What Should I Eat While I Watch That Movie: The Silence of the Lambs

There is simply no way to overstate how enraptured I am by Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs. I have read the book six times. I have seen the Jonathan Demme movie more times than I can count, and have bought it on every available format, including laser disc*. I saw the musical twice. I own the soundtrack. I have a t-shirt with Precious on it (she’s pictured in her basket). I never, ever miss the opportunity to make a “It rubs the lotion on its skin” joke, and I once described a co-worker I dislike as being “courteous and receptive to courtesy,” at which my husband, Jonathan, asked if I was quoting Hannibal Lecter on purpose. In fact, I was not, I was just talking and Hannibal Lecter came out. And while there is an argument to be made that Michael Mann’s Manhunter is a far better film and Brian Cox the superior Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs will never lose its allure and power for me, because of Clarice Starling.


Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling. I immediately got that haircut and bought that blazer.

I was 21 when The Silence of the Lambs opened on Valentine’s Day in 1991, a college senior in a tiny town in upstate New York. My plans at the time included surviving my last snowbelt winter, graduating in May, and then moving to New York City to work in the theatre and live with my boyfriend. All of this terrified me. I loved the theatre but had no real idea how to launch a career with no contacts, no professional experience, and a BA from a SUNY college that, while excellent, wasn’t the famous School of the Arts one. I was sad and anxious all the time, which turned out to be an undiagnosed depression that got much worse before it got better. And though I couldn’t admit it to anyone, especially myself, my boyfriend wasn’t very good to me.

I felt powerless in those days. Unable to define what I wanted, and even if I could figure it out, incapable of creating it for myself. I worked hard to please my professors, smiled enthusiastically for my parents, agreed to whatever my boyfriend proposed. But I felt like I was choking all the time. Not metaphorically. It felt like I had a golf ball in my throat, always. Like I couldn’t breathe.

And then Clarice ran into my life, in her FBI Academy sweats.

She was damaged. She was tormented. She had so much to prove. And yet, she was so incredibly courageous. Not fearless, not by a long shot, but courageous. She knew what was at stake, she knew the dangers, and she ran towards them, gun drawn.

Clarice Starling was a revelation, with her skill and intelligence, her vulnerability, her flaws, her perfect bob haircut. She seemed nearly divine, like Theseus, braving the labyrinth, killing the monster, rescuing the innocent. Like Artemis, protector of young girls. Like Demeter, fighting to save her daughter from the Underworld.

She didn’t save me — I moved to New York, married the boyfriend who wasn’t kind to me, continued to spiral out, and had a rather spectacular emotional breakdown when the marriage disintegrated — but she became a touchstone, a reference point for determination, for resiliency, for sheer guts, for holding my own in the company of people where I feel terribly out of place. It isn’t uncommon for me to invoke her, still, when my backbone needs stiffening, telling myself that if Clarice Starling can walk down that scary-ass hallway in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane to talk to Lecter and then get covered in Miggs jizz, if she can shrug off her adorable coat, pull her weapon, and descend into Buffalo Bill’s horror basement to rescue Catherine Martin, then I can ask for a raise, stand up to an arrogant colleague, and figure out how to get my daughter into a good New York City middle school.

And I always remember to check my corner.

If you’re familiar with how Clarice’s story unfolds after The Silence of the Lambs, you know that she and Lecter end up together , as a romantic couple, at the conclusion of the novel Hannibal. Many fans, critics, and Jodie Foster herself, were deeply disturbed by this, thinking it was a betrayal of Clarice’s goodness, her fundamental decency. But I always thought it rang true, that the darkness in Lecter reached for her light, that he was a broken creature she could try to save, the ultimate lamb in the night. The marriage of the Divine Mother and the Dark Lord. It’s twisted, but the older I get the more I wonder, what great love isn’t, somehow? And in the end, it is worth noting that Harris makes sure to tell us it is possible that Clarice Starling could frighten Hannibal Lecter. As well she should.


You’re right, Clarice, I do load the dishwasher like a rube. I’m sorry. I’ll do it your way from now on.

Which brings us to the question, what should you eat while you watch The Silence of the Lambs? I suggest liver with some fava beans and a big Amarone, which is what Hannibal dines upon in the book (Chianti, even a nice one, being too pedestrian for his refined tastes, I imagine). Or you could follow the example of Clarice’s flirty bug expert, Dr. Pilcher, and have a cheeseburger and beer, or the amusing house wine.

*I have never met the creator of this video, but I suspect she is the sort of person I would have bonded with immediately at sleep-away camp.

Read What Should I Eat While I Watch That Movie: Blue Valentine.

Want to know what to eat with that movie? Leave a comment here or tweet me at @stefgunning and I’ll suggest a pairing for you!

10 thoughts on “What Should I Eat While I Watch That Movie: The Silence of the Lambs

  1. Pingback: What Should I Eat While I Watch That Movie: G.I. Jane | Working Without a Net

  2. I hate Clarisse and that movie and this is why I too married a boyfriend that was not kind to me. He was a Marine, and we were living right off base in QUANTICO. I was very young, as was he, and while he was not a good husband, he was a good Marine. In fact he was such a good marine that he trained the new LT.s coming in from Annapolis, DEA Agents, and FBI agents and recruits. At various times he ran them through the PT courses on base ( the ones you see Jody running) weapons trainings, outdoor survival and house to house combat. When they were filming the movie, EVERY DAY he would come home and EVERY DAY he would tell me how he saw Jody Foster. EVERY DAY he would tell me how Jody was checking him out ( he was cute and he had quite the body, but we both know that Jody had no interest in him. Then he’d stand in the mirror, take off his shirt, and admire his six pack, and tell me even more about how Jody was checking him out. IT DROVE ME CRAZY!!! When he was pulled off helping with the movie and sent in the field to do drills with the new LTs it was the happiest day of my marriage. He was gone for 4 days, and no more “Babe, Babe – Jody Foster was checkin me out. I could feel her eyes on me. She’s really into me.”

  3. I followed your link to the “spectacular emotional breakdown” – that was a great post. (I added a comment too). Back to this blog post here, this is like an extension. Your hurt can still be felt, and the way you describe Clarice as some kind of role model is kind of brilliant. I was also impressed by her when I saw the movie. She’s like, shall I say, Sharon Stone in the role of Catherine in the movie Basic Instinct – this absolutely cool “I am in control” kind of look. At the same time, in Clarice, there is a fragility, quite often (which Catherine shows only in the end, by not killing Nick Curran). It is not difficult to see why we would admire such a “strength in fragility” – it’s because this is something we may quite frankly just need very hard, at times. Everything looks so breakable in this world – including our emotional life – so we always need something to ‘believe’ in (simple human belief in something good and strong that nobody can truly destroy).

    You’re a good writer – I could almost feel how you draw strength from Clarice’s character.

    PS Thx for the ‘friending’ on Twitter.

      • Hehe, I’m not usually associating eating with watching a movie. Moreover, if I would “suggest a title” it would be one I have already seen (unless I can remember one I’ve only read about – like when I read that Charlotte Gainsbourg was playing in Antichrist – but people say it’s a horrible movie so I won’t do that to you. Neither should I ask you what to eat while watching Scott Derrickson’s horror movie Sinister (let alone the 5 “snuff films” that make up the theme for this movie… imagine having to give advice what to eat while watching a snuff film… ahh, that’s just too crazy isn’t it.

        What about Finding Neverland? I saw it once and it sort of made me feel good about the world. So I would want to see it again, if only to understand why I liked it so much. So there you have another suggestion. Don’t feel obliged though – I’m sure you know better than me how to choose a good movie.

  4. How have twenty plus years passed since this movie debuted?

    Really enjoyed your take on Clarice. I too loved everything Lambs. I even majored in psych and criminal justice so I could follow Starling’s footsteps into the BSU and have my own Lector. “Getting all the way to the F-B-I.” (I ended up in sales, go figure.)
    Thanks for finding me on Twitter so I could find your blog.

    To answer your question, you could always have an old friend for dinner. 😉
    – Christy

      • Ooh you’re right, like they could be cousins, for sure.

        I used to enjoy X-Files, but haven’t seen an episode in years. Oddly enough, *cue X-Files music*, I ordered the entire series from an Amazon Daily Deal a couple weeks ago and they’re sitting on the bookshelf right now. Debating a binge watch marathon or a Christmas gift… Hmmmm…. 🙂

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