What is the difference between the Silence of the Lambs book and the Silence of the Lambs movie?no

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jungpak eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When comparing a movie to a novel, it is very important to understand how each medium tells the story. Novels tell the story through rich narrative, descriptions, and prolonged story arcs. A novelist has the ability to take the reader into as many or as few details as he or she wants. The reader has the luxury of reading, re-reading, and digesting the experience in their own way; some feel that this is an isolating experience, but others love reading books for that very reason.

Film, on the other hand, tells the story through visuals and sound; the camera shots, the sound effects and music, and the action are the heart of the story. It is a real-time experience that happens here and now. Also, filmmaking is a much more collaborative effort than novel-writing (there is often collaboration in writing a book, just to a much lesser degree). So when a movie is written, rehearsed, filmed, and so on, it will still go though many incarnations before the final product (for example, in the editing process). A screenwriter might begin with one vision, then the director takes it further, then the actors might take it to another level, and so forth and so on. It's clear why movies have only a few focal points while a book might have many more.

The Silence of the Lambs is one of the better adaptations of a great novel, and overall, it remains true to the story.  However, there are a few major differences.

Clarice Starling's cadet status is much more pronounced in the book. She's a student, plain and simple. She even makes crucial decisions to continue the hunt for Buffalo Bill that endanger her student status. There's a lot riding on this for her, both personally and professionally. In the movie, Clarice has a lot more status and has less to lose. The novel also flushes out more themes of mentorship than does the movie. Clarice, for example, has several mentors in the novel, such as Special Agent Brigham, who helps train her; Special Agent Jack Crawford, who uses her; and Dr. Hannibal Lecter, who serves as a complicated antagonist. In the movie, she is much more self-sufficient and independent.

There is much more immediacy in the novel; the sense of limited time is much more acute. The movie only mentions that Bill's victims have roughly 48 hours to live, but in the novel, time becomes a very important hurdle for Clarice. She is physically and psychologically pushed to the wall; fatigue becomes a critical enemy in the book. It gives the story a sense of urgency that isn't present in the movie.

Will Graham is a complex presence in the novel but a more straightforward character in the movie. Crawford's former protege, Will Graham, suffered a lot catching a serial killer in the previous novel and apparently is not doing well in The Silence of the Lambs. That connecting issue puts Crawford in a whole new light; this is a man who is willing to sacrifice young agents and would-be-agents to get what he wants. The reader is left to question the ethics at play in the novel (who's the monster?), and that theme recurs in the last book of the trilogy, Hannibal. In the film, Crawford is clearly a "good guy."

Clarice is much more emotional in the novel. In the film, Clarice is more mature and is much more in charge of her emotions.  The novel depicts Clarice as a character who is less gaurded and more fragile; her character arc revolves around her ability to grow emotionally despite the impossible situation that surrounds her.  Her hero's journey involves her ability to put her feelings aside and draw on her unfinished training as an FBI agent.  Her first encounter with master manipulater Dr. Lecter (who clearly outwits and dominates her in every way), illustrates the notion that Clarice must up her game to a high degree in order to be successful.  In order to play the game and win, she has to grow up.  The film, while showing strands of her emotional side, leaves out much of that story arc.

The endings are very different.  The movie ends with a frantic Clarice trying to keep Dr. Lecter on the phone so she can determine where he is. It's hopeless, of course, and he's on his way to "have a friend for dinner." The open-ended final scene gives the viewer a sense of prolonged doom and a hint of worse to come. It ain't over, Clarice. In contrast, the book ends with Clarice sleeping peacefully; it is unclear if she's alone or not, but she is resting. The reader is left with a sense of closure; perhaps the lambs are silent, at least for now. Clarice has done her job, and she's able to redeem herself.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is not much difference between the two.  I would say that one of the major differences between the two is that the book is devoted to the idea of exploring Starling's apprehension of Buffalo Bill.  The film does the same, but I think that there is a greater aspect of social concern in the film regarding Starling's role as a strong female.  The film does a very good job of exploring the barriers that she, as a woman, must face in apprehending Buffalo Bill.  It doesn't belabor the point being made, but shows it subtly, to a point that the book does not.  Even in the opening titles sequence in showing Clarice boarding an elevator with all men and receiving slight glares, or when briefing the West Virginia police, as well as other moments where Clarice the special agent has to battle against being seen as Clarice the woman. This is really expanded when it seems as if the only person of mention to treat her as an equal would be Dr. Lecter, who exposes her psychological terror.  I thought that this was brought out nicely in the film and not something that occupied the thoughts of the book.

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