Australia's Office of Film & Literature Classification (OFLC) originally gave the film an "R" rating. The distributors lobbied for it be rated 'M' without editing. The "R" remained for 2 years, until the OFLC created a new film rating, "MA15+", meaning persons under 15 years must be accompanied by a parent of guardian. The film was re-rated in 1993.
In preparation for his role, Anthony Hopkins studied files of serial killers. Also, he visited prisons and studied convicted murderers and was present during some court hearings concerning gruesome murderers and serial killings.
Jodie Foster claims that during the first meeting between Lecter and Starling, Anthony Hopkins's mocking of her southern accent was improvised on the spot. Foster's horrified reaction was genuine; she felt personally attacked. She later thanked Hopkins for generating such an honest reaction.
When Anthony Hopkins found out that he was cast as Hannibal Lecter based on his performance as Dr. Frederick Treves in The Elephant Man (1980) he questioned Jonathan Demme and said "But Dr. Treves was a good man." To which Demme replied "So is Lecter, he is a good man too. Just trapped in an insane mind."
Buffalo Bill is the combination of three real-life serial killers: Ed Gein, who skinned his victims, Ted Bundy, who used the cast on his hand as bait to convince women to get into his van, and Gary Heidnick, who kept women he kidnapped in a pit in his basement. Gein was only positively linked to two murders, and suspected of two others. He gathered most of his materials through grave-robbing, not murder.
When Anthony Hopkins' agent rang him up in London to tell him that he was sending him a script called "The Silence of the Lambs", Hopkins immediately thought he might be going up for a children's movie.
With 24 minutes and 52 seconds of screen time, Anthony Hopkins's performance in this movie is the 2nd shortest to ever win an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, with David Niven in 'Separate Tables' beating him at 23 minutes and 39 seconds.
The Silence of the Lambs was inspired by the real-life relationship between University of Washington criminology professor and profiler Robert Keppel and serial killer Ted Bundy. Bundy helped Keppel investigate the Green River Serial Killings in Washington. Bundy was executed January 24, 1989. The Green River Killings were finally solved in 2001, when Gary Ridgway was arrested. On November 5, 2003, in a Seattle courtroom, Ridgway plead guilty to 48 counts of aggravated first degree murder.
After Lecter was moved from Baltimore, the plan was to dress him in a yellow or orange jumpsuit. Anthony Hopkins convinced Jonathan Demme and costume designer Colleen Atwood that the character would seem more clinical and unsettling if he was dressed in pure white. Hopkins has since said he got the idea from his fear of dentists.
Jodie Foster spent a great deal of time with FBI agent Mary Ann Krause prior to filming. Krause gave Foster the idea of Starling standing by her car crying. Krause told Foster that at times, the work just became so overwhelming that it was a good way to get an emotional release.
Buffalo Bill's dance was not included in the original draft of the screenplay, although it appears in the novel. It was added at the insistence of Ted Levine, who thought the scene was essential in defining the character.
When Jonathan Demme filmed the scene where Lecter and Starling first meet, Anthony Hopkins said he should look directly at the camera as it panned into his line of sight. He felt Lecter should be portrayed as "knowing everything."
When Clarice visits Dr. Hannibal Lecter in his new facility, Lecter insists she continue telling him about her childhood as part of the agreement. Jodie Foster, reluctantly, continues her story about running away. Midway through her confessions, she mentions taking a lamb with her. If one listens closely after she says, "I thought if I could save just one..." a distant sound of something being dropped can be heard in the background. A crewman dropped a wrench during filming. Director Jonathan Demme panicked, thinking it would ruin the scene completely. However, Foster remained in character and continued the story, ultimately convincing Demme to keep the footage. After "Cut" was said, Foster turned her head to the crew and yelled, "What the Hell was that!"
When characters are talking to Starling, they often talk directly to the camera. When she is talking to them, she is always looking slightly off-camera. Director Jonathan Demme has explained that this was done so as the audience would directly experience her POV, but not theirs, hence encouraged the audience to more readily identify with her.
Clarice Starling was chosen by the American Film Institution as the sixth greatest film hero (out of fifty), the highest ranked female on the list; Hannibal Lecter was chosen as the #1 greatest film villain (also out of fifty).
Anthony Hopkins invented the fast, slurping-type sound that Hannibal Lecter does. He did it spontaneously during filming on the set, and everyone thought it was great. Director Jonathan Demme became annoyed with it after a while, but denied his irritation.
The idea to use glass in Lecter's Baltimore cell as opposed to traditional bars came from production designer Kristi Zea. The idea came about because director Jonathan Demme was unhappy shooting the Lecter scenes through bars, as he felt they negated the sense of intimacy between Lecter and Starling which he was trying to achieve.
The pattern on the moth's back in the movie posters is not the natural pattern of the Death's-Head Hawk Moth. It is, in fact, Salvador Dalí's "In Voluptas Mors", a picture of seven naked women made to look like a human skull.
After being cast as Buffalo Bill, Ted Levine developed his character by reading profiles of serial killers. Levine later said he found the material very disturbing. Since Bill was a cross-dresser, he went to a few trans bars and interviewed some patrons.
Within ten years of the release of this film, the building used for the exterior of Lecter's asylum had been shut down and demolished. Footage from this film was therefore recycled to create the establishing shots used in the prequel Red Dragon (2002).
After working with John Douglas for some time, Scott Glenn thanked him and said how fascinating it was to have been allowed into his world. Douglas laughed and told Glenn that if he really wanted to get into his world, he should listen to an audio tape of serial killers Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris torturing, raping, and murdering two teenage girls. Glenn listened to less than one minute of the tape, and has since said that he feels he lost a sense of innocence in doing so, and that he has never been able to forget what he heard.
Jack Crawford was based on real-life FBI Special Agent John E. Douglas, an early member of the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit, who coached Glenn on his portrayal of a member of the BSU. Douglas, still an active FBI Special Agent during production, was in the midst of tracking Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer, who was believed to have killed more than 90 women in Washington state between 1982 and 1998. Ridgway was arrested 2001, and plead guilty to 48 counts of aggravated first degree murder on November 5, 2003.
Gene Hackman bought the rights to "The Silence of the Lambs." He planned to direct the film and play either Lecter or Jack Crawford. He withdrew after watching a clip of himself in Mississippi Burning (1988) at the The 61st Annual Academy Awards (1989), which made him uneasy about taking more violent roles.
When Ted Tally was writing the screenplay for the film, he suggested Jodie Foster for role of Clarice Starling. Foster had been lobbying hard for the part, but when Jonathan Demme was hired to direct, he wanted Michelle Pfeiffer instead. Pfeiffer turned the part down because she felt the film was too violent. Demme then agreed to meet Foster. He hired her after only one meeting because he said he could see her strength and determination for the part, and he felt that was perfect for Clarice.
Originally, the film was to open with Clarice Starling and a male FBI agent in the middle of a drug bust. They were to burst into the room and make a number of arrests, then the bust would be revealed as a training exercise. Jodie Foster was able to convince Jonathan Demme to change the scene because it had been done so many times before. Foster came up with the idea of opening with Starling running through the assault course. The drug bust training idea was still used, but after Clarice's first conversation with Lecter.
Contrary to popular rumour, writer Thomas Harris saw the film shortly after it came out. According to a New York Magazine profile of Harris, "The Silence of the Writer," by Phoebe Hoban (15 April 1991), he called it "a great movie. . . I've been surrounded by it, so I wanted to see it. I admire Jonathan Demme, and we were very fortunate to have him and Ted Tally, and we were very lucky with the cast."
The filmmakers were prepared to go to Montana to shoot a flashback sequence depicting Clarice's runaway attempt. After filming the dialogue between Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, director Jonathan Demme realized it would be pointless to cut away from their performances and announced, "I guess we aren't going to Montana."
Like Casablanca (1942), this movie contains a famous misquoted line: most people quote Lecter's famous "Good evening, Clarice" as "Hello, Clarice." This line did, however, appear in the sequel, Hannibal. In Hannibal, when Dr. Lecter and Clarice (now played by Julianne Moore) speak on the phone for the first time, he does in fact say "Hello Clarice". This was possibly put in by the writers of Hannibal as an inside joke in reference to the misquoting of the original movie.
Dino De Laurentiis, who had produced Manhunter (1986), passed on Silence of the Lambs because Manhunter had flopped. He gave the rights away free to Orion Pictures. He then went on to produce Red Dragon, its prequel.
Jodie Foster, Jonathan Demme and Scott Glenn, and a few other cast and crew members did a great deal of research at the FBI training facility in Quantico, Virginia. They studied under criminal profiling agents, learned about firearms and agent training, and sat in on a number of classes.
When studying the character he played, Anthony Hopkins noticed similar characteristics in reptiles. Reptiles only blink when they want to, and do it consciously. Therefore, in the movie, Hopkins only blinks in special moments and very consciously.
During location scouting for the house in which the serial killer Buffalo Bill was living, Ted Levine, who played Buffalo Bill, was amazed to discover that the house being considered was not only in the town where he grew up but was literally next door to the house of his grade school girlfriend.
An early decision on the part of Jonathan Demme was to film at Quantico itself, the FBI's own training environment which had always closed its doors to film crews. Visiting Quantico for the first time, production designer Kristi Zea was struck by how boring and prosaic the location was. She expressed her concern to Demme who replied that he wanted the place to look as mundane as possible.
Thematic parallel: The tune played by the music box in Bimmel's bedroom is from the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart opera "The Magic Flute." Also from a music box, the magic tune releases the heroine from the clutches of a lecherous character who 'covets' her throughout the opera.
The Tobacco Horn Worm moths used throughout the film were given celebrity treatment. They were flown first class to the set in a special carrier, had special living quarters (rooms with controlled humidity and heat), and were dressed in carefully designed costumes (body shields bearing a painted skull and crossbones)
Most of the film was shot in Pittsbugh, which was chosen for its large variety of landscapes and architecture. Some of the film's interior scenes, including the Baltimore jail scene in the beginning and the ballroom scene of Lecter in his cage, were shot in Soldiers and Sailors Memorial located on Fifth Avenue in the Oakland area of Pittsburgh.
Ed Harris turned down the role of Jack Crawford because he didn't find the role interesting, and would rather have played Hannibal Lecter. He partially got his wish when he played a jailed serial killer who assists in solving a murder in Just Cause (1995)
Orion's decision to promote this film as a 1991 Oscar contender resulted in having to choose between two other releases later in the year: Little Man Tate (1991) and Blue Sky (1994). As Orion executives planned to promote Jodie Foster as a Best Actress nominee, they decided to give her some extra exposure by releasing the former picture, which she both appeared in and directed. Foster ended up winning Best Actress. Blue Sky ended up waiting three more years to be released, but when it did, it resulted in Jessica Lange also winning a Best Actress Oscar.
According to Jonathan Demme, there were 300 applicants for the role of Clarice Starling. Meg Ryan and Michelle Pfeiffer turned the role down because of the disturbing subject matter. Brooke Smith (who ended up playing Catherine Martin) and Nicole Kidman both read for the part. A then-unknown Halle Berry actively pursued the role but never got the chance to audition, later complaining in a 1995 New York Times article that producers would not consider her because of her race.
Jonathan Demme cast Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter based on his performance as Dr. Frederick Treves in The Elephant Man (1980). Hopkins has himself said that he felt the sharing-and-caring role of Dr. Frederick Treves was rather dull.
The film was originally scheduled for release in fall of 1990. Orion Pictures delayed its release until late January 1991 so they could focus on promoting Dances with Wolves (1990) for Oscar consideration. This film won all five major Academy Awards, a notable exception to the conventional wisdom that films released early in a calendar year are forgotten by Oscar time.
Clarice Starling was one of the biggest influences for creating the character of Dana Scully according to The X Files creator, Chris Carter. There is also a tribute to The Silence of the Lambs in the last episode of the 9th season when Scully visits Mulder in the jail and he tells her "I smelled you coming, Clarice".
John Douglas, on whom the Jack Crawford character was based, achieved some fame of his own a few years after this film. He was hired by the parents of JonBenét Ramsey to investigate her death and apparent murder. Up until that point, the parents had been the chief suspects in the case. While Douglas did not fault the local police for investigating the family first--as in the film, investigators usually assume that victims know their killers--he became the first public official to proclaim their innocence.
Lecter said he ate a victim's liver with "some fava beans and nice chianti". Liver, fava beans, and wine all contain a substance called tyramine, which can kill a person who is taking a certain class of antidepressant drugs known as MAO inhibitors. MAO inhibitors were the first antidepressants developed, and were used primarily on patients in mental institutions. Lecter worked in, and was committed to, a mental institution.
The events in this film occur after the events in Manhunter (1986). Although there are several characters common to both films, there are only two actors who appear in both movies. Both actors play different characters in both movies. Frankie Faison plays Lt. Fisk in Manhunter and Barney in Silence of the Lambs, and Dan Butler plays an FBI fingerprint expert in Manhunter and an entomologist in Silence of the Lambs.
The revolver that Buffalo Bill uses is a Colt Python, which is a double action. That means in the dark scene all he would have had to do was pull the trigger, he would not have had to pull the hammer back.
This is the only movie where Clarice actually uses the media nickname that they gave Dr. Lecter. When she is talking with Jack about who the subject she is to interview is, she says "Hannibal the Cannibal" but throughout the rest of the movie and in the 2002 movie "Hannibal," she always calls him Dr. Lecter, except when she says Hannibal Lecter to Pazzi to tell him who she is looking for. She respects him so she always says Dr. Lecter, even when she's not speaking to him directly.
The song heard playing while "Buffalo Bill" does his dance is "Goodbye Horses" by Q. Lazzarus. More commonly-known versions of this song are performed by Psyche and by Mortal Loom sung by Ilja Rosendahl.
At the beginning of the movie, when Clarice Starling is looking for Jack Crawford, who is investigating the killer known as "Buffalo Bill," the first office she goes to has what appear to be notes about the investigation on a blackboard. Among them are two short quotations from the E.E. Cummings poem "Buffalo Bill's / defunct": "1-2-3-4-5" and, near the bottom of the board (the right side of the board isn't visible): "how do you like -- blue-eyed boy now --" The latter appears to be quoting (slightly misquoting, actually) the final lines of the poem: "how do you like your blue-eyed boy / Mister Death."
Dan Butler plays a role in two movies based on novels by Thomas Harris surrounding Dr. Lecter. The first was in Manhunter (1986) based on Harris' novel "Red Dragon" where he played an FBI fingerprint analyst. Here, he plays Roden, the university entomologist who helps identify the Death's Head Moth.
Michelle Pfeiffer was Jonathan Demme's first choice to play Clarice Starling, after the two worked on Married to the Mob (1988), becoming close collaborators. After a long 'courting' period of Demme in persuit and Pfeiffer considering playing the role, the actress ultimately turned it down as she thought the film to be too dark and violent.
Sean Connery was director Jonathan Demme's first choice to play Hannibal Lecter, but he turned the part down. Connery later did a similar serial-killer thriller called Just Cause (1995), where Ed Harris plays a sort of bible-bashing, redneck rip-off of Hannibal Lecter. The film was neither a critical or commercial smash like The Silence of the Lambs (1991) was.
When Agent Starling goes through Fredrica Bimmel's closet and closes the room's door, a promotional poster for Deborah Harry's 1989 solo album, "Def, Dumb & Blonde", can be seen on the bedroom wall. Director Jonathan Demme is a fan of Debbie Harry.
In an interview John Carpenter declared his disappointment over the movie focusing so much on Clarice Starling's character and that he would have loved to direct this himself, making it "much more frightening and gripping".
During the film, in a televised announcement by the U.S. Senator, Ruth Martin, the Senator pleads for her daughter's life and repeatedly mentions her name, Catherine. The FBI agents/trainees who are watching the announcement remark that her repeated mentioning of Catherine's name is 'smart', with Clarice Starling adding that the Senator's repeated use of her daughter's name could influence her kidnapper to see her daughter as a person and not as a thing or object. This notion is in direct (and possibly deliberate) contrast with the way in which Buffulo Bill addresses Catherine during another scene by saying lines such as: 'IT rubs the lotion on ITs skin. IT does this whenever IT's told', and 'IT places the lotion in the basket'.
In the second draft of Ted Tally's screenplay, the names of three characters had to be changed from Thomas Harris's novel for legal reasons: Jack Crawford became Ray Campbell, Frederick Chilton became Herbert Prentiss, and Hannibal Lecter became Gideon Quinn.
Anthony Heald was originally cast as Roden though he initially sought the role of Dr. Frederick Chilton, a character that was written as being older than Heald. However, after a table reading with Jodie Foster where he filled in as Hannibal Lecter, he was then cast as Dr. Chilton.
In one scene, Catherine Martin is shown speeding along in her car singing American Girl by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Brooke Smith, who played Catherine Martin, was a fan of the New York hardcore scene and had wanted the producers to use a Bad Brains song instead. The other song in consideration for that scene was Rufus & Chaka Khan's "Tell Me Something Good".
The real life american astronaut Alan Shepard - the first american in space - was played by both Scott Glenn and Ted Levine. Glenn played Shepard in the 1983 movie The Right Stuff and Levine played him in the 1998 HBO mini-series From the Earth to the Moon.
Dr. Lecter gives many clues in the as to who the killer is, where he is located, and what he is up to: When Dr. Lecter tells Senator Martin "Love your suit", this may be a reference to Buffalo Bill making a woman suit, and also when he is speaking to Clarice about the drawing of Florence, he tells her that it's seen from the Belvedere, thus giving her the exact location of Jame Gumb.
When Clarice is researching Lecter's background, Crawford is mentioned in the articles, but Will Graham, who actually identified and captured him, is not. It is unlikely that the press would have reported Crawford's role more prominently than Graham's, since both Manhunter (1986) and Red Dragon (2002) show that Freddy Lounds (Stephen Lang/Philip Seymour Hoffman) incurred both Graham's and Crawford's wrath for photographing him while he was recovering in the hospital.
In the scene near the end of the film, when Jack Crawford is speaking to Clarisse from a plane before she enters the killers house, you can see that the three men shown in the scene on the plane are all left handed.
George A. Romero: the bearded man who accompanies Chilton and the two guards who forcibly remove Clarice Starling after her final meeting with Lecter. In addition, Dave Early from Dawn of the Dead (1978) appears as one of the SWAT team.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The FBI was very impressed by the film's accuracy in depicting criminal investigations, serial killers, and their victims. However, they protested against Clarice discovering Buffalo Bill on her own because inexperienced agents are never sent alone on dangerous assignments. When Jonathan Demme explained to them that he wouldn't change it because it was the movie's psychological climax, they agreed, saying that it would be the most improbable course of action of all time, never to be repeated again.
Lecter's drawing of Clarice (shown in his temporary cell in Memphis) features three crosses in the background, with only one showing a man crucified. The drawing purposefully makes Clarice look older with jowls, creases under her eyes, and a gray streak in her hair. Of course, in her arms is the lamb she had tried to rescue. In essence, Lecter is trying to suggest the statue The Pieta, which features Mary holding the body of Jesus (the Lamb of God) in her arms, with him immediately thereafter received his specially-ordered second dinner of lamb chops. Shortly thereafter, Lecter leaves Officer Boyle crucified and disemboweled on the outside of the cell.
In his first meeting with Clarice Starling, Lecter describes the drawing on his cell wall as "the Duomo, seen from the Belvedere" in Florence, Italy. Starling later finds Buffalo Bill living in Belvedere, Ohio.
In the film, Lecter tells Senator Martin that Buffalo Bill's real name is "Louis Friend", an anagram of iron sulfide, or fool's gold. In the novel, he gives the name "Billy Rubin". This is a play on bilirubin, a pigment found in feces and the color of Dr. Chilton's hair.
During Clarice's first meeting with Dr. Chilton, he mentions that when Hannibal Lecter attacked a nurse, his pulse 'never got above 85'. While Lecter is escaping in the ambulance, the paramedic mentions over the intercom that the patient has a pulse of 84, again showing Lecter's icy calmness despite performing horrible acts.
As revealed on the Blu-Ray documentaries, "Breaking The Silence" and "From Page To Screen", both the film's beginning and ending were altered. Ted Tally's screenplay called for the film to begin with an FBI Raid not unlike the one featured in the opening sequence of Hannibal (2001). Thomas Harris' book ends with Lecter writing a threatening letter to Dr. Chilton. Ted Tally and Jonathan Demme decided it would be necessary for Lecter to track Chilton to a tropical island for a more dramatic and audience-pleasing closing, plus an all-expense studio-paid trip to shoot somewhere warm. (The final scene was shot on the tiny island of Bimini, which is part of the Bahamas.)
After the shootout with Gumb, Clarice has partially-burned gunpowder buried in the skin on the side of her face, the result of a near-miss. One name for this type of injury is "coal miner's tattoo" , a clever reference to the character's background.
When Clarice Starling first discovers Catherine Martin in the well in Buffalo Bill's basement, Martin's gown, wide-eyed fear, and holding Bill's white poodle Precious can be seen as a direct mirror of Starling's own childhood memory of trying to save a lamb. Catherine refuses to give up the dog after being rescued.
In the movie it is said that Miggs died by swallowing his own tongue. This is physically impossible to do unless the tongue has been cut off. It's not particularly fatal, either. This is a figure of speech referring to an unconscious person suffocating because his tongue has blocked his airway, being used incorrectly.
In his first meeting with Clarice Starling, Lecter describes the drawing on his cell wall as "the Duomo, seen from the Belvedere" in Florence, Italy. In the sequel Hannibal (2001) Lecter is living in Florence as a fugitive.
The film has many "cat" clues in the first victim's house that seem to lead Clarice to the identity of the killer and to where Catherine Martin might be. There's a photo of Frederika (the first victim) and her cat, and then a cat figurine by the jewelry box with Polaroid photos. And the pet cat seems to lead Clarice to the wardrobe with the diamond-shaped dress taping that resembled the skinning of one of the victims. Notably, the name Catherine has the word cat in it.
During the closing credits, if you look very closely to Hannibal when he's in the far distance, inside the crowd, his hat falls off his head and he quickly picks it up. This happens little before the screen fades to black.
When Buffalo Bill grabs the gun in his bed, right after Catherine hijacks his dog, you can see that the bed sheet has two stitched nazi swastikas, showing another layer of the killer's character. Sometime after that, there is yet another swastika half hidden by a picture on the wall.
The final lines are not delivered by Clarice as she repeats, "Dr. Lecter?... Dr. Lecter?... Dr. Lecter?... Dr. Lecter?", but rather, it is Dr. Chilton who delivers the last dialogue: "Hey, what? Oh, excuse me. I'm sorry. Is the security system all set up?....Thank you. I appreciate that."
While Buffalo Bill shows the most similarity to necrophiliac and murderer Ed Gein (most obviously with his making a "woman suit"), Hannibal also takes a note from Gein. At the end part of his escape plan is to wear the skin of Agent Pembrey's face to disguise himself. Gein was known to wear the faces of the dead women he mutilated, which also inspired Leather Face in Texas Chainsaw Massacre.