The horror genre is often looked down upon by many who see it as “low” art, but Silence of the Lambs — a 1991 thriller with plenty of horror elements — qualifies as one of a special kind that added a bit of legitimacy to the horror genre with mainstream audiences. It’s also one of a small group of films to have won the “Big Five” Academy Awards, which includes Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Actress.
Adapted from Thomas Harris’ novel of the same name, Jonathan Demme directs the lurid material with a sure hand and benefits from two career-defining performances from Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster. But with all due respect to Foster’s portrayal of Clarice Starling, it’s Hopkins’ unforgettable work as Hannibal Lecter that has helped keep the film on your mind all these years, and it’s Lecter’s quotable moments that we’re here to feast on right now.
“Memory, Agent Starling, is what I have instead of a view.”
Hannibal Lecter may not be a film villain that invites sympathy but he certainly shows slivers of human desire, and that makes him more than just a caged monster. This quote from Clarice and Hannibal’s first meeting takes on greater resonance in a later scene after Dr. Frederick Chilton, the director of the facility where Lecter is being held, takes the paintings that he drew from memory as punishment, leaving the imprisoned cannibal with a yearning for the sight of the simple pleasures of nature.
“I’m having an old friend for dinner.” – Hannibal Lecter
Lecter’s cheeky farewell to Clarice as he eyeballs a frightened Chilton is a great example of the film’s twisted sense of humor that finds amusement in the disgust, something that recently cancelled Hannibal television show takes to wilder levels. Plus it’s fine to have some fun with the devil when he’s going after someone as easy to hate as the pompous attention-seeking Chilton.
“Oh and senator just one more thing…love your suit.” – Hannibal Lecter
Of course, what also makes him so effective is that there is something vaguely charming about his grotesqueness, which certainly comes across when you have an actor of Anthony Hopkins’ caliber filling out the character. He’s undeniably charismatic even at his creepiest points and he’s able to make even the simplest of statements sound better than they would read on paper, such as the one above that he sneers at Senator Martin with relish.
“We begin by coveting what we see everyday. Don’t you feel eyes moving over your body Clarice? And don’t your eyes seek out the things you want?” – Hannibal Lecter
Speaking of seeing things in a different light, Lecter’s lines to Starling here give her the final clues she needs to ultimately track down Buffalo Bill’s whereabouts, but they also serve another purpose by cluing the viewer into Clarice’s state of mind as an F.B.I. trainee, especially as a young woman in a man’s world.
“Most serial killers keep some sort of trophies from their victims.” – Clarice Starling
“I didn’t.” – Hannibal Lecter
“No, no you ate yours.” – Clarice Starling
Hannibal isn’t the only person around with clever comebacks at the ready. The majority of their interactions involve Hannibal toying with Clarice like one of those sinister deep sea fish dangling the ball of light in front of its prey. He knows what she seeks and he knows that she’ll chase after it no matter what, so he prefers to play the long game by dropping hints right in front of her while messing with her mind. His attempts to pick at her train of thought during one tangent results in a sly piece of truth being thrown right back at him, though.
“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” – Hannibal Lecter
Everybody knows this one; you can’t talk about The Silence of the Lambswithout somebody doing an impression of this line, complete with the “pffpfpfpfpfpfff” hissing sound that Hopkins improvised on set. Also interesting is that screenwriter Ted Tally tweaked the line from its original form in Thomas Harris’ novel so that Lecter spoke of chianti wine instead of Amarone, which doesn’t quite roll off the tongue or stick in the gut.