The Silence of the Lambs is a 1991 American psychological horror film directed by Jonathan Demme and written by Ted Tally, adapted from Thomas Harris‘s 1988 novel.
It stars Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling, a young FBI trainee who is hunting a serial killer, “Buffalo Bill” (Ted Levine), who skins his female victims.
To catch him, she seeks the advice of the imprisoned Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer.
The film also features performances from Scott Glenn, Anthony Heald and Kasi Lemmons.
The Silence of the Lambs was released on February 14th, 1991, and grossed $272.7 million worldwide on a $19 million budget, becoming the fifth-highest-grossing film of 1991 worldwide.
It premiered at the 41st Berlin International Film Festival, where it competed for the Golden Bear, while Demme received the Silver Bear for Best Director.
It became the third and most recent film (the other two being 1934’s It Happened One Night and 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) to win Academy Awards in all the major five categories : Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
It is also the only Best Picture winner widely considered a horror film, and one of only six horror films to have been nominated in the category with The Exorcist (1973), Jaws (1975), The Sixth Sense (1999), Black Swan (2010), and Get Out (2017).
The Silence of the Lambs is regularly cited by critics, film directors and audiences as one of the greatest and most influential films.
The American Film Institute ranked it the fifth-greatest and most influential thriller film while Starling and Lecter were ranked among the greatest film heroines and villains.
The film is considered “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant by the U.S. Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2011.
Jodie Foster was interested in playing FBI agent Clarice Starling immediately after reading the novel.
However, in spite of the fact that Foster had just won an Academy Award for her performance in The Accused (1988), Demme was not convinced that she was right for the role.
Having just collaborated on Married to the Mob (1988), Demme’s first choice for the role of Starling was Michelle Pfeiffer, who turned it down, later saying : “It was a difficult decision, but I got nervous about the subject matter.”
He then approached Meg Ryan, who turned it down as well for its gruesome themes, and then Laura Dern, of whom the studio was skeptical as not being a bankable choice.
As a result, Foster was awarded the role due to her passion towards the character.
For the role of Lecter, Demme originally approached Sean Connery.
After Connery turned it down, other actors were considered for the role included Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Derek Jacobi, Daniel Day-Lewis and Forest Whitaker.
Eventually, Anthony Hopkins was offered the role based on his performance in The Elephant Man (1980).
When Hopkins’s agent told him a script was en route titled The Silence of the Lambs, Hopkins responded : “Is it a children’s story ?”.
Hopkins called his agent back after reading the first 10 pages, saying : “This is the best part I’ve ever read”, then had dinner with Demme and accepted the role.
The musical score for The Silence of the Lambs was composed by Howard Shore, who would also go on to collaborate with Demme on Philadelphia.
Recorded in Munich during the latter half of the summer of 1990, the score was performed by the Munich Symphony Orchestra.
“I tried to write in a way that goes right into the fabric of the movie,” explained Shore on his approach.
“I tried to make the music just fit in.
When you watch the movie you are not aware of the music.
You get your feelings from all elements simultaneously, lighting, cinematography, costumes, acting, music.
Jonathan Demme was very specific about the music.”