Wiki Headlines
We've switched servers and will be updating the old code over the next couple months, meaning that several things might break. Please report issues here.

main index




Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
Literature: The Silence of the Lambs

Dr. Hannibal Lecter: What does he do, this man you seek?
Clarice Starling: He kills women.
Dr. Hannibal Lecter: No. That is incidental. What is the first and principal thing he does, what needs does he serve by killing?
Clarice Starling: Anger, social acceptance, and, uh, sexual frustration...
Dr. Hannibal Lecter: No! He covets. That's his nature.

1988 novel by Thomas Harris (Black Sunday), sequel to Red Dragon.

There's another serial killer on the loose, "Buffalo Bill", who abducts women, kills and skins them, and shoves chrysalitic moths down their throats. Behavioral Sciences, the section of the FBI that deals with violent crime, is stuck; section chief Jack Crawford has no idea how to stop this guy. The game-changer comes in the form of ambitious young trainee Clarice Starling. Pulled into the investigation almost by accident, she is sent to interview the incarcerated psychiatrist, Hannibal Lecter—"Hannibal the Cannibal"—for insight into Buffalo Bill's psychosis. Lecter agrees to help in exchange for Clarice's most traumatic memories, and the two develop a weird symbiotic relationship. And the clock is ticking, because Buffalo Bill's latest victim is the daughter of a US Senator, and if they can't get him now, all hell will break loose...

This book was a huge success, and was adapted into an even more successful 1991 film starring Jodie Foster as Clarice and Anthony Hopkins in a career-defining performance as Lecter; the film became the third, and to this day, the last film ever to win all five major Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay), which for a February-released thriller/horror film was astonishing. (The other two films to sweep the major Oscars are It Happened One Night and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.) Of all the Hannibal Lecter books and films, The Silence of the Lambs is perhaps the only true classic, and indeed both series are often referred to as "The Silence of the Lambs Series".

In addition to Red Dragon, two sequels have been released. Hannibal came out in 1999, its film adaptation immediately put into production for a summer 2001 release. Building off of the huge popularity of the Lecter character, it focused on Clarice, an Italian detective, and a former victim of Lecter's all hunting Lecter in different ways for different reasons. The book, although still acclaimed, was far more controversial with critics and readers, especially with the controversial ending. The movie, although changing the ending, received mixed reviews, not least of all because Jodie Foster decided not to return to the role she made famous and was replaced by Julianne Moore. Both book and film, however, made a great deal of money.

2007 saw another book/film double, this time released almost simultaneously. Named Hannibal Rising, it depicted Lecter's beginnings as a serial killer, and both film and book were quite thoroughly panned by critics and audiences alike. Harris wrote the book because he was told that if he didn't, another author almost certainly would.

Overall, one of the most successful and widely popular book/film series of the modern era, blending the merits of crime novel and literature, detective thriller and art film, and permeating popular culture with its scenes, themes, and its characters who have become household names. Its influence on other works in the same genre can't be underestimated.

In 2013, NBC premiered a TV series based on the Lecter character, Hannibal, which is set before the events of Red Dragon and focus on the relationship between Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) and Will Graham (Hugh Dancy).

The Tropes, Clarice, tell me about the Tropes...

  • Adapted Out: Margot Verger was entirely left out of the movie of Hannibal. As such the manner of Mason's death is entirely different.
  • Affably Evil: The cannibalistic Dr. Hannibal Lecter is an interesting example in that nobody can be really sure if his affability is just an act, particularly as he's prone to sniping insults at visitors who displease him. The simple answer is that he is genuinely nice and respectful to people who are genuinely nice and respectful to him, exhibiting this both towards Clarice Starling and an orderly who broke his arm to stop him from attacking a nurse, but was otherwise always respectful and never rude. As the orderly points out at one point, Lecter "prefers to eat the rude".
    • Faux Affably Evil: As respectful or even kind as Lecter can sometimes be, he is still a sadist. For a select few (Clarice, Barney and Sammie) he is genuinely nice, for the rest it is a sham to get him what he wants. Senator Martin is not only courteous to him but actually gives him the transfer he wants, unlike Clarice who deceived him. He expresses sympathy for Catherine, complains about Clarice and Crawford wasting time in the investigation and tells Senator Martin that he will help her without reading her affidavit so the investigation can go underway sooner. Of course, he has known Buffalo Bill's real name the entire time, has sat through six deaths, was perfectly content to let Catherine die until he was given a transfer and didn't actually give his real name anyway. He also needlessly taunted Senator Martin about Catherine's predicament and took pleasure in her pain.
  • All Men Are Perverts: You can count on one hand the number of men who don't hit on Clarice. And, arguably, the number who don't have some kind of psychosexual disorder, given the subject matter.
  • Alone with the Psycho: The movie of The Silence of the Lambs.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: There really are a couple of types of moths that have skull shaped patterns on them.
  • AM/FM Characterization: While in the prison cell in Tennessee, Hannibal Lecter listens to classical music just before his prison break. This tells the audience that even though he's a psychopathic cannibal, he's still Wicked Cultured.
  • Antagonist Title: Hannibal, Red Dragon (an indirect example). Averted with Hannibal Rising, in which Vladis Grutas is the villain.
  • Anti-Villain: Lecter in his other appearances; a serial killer and cannibal who is unfailingly polite, and helps Clarice even when she can no longer offer him anything in return but her story.
  • Appropriated Title: The series began with Red Dragon, but it's known as the Silence of the Lambs series due to the popularity of that film.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Hannibal was retconned into being Lithuanian aristocracy.
  • Asshole Victim
    • Hannibal's first kill was a racist Asian-hating punk who insulted Hannibal's Japanese aunt, and was sliced up with her sword by Hannibal soon thereafter.
    • In The Silence of the Lambs Dr. Chilton is portrayed as sleazy, underhanded, uncooperative and a publicity hound, and almost costs Catherine Martin her life. At the end of the movie it's clear that Lecter will kill and eat him.
    • Mason Verger was this in Hannibal, even though he didn't actually die at least not then and just wound up crippled.
  • Author Appeal: Hannibal's detailed knowledge of wines and foods apparently greatly reflects Harris' own expansive knowledge of food and wine.
  • Autocannibalism: Hannibal manipulates a drugged Mason Verger into cutting off and eating his own nose, and also feeds Paul Krendler his own brain.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Hannibal Lecter and Buffalo Bill.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Schoolboy Hannibal was fine with the little kids; it was the bullies that got hurt. See Knight Templar Big Brother for what happens if you hurt Mischa.
  • Black Best Friend: Both Hannibal and Clarice have one. Hannibal's is a combination of Black Best Friend, Worthy Opponent, and Friendly Enemy.
  • Black Comedy
    • After Clarice exposes Lecter to the most private and painful part of her past, which is her witnessing the slaughter of spring lambs and her inability to save them, Lecter thanks her and tears well up in his eyes. After she leaves he orders a second dinner: Lamb chops, extra rare.
    • Also present when Mason Verger explains how he lost his face when Lecter convinced him (while heavily drugged up) to peel off his own face with a piece of glass. Verger explains "It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time".
  • Blue and Orange Morality: In the first two books, the POVs for all three serial killers (Dolaryhde, Gumb and Lecter) demonstrate that they have completely alien personalities and outlooks on life. They are not simple Card Carrying Villains so much as they are are living in a terrifying fantasy world of their own creation where nobody else is a real person and their every thought reflects their twisted pathologies. At first, this might seem over the top, but the longer you stay with them the more it becomes flat-out disturbing and outright freaky.
  • Body-Count Competition: In Hannibal, Clarice receives a congratulations from the Guiness Book of Records because she had recently become the female FBI agent who had shot and killed the most people. She's not especially pleased.
  • Boxed Crook: Hannibal is offered much better accomodations if he helps the feds find Catherine.
  • Brawn Hilda: Margot Verger, whose use of steroids earlier in life left her infertile, which is why she needs her brother's sperm to impregnate her girlfriend with an heir to the family fortune.
  • Butch Lesbian: Margot Verger, though her scene with Barney in the showers imply that she may actually be bisexual.
  • Calling Card: In Hannibal Rising, Hannibal leaves the dog tags of the German deserters who'd eaten his little sister with their heads.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Dr. Chilton warns Clarice not to leave anything in Hannibal Lecter's cell and mentions several objects, among them pens. He himself leaves one there, and there is a long shot of it. He later cannot find it for signing a document. Hannibal Lecter is then seen with a part of it in his hands... He uses it to unlock his cuffs, allowing him to kill his guards.
  • Chess Master: Hannibal Lecter.
  • Click Hello/Dramatic Gun Cock: As Buffalo Bill stalks Clarice through the darkened basement, she has no idea where he is—until he pulls back the hammer of his gun. Hearing this, she instantly turns around and empties her gun into him.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Lecter, Lecter, Lecter. In his deranged Crowning Moment of Awesome he bites a guard on the face, then pepper sprays him, then bludgeons the guard's friend to death with a truncheon—a friend who is unarmed, and has his hands handcuffed to the cage bars. Then he listens to a piece of classical musicnote  that makes the cell kind of like a high-end restaurant.
  • Composite Character
    • In the film, Benjamin Raspail, a flutist in the Baltimore Philharmonic Orchestra and a patient of Lecter's who was romantically involved with Jame Gumb, with Klaus, one of Buffalo Bill's victims and whose head is discovered by Clarice. The new film character has Raspail's name and history as a lover of Gumb, but the fate of Klaus of being killed by Gumb.
    • In Red Dragon, the novel, Will has caught two serial killers prior to the Tooth Fairy case—Lecter, and another guy who was killing college students. In Manhunter, the other guy is vaguely referenced but "Lecktor" has been locked up for killing college girls.
    • Gumb himself is a composite of three Real Life serial killers. His Wounded Gazelle Gambit is a hallmark of Ted Bundy, his tactic of imprisoning women in his basement is that of Gary Heidnik (though unlike Heidnik, Gumb has no sexual interest in his captives), and his skinning the women in order to make a suit of them was part of Ed Gein's MO.
  • Consulting a Convicted Killer: The novel is the Trope Maker, along with Red Dragon. And most other depictions of this trope are intended as direct Homages to the film adaptation, especially Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of Hannibal Lecter. In Lambs, Clarice Starling visits Hannibal in his cell on multiple occasions for help with catching another serial killer called "Buffalo Bill". Hannibal ends up giving Clarice cryptic clues in exchange for information about Clarice's unhappy childhood. Hannibal later uses an agreement to disclose Buffalo Bill's real name in exchange for a transfer to another asylum as an opportunity to escape.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • In Silence, Hannibal has painted a view of Florence from the roof of the Duomo as part of his Wicked Cultured personality. One of the first establishing shots in Hannibal is that exact vista in real life.
    • Also, the above-mentioned drawing was the Duomo "seen from the Belvedere". Clarice found Buffalo Bill in Belvedere, Ohio. Could Hannibal have known all along that this was where Bill was living?
    • Lecter also stresses the word Simplicity. Clarice figures out what Bill is doing with the skins when she finds a dress pattern, which includes cuts of cloth identical to those found on the victims. The brand of the pattern is Simplicity. Either this is a coincidence or he knew all along.
    • At the end of Red Dragon Hannibal is informed of a young female FBI agent who wants to question him.
    • Young Hannibal tries on his aunt's samurai mask, evoking his future restraint mask.
    • In Hannibal, Lecter writes a letter to Starling while wearing a custom hand lotion. Aside from the ambergris base, which is a clue planted by Lecter, the other two ingredients were picked to reference the previous movie: Tennessee lavender (Lecter was in Memphis when he escaped) and fleece (lanolin is derived from sheep's wool).
    • In Red Dragon we see Lecter wearing practically everything he wore in Silence: The regular blue jumpsuit, the white shirt and pants (worn during his time in Memphis in Silence, worn during his exercise time in Dragon), the straight jacket and muzzle (worn when he was being transported to Memphis in Silence, worn when they clean his cell in Dragon) and the straight jacket and wire mask (worn when Chilton interrogates him in Silence, worn when Chilton clears out his cell in Dragon).
    • Silence closes with a To Be Continued. After the Copyright notice and MPAA logo, a logo appears with the text "A Luta Continua"—Portuguese for "The Struggle Continues" ("To be continued"). Although three other Jonathan Demme films also have that logo in the closing credits, so it's more likely a Shout-Out.
  • Creepy Crossdresser: Buffalo Bill, though it's not a straight example. Both the novel and movie go out of their way to tell the audience that being a transsexual, in and of itself, is not connected to violence—specifically, Clarice says (and Lecter agrees) that Bill cannot be a transexual because transexuals are not violent. According to Lecter, Bill only thinks he's a transsexual due to his "hatred of his own identity." This reflects the Fair for Its Day but out-of-date psychology that the book and film relied on. Transsexuality was conflated with transvestism (crossdressing) and was at the time thought to be a mental disorder, albeit a benign one. Which is kind of the point here: no records or proven cases indicated that transsexuality predisposed a person to violence, and so Bill is dismissed as being a "true" transsexual. Nowadays a distinction is drawn between transvestism (crossdressing now considered a common lifestyle choice) and transsexuality (transgender people whose gender identity doesn't align with their physical sex). Neither of these, in and of themselves, prevent someone from being a homicidal maniac.
  • Creepy Souvenir:
    • Buffalo Bill collects parts of the skin of his victims to make a "woman suit".
    • In Red Dragon it was presumed the "Chesapeake Ripper" was doing this, until Will Graham realized the parts being taken were all used in cooking and realized he was hunting a cannibal.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Dolarhyde tries to save Reba from this (being bitten to death by "The Red Dragon") by shooting her in the face. He can't bring himself to do it.
  • Cut Apart: Famously used to set up the Alone with the Psycho climax of Silence.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Migs, the patient in the next cell over from Hannibal, does this at Clarice when she's on her way out of the asylum basement. Hannibal is so horrified that he agrees to help Clarice find Gumb to make up for it.
  • Death by Racism: In Hannibal Rising, Hannibal's first victim is an Asian-hating racist who insulted his Japanese aunt, whom he then disembowels and beheads with her family's katana the day after.
  • Dirty Cop
    • Hannibal's Rinaldo Pazzi is a disgraced Italian detective who partners with Verger's henchmen to capture Lecter, eager to collect a $3 million bounty.
    • There's also Paul Krendler, who is bribed by Verger to have Starling suspended from the FBI.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: As a serial killer, Hannibal is known for killing rude people; he really doesn't like people who are rude. His definition of "rude" can often be different than a normal person's.
  • The Dog Bites Back: In Hannibal, Margot Verger takes very messy revenge on her brother Mason, who had sexually abused her when she was younger, and manages to make sure that her family will have access to the family's fortune by getting his sperm so she can impregnate her girlfriend with a blood-related heir.
  • Dumbstruck: The young Hannibal becomes mute after losing Mischa. He is so traumatized by the event that he only starts speaking again after he meets his aunt 8 years later.
  • Empty Elevator: Played with. In search for Lecter, the Police find an already empty elevator.
  • Enemy Rising Behind: Hannibal does this.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: While Crawford insisted that Lecter did it to amuse himself, after Miggs assaulted Clarice sexually, he not only gave her the first important clue to Buffalo Bill—he also made Miggs kill himself for the inappropriate attack that he made upon Clarice.
  • Evil Cripple:
  • Evil Gloating: Mason Verger does this to Hannibal, in the form of To the Pain. He caps his speech with "I bet you wish you'd fed the rest of me to the dogs." Hannibal delivers a Shut Up, Hannibal! that makes Mason leave the room.
  • Evil Makes You Ugly: Verger again.
    • Inverted with Dolarhyde. His dark side is what motivates him to work out and because of it he has a perfect physique that his female co-workers fawn over; something he is ignorant of.
  • Evil Will Fail
    • Subtle example in Hannibal. Posing as "Doctor Fell", Hannibal insults Inspector Pazzi, the Italian detective investigating a missing scholar (who Lecter almost certainly killed to get the scholar's job) for his failings on the "Il Monstro" case. Lecter claims he had been following the case in the papers, which is the first thing that arouses Pazzi's suspicions (that "Fell" had been following a Serial Killer case so closely), and along with a later remark to Clarice about "coming out of retirement" suggests he sabotaged his own freedom, as well as a new career. It is strongly implied that he is, in fact, the Il Monstro killer himself. note 
    • In the book of Hannibal, Pazzi has his epiphany when he happens to see "Dr. Fell" at an exhibition on medieval torture instruments, hardly unusual for someone in Dr. Fell's line of work.
  • Failure Knight: Starling, with dead lambs forming the center of the story's central analogy.
  • Fakeout Escape: In Silence, Hannibal gets bonus points for not even escaping himself, but letting the guards load him into an ambulance, thinking he is their mutilated colleague.
  • Fan Disservice: The Buffalo Bill dance scene from Silence.
  • FBI Agent: Starling is in training to be one; she only gets her badge at the end of the story. She's a full-fledged agent in Hannibal.
  • Fed to Pigs: Mason Verger's Ironic Hell plan for Hannibal, which comes back to bite him in the ass. And keep on biting.
  • The Film of the Book
  • Flanderization: Over the course of the four books, Lecter devolved into a caricature of himself. In Red Dragon he was originally just a very intelligent and cultured man, whose expertise in his chosen field of psychiatry made him a particularly dangerous (and somewhat ironic) insane killer. By the (book) sequel, The Silence of the Lambs, he is quite clearly one of the greatest if not the greatest psychiatrist in the world with also an extensive knowledge of human anatomy and the culinary arts, and by the threequel Hannibal, he's revealed to be a world-class genius in any field he sets his mind to, from Renaissance art to particle physics.
  • Forensic Drama: Lots of attention in Manhunter, Red Dragon, and Silence of the Lambs to how the FBI is using forensics to hunt down the bad guys.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble
    • Lecter and Starling are melancholic, Will Graham is choleric, and Jack Crawford is phlegmatic.
    • The Nazi looters who eat Lecter's sister: Grutas is choleric, Dortlich is sanguine, Kolnas is phlegmatic, Grentz is melancholic, and Milko is Leukine.
    • The Verger family in Hannibal: Mason is choleric, Margot is phlegmatic, Molson is melancholic.
  • Freudian Excuse: Offered repeatedly, with mixed results.
    • Retconning one into Hannibal Lecter's past was not generally viewed as a good move. It was a plausible plot device in Hannibal: it made everything else about Lecter mentioned by others (like Doemling) mesh better and completed the Failure Knight analogy hinted at since the previous book. But extending Lecter's Freudian Excuse into a full story really inflicted severe Badass Decay. However, it's arguable that Lecter has the most hilariously, unintentionally ridiculous Freudian Excuse ever: His sister was eaten by Nazi Cannibals when he was a child.
      • Believe it or not, this Freudian excuse could be based on a Truth in Television. The infamous Ukrainian cannibal Andrei Chikatilo was told growing up that his brother was cannibalized by neighbors during the Holodomor (massive famines caused by Soviet agricultural policy).
      • There is no conclusive proof that the Nazis engaged in cannibalism. But the Imperial Japanese certainly did. They very nearly ate George H.W. Bush.
    • The Freudian Excuse is deployed surprisingly well, however, with Dolarhyde in the first book. Will Graham notes, "As a child, my heart goes out to him. As an adult, he's irredeemable."
  • From a Certain Point of View: In the novel of Silence, Starling tells Lecter that her father was a marshal. Later on, when she is recounting to him how he died, Lecter catches enough clues to deduce that the man had actually been a night watchman. Starling's defense is that the official job description had read "night marshal". (Lecter doesn't press the point.)
  • Genius Bruiser: Hannibal.
  • Genuine Human Hide: Buffalo Bill's modus operandi.
  • A Glass of Chianti: Trope Namer—although in the book, Lecter ate the liver and beans with "a big Amarone." Both are dry reds that pair well with rich meats, such as liver.
  • Go-Go Enslavement: In Hannibal, Clarice is rendered unconscious by a gunshot wound and wakes up wearing an evening gown instead of the casual clothes she was wearing earlier. Which never happened in the book — although Clarice does end up wearing the evening gown, she's allowed to put it on without Lecter being in the room. Nor does Lecter ever undress her, except to tend her injuries.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: Reba and Dolarhyde. D was the Ax-Crazy Serial Killer of the story, so this is either subverted, or invoked deliberately to make D more sympathetic.
    • Subverted in the end of the Hannibal novel.
  • Hairpin Lockpick: In Silence Hannibal unlocks his handcuffs with a pen clip.
  • Hand Cannon: Buffalo Bill's Colt Python.
  • Hand Signals: In the 1991 film a police officer uses them to communicate with other officers when he thinks Lecter is nearby listening to them.
  • Hannibal Lecture: Trope Namer.
    • Ironically in Rising, this trope was used on Hannibal himself by Vladis Grutas. Who claimed that Hannibal is not looking for revenge, but making sure the men that participated in Mischa's murder wouldn't tell the world that Hannibal ate her too. Hannibal did not take that one well.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Clarice and Ardelia, with Krendler making the sort of comments you'd expect out of a Fan Boy.
  • Horny Scientist: Clarice gets hit on by two in Silence of the Lambs; she may even have wound up in bed with one of them by the end of the book.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    Starling: "Much oblige [sic], Ardelia. I got to make one more call. If I can get done with that in time, I'll catch up with you in the cafeteria, okay?"
    Mapp: "I was so in hopes you'd overcome that ghastly dialect. Books are available to help. I never use the colorful patois of my housing project anymore. You come talking that mushmouth, people say you eat up with the dumb-ass, girl."
  • I Ate WHAT??:
    • A common response of Lecter's dinner guests, which included prominent local politicians in Baltimore, apparently. Some of his guests ended up hospitalized for crippling anorexia.
    • A long-delayed horrific version in Hannibal Rising. Possibly it genuinely hadn't occurred to him for twenty years, or possibly he'd just refused to admit it to himself, but he ate his dead little sister as well, disguised in a stew.
  • Idiot Ball: Hannibal Lecter is so terrifying that he is escorted everywhere by multiple squad cars, forced to wear a straitjacket and a hockey mask when not in his cell, guarded by about 20 armed officers waiting outside—and when it's time to open the cage and feed him, two slow-moving, dull-witted cops plus one set of handcuffs will apparently suffice for security purposes.
    • This is explained more thoroughly in the book: Lecter agrees to the exchange of information solely for the chance to be subjected to the lesser security measures of the Tennessee state police, which he knows will not be as effective as Barney's. Barney is aware of this and offers to advise them on how to handle Lecter, but is turned down. The police don't know what he is capable of, so it only takes a bit of chumminess and meek cooperation from Lecter to convince them to abandon Chilton's time-consuming and seemingly excessive security measures.
  • I'm a Humanitarian
  • Improbable Taxonomy Skills: Averted in Silence of the Lambs, in which identifying the species of an insect pupa found on the bodies of the victims is a plot point, and the professional entomologist consulted needs time and equipment to answer the question.
  • Incest Subtext: Hannibal and Lady Murasaki are not blood-related, but they are still nephew and aunt, and their romantic feelings for each other would seem inappropriate to most viewers.
  • Insufferable Genius: Crawford and Starling identify this as Lecter's only weakness - he needs to be the smartest guy in the room, and he has to know you know that.
  • Ironic Echo: "Ready when you are."
  • Ironic Hell: The punishment Verger has planned for Hannibal is doubly so. On the one hand, he's a cannibal who would be eaten alive, and on the other, Hannibal previously punished Verger my making him cut his own face off and feeding it to dogs.
  • It Amused Me: The motivation for a fair few of Lecter's actions. It is mentioned that Lecter treated unstable people and set them loose on society for kicks and Crawford says that Lecter killed Miggs to amuse himself.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: Buffalo Bill uses this to adress his victims ("It rubs the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again!"). Discussed beforehand when Senator Martin delivers a televised plea to Buffalo Bill, repeatedly referring to her daughter by her given name "Catherine" in the hopes that he will have a harder time depersonalizing her. Given the above line, it clearly didn't have much effect, or he didn't watch the news.
  • Jerkass: Freddy Lounds, Paul Krendler, and Frederick Chilton. Behind the Scenes, there's John Douglas, who Jack Crawford's based on, for the Enforced Method Acting: he gave audio tapes of women being tortured and raped to Scott Glenn as research for the role of Crawford. The tapes disturbed Glenn so much he never reprized the role, which forced the producers to move Crawford's death near the end of Hannibal to happening before the events of the story in the film version and recasting the role with Harvey Keitel in Red Dragon.
  • Just Desserts: At the end of Silence, Hannibal, while in hiding, informs Starling that he's "having a friend for dinner." He's staring right at an oblivious Dr. Chilton as he speaks the line. At the climax of Hannibal, the boars that Mason hoped would eat Hannibal put him on their menu instead.
  • Karma Houdini: Lecter is this in spades, though Thomas Harris admitted he had grown to like his character so much this trope became inevitable. Margot Verger and Barney are minor examples, with Margot getting away with killing her brother Mason in the book and Barney knowing about it and gets away with helping bury that knowledge, though since Mason Verger is an Asshole Victim par excellence, it's hard to hate them for this.
    • At the end of the Hannibal novel Lecter even finally settles down with Starling following the events of the novel.
  • Karmic Death: Some of Hannibal Lecter's victims (at least in Lecter's mind).
  • Katanas Are Just Better: And that's why Hannibal uses one to performs his first kill on the Asshole Victim who insulted his Japanese aunt. Odd, because in the previous works, he'd been interested mostly in the Italian Renaissance. But Japan is popular these days.
    • Could be some sort of poetic justice: she is descended of samurai, whom had a rigid code of honor. He's preserving her honor; especially with decapitation. As a corporal punishment, decapitation was seen as VERY dishonorable. Had Hannibal made the man commit suicide, his aunt's honor couldn't have been properly restored.
  • Kubrick Stare: This is Lecter's default expression when revving up the creepy.
  • Living Lie Detector: Downplayed. Lecter's very good at reading body language, but he does miss a few lies and half-truths Clarice feeds him.
  • Macabre Moth Motif: Buffalo Bill and his death's head moths. A moth flapping around is what makes Clarice realize that she has found the killer.
  • Male Gaze: Played straight, even literal. A large portion of the film displays male gaze in close-up.
  • Manipulative Bastard
    • Hannibal Lecter; arguably also Chilton and Krendler, with their manipulations being wildly outclassed by Lecter's.
    • Jack Crawford, who intentionally sent Clarice to Lecter with no clue as to why she was really doing it, because if she had known Lecter would have figured it out. He also entices Lecter with a phony deal from Senator Martin, and fakes a sexist attitude in front of the sheriff in order to get him to talk alone.
  • Meaningful Name: A starling is indeed a songbird, but if you live in New England, it is also a structure placed upstream of a bridge to intercept any large and dangerous objects that may damage it.
  • Monster Misogyny: Buffalo Bill only kills women, although we discover he has his... er, reasons...Somewhat shaken up by the implication that Jame Gumb doesn't specifically hate women as much as he is bitter towards them due to jealously, as indicated by his last line in the novel. In the film it's hinted at further during the infamous skin lotion scene. He refers to Catherine Martin as "it" and refuses to address her directly. Finally, her pleas for her mother get to him and he starts crying before screaming at her to put the lotion in the basket, indicating that he felt a moment of guilt or remorse for what he's doing, a sensitivity he tries to restrain by treating his captives as objects. This is pointed out by Clarice when she comments on the Senator's plea, noting that she repeats the name to humanize her daughter, making it harder to tear her up.
  • The Mountains of Illinois: During the raid of Buffalo Bill's alleged hideout in Calumet City, large hills can be seen in the background. (The scene was actually filmed near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.)
  • Mugging the Monster: An unfortunate pickpocket in Hannibal.
  • Named After Someone Famous: Hannibal Lecter takes his first name from Carthagian general Hannibal Barca. Buffalo Bill is nicknamed after Buffalo Bill.
  • Newscaster Cameo: Hannibal was shot in Richmond, Virginia; local news anchor Ric Young appears in the news report about Starling's shooting at the start of the movie.
  • No Kill Like Overkill: Clarice empties all six chambers of her revolver into Buffalo Bill's chest at point-blank range. As he's lying on the ground dying, she reloads.
  • Noodle Incident: Hannibal's Baltimore killing spree is referenced often in the first two books but the specifics are mostly left to our interpretation. We know he killed nine people, we know he killed a hunter, a census taker and Benjamin Raspail, we know he non-lethally attacked Mason Verger, we know he committed the last four murders inside of two weeks and Crawford implied that at least one of the victims was hanged. Most of the victims and the details remain unknown.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: The fate of Hannibal's dead sister in Rising. As several bad guys with varying degrees of sympathy point out, she had hypothermia and they'd all have starved otherwise. Including Hannibal.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent
  • Nothing Is Scarier
    • Subverted, or at least played with, in the Silence film's climax, when Clarice is in Buffalo Bill's house. He turns out the lights, plunging the basement into darkness. We then see the scene through Bill's night-vision goggles, as he watches her stumble around helplessly.
    • Another version of this in the autopsy scene. When Clarice is taking note of the condition of the body, we don't actually see the body outside of a shot of the hand and some partial shots of its face. We know what condition it's in (rotting and with a bullet hole in the chest) because of Clarice's note-taking. Her facial expression says it all and makes it even more disturbing. Then they flip the body over and we see exactly what it looks like and it is still fucking disturbing.
  • Not So Different: Lecter taunts Graham with this.
    Lecter: You want the scent? Smell yourself.
  • Paparazzi
    • Freddy Lounds in Red Dragon, played by Stephen Lang and/or Philip Seymour Hoffman. Tabloids are a big part of the later two books as well, but there are no actual reporters involved.
    • In fact, the media in general is such a colossal Jerkass, it makes Lecter's letters to Starling look downright complimentary (and partially, they are). It also makes her feelings of alienation in Hannibal all the more plausible.
  • Pet the Dog
    • Dolarhyde and Reba. Characters later suggest that The Power of Love almost convinced him to Heel-Face Turn. Too bad "The Dragon" had to intervene.
    • Lecter's relationship with Clarice contains some of this. While some of it is Batman Gambit, he also has some genuine respect and affection for her. His initial favor to her (pointing her toward the severed head of Bill's first victim), is also to make up for a gross discourtesy she suffered from Miggs.
    • He also seems genuinely fond of Sammie
    • From Hannibal Rising, Pet the Mischa
  • Phone-Trace Race: When Hannibal calls Clarice at the end of the film, he tells her he won’t stay on for long to avoid detection.
  • Photographic Memory: Graham. Lecter to an extent; he can draw a cityscape of Florence from memory, at the very least.
  • Picky People Eater: Hannibal Lecter, but only as an extension of his gourmet tendencies when it comes to all his food. For example, he'll often take delicacies such as sweetbreads, kidneys or oyster meat—a tendency which first clues Will Graham in to the notion that his suspect is a cannibal, and ultimately leads to Lecter's capture.
  • Pretty Boy: The young Lecter as played by Gaspard Ulliel in Hannibal Rising.
  • Proper Lady: Lady Murasaki.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Jame Gumb.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning
    • In the books, Lecter is described as having maroon (brownish-red) eyes.
    • Lecter appears with bright red eyes in some posters for Hannibal and Hannibal Rising.
  • Red Right Hand: Francis Dolarhyde's harelip, Lecter having maroon eyes and six fingers on one hand in the books.
  • Reminiscing About Your Victims: Mason does this with regards to the youths he molested at camp, and Hannibal does seem rather fond of remembering that postal worker whose liver he ate.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The young Lecter goes on one in Hannibal Rising against all of the men who had killed his beloved baby sister.
  • Room Full of Crazy: Several throughout the franchise:
    • Buffalo Bill's basement has several. The sewing room has a large black wardrobe filled with the skins of women. The doors are plastered with newspaper clippings.
    • Jack Crawford has a heroic version, as his office features the same Buffalo Bill clippings as well as crime scene photos.
    • Francis Dolarhyde has his huge scrapbook of crazy going back to childhood, with photographs and journal entries. It also features clippings from the time of Lecter's arrest and trial.
    • Dr. Lecter himself isn't shown to have a full Room Full of Crazy but there is one small piece that tips Graham off. In the book it is a diagram of the Wounded Man, which matches the murder of Lecter's sixth victim. In the movie it is a human anatomical diagram labelled "sweet breads." It's also mentioned his basement was horrifying enough to make an officer retire.
  • Save the Day, Turn Away: Hannibal Rising climaxes with one.
  • Scary Black Man: Played with in the movie. Our first shot of Barney the orderly (from Starling's POV) makes him look pretty grim, but When He Smiles...
  • Scenery Porn: Ahh, Florence...
  • Serial Killer: Some of the most famous examples. Buffalo Bill is a composite of several notorious serial killers—Ted Bundy (wearing a cast on his arm and claiming to need help), Gary Heidnik (imprisoning women in his basement), and Ed Gein (murdering women and flaying their skin in order to make a "woman suit").
  • Sherlock Scan: Lecter can give you your entire backstory based on a brief conversation. Much like Sherlock himself, he'll do this at the slightest provocation just to prove how clever he is.
  • Shirtless Scene: Hannibal's chest is bare when he injects himself with sodium amytal in order to recall his sister's murderers.
  • Shout-Out: The suit Francis Dolarhyde wears in Red Dragon when he goes to eat the original "Red Dragon" painting is an echo of William Petersen's suit in Manhunter.
  • Small Role, Big Impact:
    • Hannibal's status in Red Dragon. In the book his appearance is limited to twelve pages and a few letters he writes. Despite this his presence affects the entire story. At the beginning of the story Graham is haunted by his previous encounter with Lecter. Graham's visit to Lecter leads to Graham's involvement with the investigation being exposed to the public and thus to Dolarhyde. The only thing Lecter actually does is give Dolarhyde Graham's address, which at first appears to be for nothing but at the end comes back in a big way. Lecter was able to achieve a final victory over his nemesis from behind bars with nothing more than a phone call and a letter. Whether he really succeeds is debatable, though.
    • Anthony Hopkins holds the record for the shortest amount of screen time to win an Academy Award for Best Actor: he's only in Silence for around 18 minutes.
  • Smug Snake: Dr. Chilton through and through. He grills Graham for information on Lecter, obnoxiously hits on Clarice, takes entirely too much pleasure in shocking visitors with the account of the time Lecter mutilated a nurse who let her guard down.
    • Crystallized by Lecter leaving a rather insulting chemistry formula behind in a toilet just to make his disgust clear.
    • Chilton is made to be an even bigger dick in the book, where it's flat out stated that Hannibal would have given Starling Buffalo Bill "tomorrow". Unfortunately, Chilton interfered and fucked everything up, resulting in the deaths of a couple cops, some paramedics and a tourist during his escape, further risking the life of Catherine Martin and bringing about his own death.
    • Lecter has actually found the best way to deal with Chilton though; he simply doesn't speak to him. The book mentions that Chilton hasn't heard Lecter speak to him in years. This just makes him even more childish in his petty acts of vengeance. Lecter also had a paper published that tore Chilton to shreds.
    • In the third book, we have Paul Krendler, a homophobic, sexist, corrupt Justice Department official who propositions Starling and does everything in his power to mess with her career when he doesn't get what he wants.
  • Snuff Film: Part of Dolarhyde's M.O. in the book. He films the deaths of his victims and films himself having sex with the woman's corpse. Later he masturbates to it and fuels his obsession with being looked at.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance
    • Dr. Lecter beats the life out of two police officers while the movie plays Bach's The Goldberg Variations.
    • Buffalo Bill creepily dancing to 80's song "Goodbye Horses" while Catherine Martin is in his basement well.
  • Sparing The Aces: Put simply:
    Hannibal: The world is more interesting with you in it.
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: In the original book of Red Dragon, Hannibal Lecter is a One-Scene Wonder who appears for about seven pages. Good pages, but still. The poster for the (second) film is mostly a giant picture of his head (His role is expanded enough in the Red Dragon film to justify it).
  • Stalker with a Crush: Lecter definitely counts in relation to Starling.
  • Stealth Pun
    • When Lecter escapes he murders two people and mutilates their bodies. One he strings up on the wall like a butterfly. He cuts the other's face off and wears it to disguse his identity. Both of these things are references to Buffalo Bill's crimes. Also, Lecter wearing the guard's face as a disguise is foreshadowing to the reveal that Bill wears women's skins in an attempt to change his identity; one last clue to Clarice.
    • At the FBI graduation party, when we see a shot of them slicing the cake shaped like the FBI logo, it's a good moment to shout out: "Justice is served!"/"Justice for all!"
  • Step into the Blinding Fight: Jame Gumb turns off the lights and stalks Agent Starling while wearing night-vision goggles.
  • Stock Subtitle: Hannibal Rising.
  • Tear Off Your Face: Lecter does this to one of the guards as a component of his infamous escape sequence. His initial encounter with Mason Verger may also count, although technically he convinced a drugged-out Mason to do it himself.
  • Themed Aliases: Jame Gumb also goes by the name John Grant and identifies himself to Starling as Jack Gordon.
  • There Are No Therapists
    • Subverted, since Lecter is imprisoned in a psychiatric institution and has been visited by a number of shrinks. Since he's a brilliant psychiatrist himself, this rarely works out right.
    • An even more interesting subversion is that Lecter mentions to Clarice that he's using his skills as a therapist to work with one of the other patients. He gives the impression that he's sincerely trying to help the man, though it's possible he's doing it out of sheer boredom (and more possible he made the whole thing up to screw with her head.) The latter being especially plausible, since Lecter derides psychiatry as being composed of "ham radio enthusiasts and other personality-deficient buffs."
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else: Hannibal Lecter in the movies, though in the books there are a couple of signs.
  • Timeshifted Actor:
    • Young Clarice in the flashback to her father's funeral.
    • The younger version of Hannibal Lecter is played by Gaspard Ulliel and Aaran Thomas in Hannibal Rising.
  • Title Drop: The phrase "the silence of the lambs" are actually the last words in the novel.
  • Touch of the Monster: In Hannibal, after Clarice passes out from the gunshot wound in her shoulder, Hannibal carries her bridal-style to safety (well, safer than a pen full of flesh-eating pigs, anyway).
  • Trivial Title: It refers to an anecdote told in the story. It's also a Title Drop as the last words of the novel (not of The Film of the Book).
  • Trust Me, I'm a Doctor: Inverted in Hannibal when Lecter is talking to Margot about killing Mason; she quickly points out that she could never trust him to do it, and he counters by saying that she can trust him to not deny he'd done it.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Reba, blind and female. Also invoked by a line of dialogue in the book, which was the trope's quote page.
  • Transsexual: 'Buffalo Bill' thinks he is a trans woman, though if you trust Lecter, he's not. He doesn't want to be a woman: he wants to be his mother.
  • Uncanny Valley
    • Intentionally invoked by the acting of Ted Levine as Buffalo Bill, when he mocks Catherine's screaming. The flat, emotionless sound, combined with his completely blank facial expression create an effect that is entirely inhuman.
    • Also employed by Hopkins, who did his best to never blink on camera.
  • Unintentional Period Piece: The plot of Red Dragon hinges on Dolarhyde's employment at a film processing facility. He discovers his victims via the home movies they send in for processing and uses the home movies to learn the layouts of the home and any obstacles in his way. Nowadays his job is obsolete. The movie Red Dragon pushed him slightly ahead of his literary counterpart. In the book he processes film for use in projectors, in the movie he processes film into videotapes.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Before World War II, Hannibal was a cute and caring boy.
  • Wake Up, Go to School, Save the World: In the book version of Silence (the film mostly dropped the plotline) Clarice is juggling her hunt for Buffalo Bill with her FBI training, knowing she's in danger of being held back for non-attendance despite being a brilliant student who's busy doing Bureau work.
  • Weapon Stomp: In the novel, Hannibal Rising (not sure if it's in the movie or not), Hannibal gets into a fight with Grutas, who is scrambling toward a gun; he steps on the gun and slashes Grutas.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Poor Inspector Pazzi. He just wanted to make his wife happy....
  • Widow Woman: When Hannibal meets his aunt Lady Murasaki for the first time, he learns that his uncle Count Robert Lecter had passed away nearly a year ago.
  • Wicked Cultured: Lecter. His pathology is centred around this trope, as he eats (and serves) his victims as exquisite meals, apparently to prove how much better he is than them; or, in Starling's words, "show his disdain for those who exacerbate him" (or, sometimes, to perform a "public service"). Apart from this, and a more general love of fine dining and drink, he enjoys classical music, is a highly talented artist, and has sufficient knowledge of Dante, the Renaissance and its related literature to get a temp job as a library curator at a Florentine museum, and impress the board enough to nearly make it permanent.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Catherine, who lives in an apartment, is shown in the film to have a cat she didn’t have time to feed when she was abducted. It’s never made clear whether anyone else fed the cat instead of her.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: "Buffalo Bill" uses a fake cast and an unwieldy object he's supposedly trying to put in a van to lure Catherine into position to kidnap her. Fun fact: This was frequently the M.O. of Ted Bundy when he was active as a serial killer in the 1970s (Impersonating an Officer being the other). He would put an arm in a sling to fake injury, approach his victims asking for help carrying something to his car, and then beat them unconscious and kidnap them.
  • You Monster!: In The Silence Of The Lambs, Dr. Frederick Chilton, the head of the insane asylum that houses the cannibalistic serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter, describes Lecter as a monster.
    Chilton: [to Clarice Starling] Oh, he's a monster. Pure psychopath. So rare to capture one alive. From a research point of view, Lecter is our most prized asset.
  • You Remind Me of X: Variant 3; Lady Murasaki tells Hannibal that he looks just like his uncle. Since the young man is physically reminiscent of her late husband, she appears to be projecting some of the feelings she had for Robert on to her nephew.

Thank you, Clarice...

Sherlock HolmesMystery And Detective FilmsSuspect Zero
RoboCopCreator/Orion PicturesSpiritual Successor
Carrie 100 Scariest Movie MomentsThe Shining
ShoahRoger Ebert Great Movies ListSingin' in the Rain
Side ShowThe MusicalThe Silent City
Close Encounters of the Third KindAFI's 100 Years... 100 MoviesNetwork
FadeWorld Fantasy AwardThe Stress of Her Regard
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance KidAFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies ( 10 th Anniversary Edition)In the Heat of the Night
Stand and DeliverUsefulNotes/National Film RegistryEl Mariachi
A Sicilian RomanceHorror LiteratureSlimer
Short CutsCreator/The Criterion CollectionSilverado
The ScribblerPsychological ThrillerShutter Island
GoodFellasAcademy AwardBeauty and the Beast
L.A. ConfidentialThriller LiteratureThr3e
The Shining FalconLiterature of the 1980sSingularity

alternative title(s): Silence Of The Lambs; The Silence Of The Lambs; Silence Of The Lambs; The Silence Of The Lambs; Hannibal; Hannibal Rising; Hannibal Rising; Silence Of The Lambs
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from
Privacy Policy