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The Silence of the Lambs (1991) - Plot Summary Poster

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  • FBI trainee Clarice Starling works hard to advance her career, while trying to hide/put behind her West Virginia roots, of which if some knew, would automatically classify her as being backward or white trash. After graduation, she aspires to work in the agency's Behavioral Science Unit under the leadership of Jack Crawford. While she is still a trainee, Crawford asks her to question Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a psychiatrist imprisoned, thus far, for eight years in maximum security isolation for being a serial killer who cannibalized his victims. Clarice is able to figure out the assignment is to pick Lecter's brains to help them solve another serial murder case, that of someone coined by the media as Buffalo Bill, who has so far killed five victims, all located in the eastern US, all young women who are slightly overweight (especially around the hips), all who were drowned in natural bodies of water, and all who were stripped of large swaths of skin. She also figures that Crawford chose her, as a woman, to be able to trigger some emotional response from Lecter. After speaking to Lecter for the first time, she realizes that everything with him will be a psychological game, with her often having to read between the very cryptic lines he provides. She has to decide how much she will play along, as his request in return for talking to him is to expose herself emotionally to him. The case takes a more dire turn when a sixth victim is discovered, this one from who they are able to retrieve a key piece of evidence, if Lecter is being forthright as to its meaning. A potential seventh victim is high profile Catherine Martin, the daughter of Senator Ruth Martin, which places greater scrutiny on the case as they search for a hopefully still alive Catherine. Who may factor into what happens is Dr. Frederick Chilton, the warden at the prison, an opportunist who sees the higher profile with Catherine, meaning a higher profile for himself if he can insert himself successfully into the proceedings.

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  • Young FBI agent Clarice Starling is assigned to help find a missing woman to save her from a psychopathic serial killer who skins his victims. Clarice attempts to gain a better insight into the twisted mind of the killer by talking to another psychopath: Hannibal Lecter, who used to be a respected psychiatrist. FBI agent Jack Crawford believes that Lecter, who is also a very powerful and clever mind manipulator, has the answers to their questions and can help locate the killer. However, Clarice must first gain Lecter's confidence before the inmate will give away any information.

  • Clarice Starling, a young intelligent FBI trainee, has been sent to the Baltimore state hospital for the criminally insane to interview an inmate, Dr. Hannibal "the cannibal" Lecter, a brilliant renowned psychiatrist turned infamous psychopathic serial killer. She must match wits with Lecter - who has the darkest of all minds - and trust him to give her clues in the search for "Buffalo Bill", a nickname given to a loose, unknown, unstoppable psychopathic serial killer...

  • A psychopath known as Buffalo Bill is kidnapping and murdering young women across the Midwest. Believing it takes one to know one, the F.B.I. sends Agent Clarice Starling to interview a demented prisoner who may provide psychological insight and clues to the killer's actions. The prisoner is psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant, murderous cannibal who will only help Starling if she feeds his morbid curiosity with details of her own complicated life. This twisted relationship forces Starling to not only confront her psychological demons, but leads her face to face with a demented, heinous killer; an incarnation of evil so powerful, that she may not have the courage, or strength, to stop him.

  • A young F.B.I. cadet must receive the help of an incarcerated and manipulative cannibal killer to help catch another serial killer, a madman who skins his victims.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • Promising FBI Academy student Clarice Starling is pulled from her training at the FBI Training Facility at Quantico, Virginia by Jack Crawford of the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit, who tasks her with presenting a VICAP questionnaire to the notorious Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant forensic psychiatrist and incarcerated cannibalistic serial murderer. After learning the assignment relates to the pursuit of vicious serial killer Buffalo Bill, Starling travels to the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane and is led by Dr. Frederick Chilton to Hannibal Lecter, a sophisticated, cultured man restrained behind thick glass panels and windowless stone walls. Although initially pleasant and courteous, Lecter grows impatient with Starling's attempts at "dissecting" him and viciously rebuffs her. As Starling departs, another patient flings fresh semen onto her face, enraging Lecter who calls Starling back and offers a riddle containing information about a former patient. The solved riddle leads to a rent-a-storage lot where the severed head of Benjamin Raspail is found. Starling returns to Lecter, who links Raspail to Buffalo Bill and who offers to help profile Buffalo Bill if he is transferred to a facility far from the venomous, careerist Dr. Chilton.

    Hours and miles away, Buffalo Bill abducts Catherine Martin, the daughter of United States Senator Ruth Martin. Starling is pulled from Quantico and accompanies Crawford to West Virginia, where the body of Bill's most recently-discovered victim resides, and where Starling helps perform the autopsy and extracts the chrysalis of a Death's-head Hawkmoth from the victim's throat. At Quantico, as news of Catherine Martin's abduction sweeps the country, Crawford authorizes Starling to offer Hannibal Lecter a fake deal promising a prison transfer if he provides information that helps profile Buffalo Bill and rescue Catherine Martin. Instead, Lecter begins a game of "quid pro quo" with Starling, offering comprehensive clues and insights about Buffalo Bill in exchange for events from Starling's traumatic childhood. Unaware to both Starling and Lecter, Dr. Frederick Chilton tapes the conversation and after revealing Starling's deal as a sham, offers to transfer Lecter in exchange for a deal of his own making. Lecter agrees and following a flight to Tennessee reveals Buffalo Bill's real name, physical description and past address to Senator Martin and her entourage of FBI agents and Justice Department officials.

    As the manhunt begins, Starling travels to Lecter's special cell in a local Tennessee courthouse, where she confronts him about the false information he gave the Senator. Lecter refuses Starling's pleas and demands she finish her story surrounding her worst childhood memory. After recounting her arrival at a relative's farm, the horror of discovering their lamb slaughterhouse and her fruitless attempts at rescuing the lambs, Lecter rebuffs her, leaving her with her case file before she is escorted out of the building by security guards. Later that evening, Lecter escapes from his cell. The local police storm the floor, discovering one guard barely alive and the other disemboweled and strung up on the bars of Lecter's cage. Paramedics transport the survivor to an ambulance and speed off while a SWAT team searches the building for Lecter. As the team discover a body in the elevator shaft, the survivor in the ambulance peels off his own face, revealing Lecter in disguise, who kills the paramedics and escapes to the airport.

    After notified of Lecter's escape, Starling pores over her case file, analyzing Lecter's annotations before realizing that the first victim, Frederica Bimmel, knew Bill in real life before he killed her. Starling travels to Bimmel's hometown and discovers that Bimmel was a tailor and has dresses with templates identical to the patches of skin removed from Buffalo Bill's victims. Realizing that Buffalo Bill is a tailor fashioning a "woman suit" of real skin, she telephones Crawford, who is already on the way to make an arrest, having cross-referenced Lecter's notes with Johns Hopkins Hospital and finding a man named Jame Gumb. Crawford instructs Starling to continue interviewing Bimmel's friends while he leads a SWAT team to Gumb's business address in Calumet City, Illinois. Starling's interviews lead to the house of "Jack Gordon," whom Starling soon realizes is actually Gumb, and draws her weapon just as Gumb disappears into his basement. Starling pursues him, discovering a screaming Catherine Martin in the dry well just before the lights in the basement go out, leaving her in complete darkness. Gumb stalks Starling in the dark with night vision goggles and prepares to shoot her when Starling, hearing the machinations of his revolver, swivels around and shoots Gumb dead.

    Days later at the FBI Academy graduation party, Starling receives a phone call from Hannibal Lecter, now in the Bahamas. As Lecter assures Starling he has no plans to pursue her, he excuses himself from the phone call, remarking that he's "having an old friend for dinner" before hanging up and following Chilton through the streets of the village.

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