Top Ten Symbols in The Silence of the Lambs

lamb6Everyone knows what this movie is about, but there are plenty of little things still hiding around the corner in every scene, just waiting to be discovered.  That’s what Roger Ebert said after seeing this movie for the upteenth time.  He must be a fan.  To be honest, he’s right, there are a lot of symbols in this movie, as it uses a slow burn to build tension and deliver some Oscar-worthy chills.

10.  Red, white and blue – The red, white and blue motif can be seen in a lot of places, mostly to designate officials and authorities.  However, there is a cake that is red, white, and blue, with a huge Department of Justice symbol on it in frosting.  Clarise slices into it, and this symbolizes her desire to move up in her position, to tear up the boy’s club, where she feels as confined as Dr. Lector.

lambs49.  The bat – Some dead bodies are hung like a bat, as if to overtly honor their murderer, Dr. Lector.  The bat has an ability to see in the dark, to clearly pinpoint his victims, and they are unable to hide for very long.  The bat shares this ability with Dr. Lector, though he can’t literally see in the dark.  His perception is more of a keen insight into the human mind.

8.  That’s the Palazzo Vecchio and the Duomo, seen from the Belvedere – One of Dr. Lector’s drawings depicts the Belvedere, which is a clue Clarise misses in trying to catch the killer, since one victim was from Belvedere, Ohio.  It is also a drawing looking down on the Palazzo, again showing strong perspective.  Lector knows this scene almost entirely from memory, just like the killer knew his first victim.  He knew her very well because he grew up with her in Ohio.  The parallel is exact.

lambs37.  The Goldberg Variations – This Bach music is of a baroque style, and is very structured.  A very practiced technique is needed to play it, and I should know.  You can’t just bang it out like any old pop song.  It is meant to be played very even and fluid.  The structured nature of the piece represents Dr. Lector.

6.  Animals – Animals are all over the place in this movie, used as a metaphor for man’s innocence and victimization.  Most of the animals described in the movie are farm animals and livestock, like cattle and lambs.  Lambs play a bigger role in the relationship between Dr. Lector and Clarise.

5.  The moth – The moth or butterfly symbolizes change, just as Dr. Lector explains in the movie.  The killer has an insect fascination apparently, because he’s got them all over his house.  He even has a few pictures of moths and insects on his walls.

4.   The well – The well or “wishing well” in this case, represents the killer’s desire to change his victims into something else.  He keeps them in the well until they are ready, prepping them by forcing them to rub lotion all over themselves.  He then slices them up.

3.  Dungeon of horrors – The dungeon can be seen in many scenes in this movie, where it echoes in the interrogation scene where Clarise is tormented by the inmates.  It also shows up later at the killer’s house, and the horrors pop up when Lector breaks out of the dungeon.  It has also been suggested that you can hear crackling sounds like those from the original Frankenstein, but I can’t hear them.  Must be the jail doors closing or something.

lambs52.  Terns – Dr. Lector should have guessed that Clarise was trying to fool him with a fake offer to walk on the beach and feed the birdies on a remote New York island.  Terns are a protected species, like the rare mind of Dr. Lector.  They are mostly in this sorry state because every other bird takes advantage of them and they are hunted by many larger species.  I’ve always found the mention of terns in the movie sorta amusing, because they could represent Clarise herself, trying to be strong, but is only faking it.

1.  The lamb – Of course, this is the number one symbol in the movie.  The most memorable lines in the movie are said by Clarise, as she recounts a horrible memory to Dr. Lector, as she remembers hearing the slaughter of the lambs at the farm where she lived.  She lives most of her life trying to silence the lambs, which is the title of the movie.  More to the point, it represents innocence, as she tries to grow into something stronger, and not fall victim to a killer who preys on innocent women.