anxiety down as she stands up to Lecter which catches the intellectual killer off guard.

Best Bit: The famous Hannibal Lecter line “A census worker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti”. The dark humor combined with Hopkins’ delivery has made this one of the most memorable lines in movie history.