Overall Impression – A dark classic, analyzed  for us by guest reviewer Len Massar.


Who is your main character? – Clarice Starling.

What is she trying to accomplish? – Professional: Catch Buffalo Bill. Personal: Please her father-figure boss. Private: Move past her traumatizing childhood memory of lambs being killed.

Who’s trying to stop her? – Buffalo Bill.

What happens if she fails? – The Senator’s daughter will die and more deaths will come.


Orphan – Clarice feels alone in the world.  Her Sheriff father is long deceased and her father-figure FBI Chief Crawford is stern and a hard taskmaster. She accepts a temporary assignment to engage the uncooperative Hannibal Lecter for the benefit of the agency’s behavioral sciences unit. Lecter is quite smitten and dangles clues for the attentive pupil to find. She suddenly doesn’t feel so alone (“I’ll help you catch him, Clarice”).

Wanderer – Clarice accompanies Craford to W. Virginia and help in the identification of what appears to be yet another Buffalo Bill victim. She discovers a cocoon inside the victim’s throat and a subsequent follow-up visit to a museum yields her a fresh clue. Clarice discusses these with Lecter, who demands a quid pro quo in revealing details about herself. Following the abduction of the Senator’s daughter, the opportunistic Dr. Chiltern conspires with Lecter to shut out the FBI. Forced into deviousness, Clarice manages a last interview with Lecter but this is cut-short by Chiltern and she returns home dejected.

Warrior – Forced into deviousness, Clarice manages a last interview with Lecter but this is cut-short by Chiltern and she returns home dejected.  She decides to revisit the Ohio home of the first victim and uses her instinct to find a new clue. She relays this to Crawford who reveals that the team is on the way to capture Buffalo Bill. Doggedly tying-up loose ends, Clarice interviews a friend of the Ohio victim and learns about the work for nearby resident Mrs. Lipman. When she comes calling at the Lipman address, unknown to Clarice the door is answered by Buffalo Bill. He invites her into the run-down house and when she begins to suspect his true identity, he flees into the dark interior.

Martyr – Clarice enters the house’s basement. Hearing Catherine’s screams for help, Clarice is now absolutely certain of Buffalo Bill’s identity and whereabouts. The lights go out and Clarice is pursued in the dark by Buffalo Bill and his night-vision goggles. Sensing his presence, she turns on instinct and shoots him dead. At her Academy graduation, she is congratulated personally by Crawford. Hannibal Lecter calls her on the phone to do the same.


What is basically a simple story is made into the classic it is by the characters of Ted Tally’s Oscar-winning screenplay. 

The script draws us fully into Clarice’s head and her world.  We first see her running alone at the Academy, pushing her physical limits. There are easily five minutes of unscripted action off the top where we become familiar with Clarice and her environment.

Her descent into the cellar is masterful writing and obviously compelling viewing.  It seems that the action of the third act is very compressed, hitting Contour’s four Act Three plot points in rapid succession; she knows that Gumb is Buffalo Bill (Big Yes), then he flees (No) and then the lights go out when she’s most vulnerable (Big No). The serial killer’s eventual defeat, the saving of the the Senator’s daughter and graduating with Crawford’s (and Lector’s!) final words of approval (Final Yes) all serve to underscore Clarice’s achievement of all her goals. 

— Len Massaar

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