Yvonne Tasker unfolds the layered narratives of Jonathan Demme's era-defining thriller
Released in 1990, The Silence of the Lambs is one of the defining films of late twentieth century American cinema. Adapted from the Thomas Harris novel and directed by the late Jonathan Demme, its central characters are now iconic. Jodie Foster is Clarice Starling, an FBI trainee investigating 'Buffalo Bill', a serial killer who flays his victims. Anthony Hopkins plays Hannibal Lecter, a serial killer and former psychiatrist who assists Starling in exchange for personal details.
With its pairing of a perverse, invasive anti-hero and a questing, proto-action heroine, The Silence of the Lambs unfolds as a layered narrative of pursuit. In this study, Yvonne Tasker explores the film's weaving together of gothic, horror and thriller elements in its portrayal of insanity and crime, drawing out the centrality of ideas about gender to the storytelling. She identifies the film as a key genre reference point for tracking late twentieth century interests in police procedural, profiling and serial murder, analysing its key themes of reason and madness, identity and belonging, aspiration and transformation.
A new afterword explores the legacies of The Silence of the Lambs and its figuring of crime and investigation in terms of gender disruption and spectacular violence.