Fred and Darla Warden, a husband and wife, are found brutally stabbed to death, and the only witness is their nine-year-old autistic son Tim (Ben Faulkner). Jake Rainer (Richard Dreyfuss), a controversial child psychiatrist turned therapist, works with Tim to try to retrieve his memory of the event. He faces interference from Dr. Rene Harlinger (John Lithgow), who wants to treat Tim with drugs, and Tim's protective teenage sister Sylvie (Liv Tyler).
Silent Fall contains examples of:
- Abusive Parents: It turns out Fred Warden was raping both Sylvie and Tim, while Darla did nothing to stop him.
- Adopting the Abused: Dr. Jake Rainer, at the end of the film, has apparently adopted the autistic Tim Warden, who was being sexually abused by his late father. Tim's biological father and mother were killed by his older sister, who had suffered the same abuse at her father's hands, and snapped when she caught her father abusing her little brother.
- And Starring: "Introducing Liv Tyler."
- Better Manhandle the Murder Weapon: Tim wrenches the knife from Sylvie's hands after she stabs their parents. When the police arrive, Tim is wandering around the crime scene, waving a bloody knife and wailing incoherently.
- Chalk Outline: The police draw outlines of the Wardens' bodies on their bedroom floor.
- Dead-Hand Shot: When Jake visits the crime scene, there's a shot of a bloody hand sticking out from under a sheet.
- Freudian Couch: Jake has a backless couch in his office on which his adult patients lie while they talk about their relationship problems.
- My Greatest Failure: Jake used to run a group home for autistic children, until a boy under his care committed suicide because Jake pushed him too hard in a therapy session. Jake quit working with kids after that.
- Off-into-the-Distance Ending: The movie ends with Tim and his new parents, Jake and Karen, walking away to go trick-or-treating together.
- Take My Hand!: Tim climbs onto the roof and sits rocking by the edge, in danger of falling off. Jake crawls close to him, claps his hands to get Tim to mimic him, then reaches out. When Tim mirrors his action, Jake grabs his hand and pulls him to safety.
- Tantrum Throwing: Another child at Tim's new home pours peas onto his plate while he's eating, knowing he hates round foods. Tim screams, flips the tablecloth, and throws dishes against the walls.
- Through His Stomach: Jake cooks Tim a meal as part of his effort to bond with him.
- Title In: The last scene has "One year later."
- Uninhibited Muscle Power: When pushed far enough, Tim is strong enough to break open a locked door. Dr. Harlinger uses this as evidence that Tim murdered his parents after he had already been dismissed as a suspect for being too weak to inflict that kind of damage.
- Voice Changeling: Tim's "echolalia" is portrayed bizarrely - not only can he repeat what other people say, he can make his voice sound exactly like theirs. He can even come up with his own sentences using other people's voices. Jake explains that Tim uses other people's voices because he's afraid to be himself, which doesn't explain how he can reshape his vocal cords at will.