The Silence of the Lambs is the third installment of Tom Clancy’s acclaimed psychological thriller series. Following the events in the second film, the American agent turned mental patient, Clarice Starling, returns to a private psychiatric hospital. But instead of receiving her treatment, she is subjected to a violent attack by a serial killer with multiple murders to his name. In an attempt to save her life, she teams up with Lecter, a disturbed former student of hers who claims to be the only one capable of removing the darkness that envelopes America.
Although Lecter shows remarkable abilities in deductive reasoning and psychological acumen, he proves to be an inadequate safeguard for Starling and her small group of patients. As the tension mounts, the tension inside the walls of their facility grows too great for even the brightest of minds to handle. The Silence of the Lambs chronicles the internal struggles of Starling and her allies as they struggle to deal with a growing mass of serial killers that seem intent on striking at the heart of civilization. The novel’s alternate ending reveals how the bloody events of the second film would have otherwise unfolded differently if Lecter had possessed the technological know-how to crack the code that has kept the world safe from such fiends. In the book, Lecter boosts Clarice’s professional career at the FBI by telling her about his past friendship with her mentor, Dr. Evelyn Scott, and how she helped him cure ailing lungs during World War II.
The most gripping element of The Silence of the Lambs is the way it alternately reveals the past and present of its main characters. In the first part, Clarice and Lecter are lovers, though their relationship is never a loving relationship. In the second book, they are married and have a daughter. Their story is constantly interrupted by the vicious actions of their antagonists, but when they are together, they are a radiant light in a world of dark shadows.
Though much of what makes The Silence of the Lambs so thrilling and memorable is the intricate interplay between Clarice and Lecter, perhaps the most famous scene is the one that occurs after Clarice has been bitten by a lycanthrope. The sight of blood that pools beneath her eyes drives home the fear of having another attack, but when she sees the surgeon who performs the operation, she allows herself to be sedated with anesthetics. Once the surgery is completed, she is pronounced dead. This occurs just before Lecter is due to kill her in order to use her blood for a formula for a serum that will drive the vampires back to earth, but he refuses to kill her. For his part, Clarice has become a blood thirsty vamp who feeds on the lives of others, but the audience is left in suspense as to what happens next.
Much of what makes The Silence of the Lambs enjoyable is the way in which the characters interact with one another. Although Clarice suffers from a lycanthropy that gives her a vampish appearance, she has a soft, loving heart. Jack Crawford, her son, is more difficult to deal with, but he is the only person who can help her to overcome her lycanthropy. These two characters find themselves caught up in the middle of a conflict that involves all of Vampira’s past events, yet they remain deeply attached to one another.
Michael Connelly creates an interesting hero in Michael Myers, a man who uses his bat-like powers to prey upon women. The central conflict of the novel centers around Lecter’s pursuit of Jack crawford, a boy he hopes to marry because of his unique blood type. Although the relationship between the two appears to be amicable, Lecter tortures Jack, mutilating him with his razor blade and then killing him. Jack then possesses the ability to speak and this discovery becomes the catalyst for his own transformation.
This is a remarkable novel, one of my favorites in all of William Steig’s work. I would compare it to fellow horror writer Edger Allen Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum.” I also enjoyed examining the different ways in which violence and its occurrence affects those left behind. It is interesting to note how Lecter transforms not only the Lambs but also the viewer. Jack, who remains a quiet and timid victim of Lecter’s attacks, is transformed into someone who hates him and wants to escape his violent alter ego; his transformation also includes a parallel with the crucifixion of Jesus.
In terms of movie analysis, I would compare The Silence of the Lambs with the Coen brothers’ The Brothers Grimm. Both are excellent films, but I feel that The Silence of the Lambs takes place in much greater and lasting effect. Though it may seem a cliche at first, I find that the true value of this movie comes from the manner in which Steig allows his characters to deal with the terror they undergo. Unlike other horror films like Halloween or Saw, which prey on the fear of letting your blood flow, Lecter uses the silence of the lambs as an opportunity to confront his greatest fears: his desire for power and control over his victims. In that way, he is like many before him, including perhaps Dr. Strangelove (the Soviet Union), who likewise sought power over others through fear. However, unlike Strangelove, Jack never fulfills his dream, and suffers the ultimate fate at the hands of a mad genius.