Clarice Starling

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Clarice M. Starling
Hannibal Lecter character
Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling in the 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs
Created byThomas Harris
Portrayed byJodie Foster (The Silence of the Lambs)
Masha Skorobogatov (young; The Silence of the Lambs)
Julianne Moore (Hannibal)
OccupationFBI agent
Significant otherHannibal Lecter (in books)

Clarice M. Starling is a fictional character who appears in the novels The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal by Thomas Harris.

In the film adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs, she was played by Jodie Foster, while in the film adaptation of Hannibal, she was played by Julianne Moore.

Clarice Starling, as portrayed by Foster, was ranked the sixth greatest protagonist in film history on AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains, making her the highest-ranking heroine.[1] In 1991, for her portrayal of Starling, Foster also received the Academy Award for Best Actress. Foster's interpretation of Starling is highly ranked amongst the greatest screen performances of all-time.

The Silence of the Lambs[edit]

In The Silence of the Lambs, Starling is a student at the FBI Academy. Her mentor, Behavioral Sciences Unit chief Jack Crawford, sends her to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer. He is housed in a Baltimore mental institution. Upon arriving at the asylum for her first interview with Lecter, the asylum manager Frederick Chilton makes a crude pass at her, which she rebuffs; this helps her bond with Lecter, who despises Chilton. As time passes, Lecter gives Starling information about Buffalo Bill, a currently active serial killer being hunted by the FBI, but only in exchange for personal information, which Crawford has specifically warned her to keep secret from Lecter.

She tells Lecter that she was raised in a small town in West Virginia with her father, a town marshal. When she was 10 years old, her father was shot when responding to a robbery; he died a month after the incident. Her mother subsequently worked as a hotel chambermaid, but was unable to support her entire family without a life insurance settlement from her husband's death. Starling was sent to live with her uncle on a Montana sheep and horse farm, from which she ran away in horror when she witnessed the lambs being slaughtered. Her uncle was so angry that he sent her to live in a Lutheran orphanage, where she spent the rest of her childhood. According to the novel, Starling attended the University of Virginia as a double major in psychology and criminology. During that time, she spent two summers working as a counselor in a mental health center. Starling first met Crawford when he was a guest lecturer at UVA. His criminology seminars were a factor in her decision to join the FBI.

During the investigation, Starling is assigned to coax Lecter into revealing Buffalo Bill's identity. Lecter gives her clues in the form of cryptic, riddling information designed to help Starling figure it out for herself. The two grow to respect each other, so when Lecter escapes during a transfer engineered by Chilton to a state prison in Tennessee, Starling feels that he "would consider it rude" to kill her.

Starling deduces from Lecter's hints that Buffalo Bill's first victim had a personal relationship with him, and so goes to the victim's home in Belvedere, Ohio, to interview people who knew her. She unknowingly stumbles onto the killer himself, Jame Gumb, who is living under the alias "Jack Gordon". When she sees a black witch moth, the same rare kind that Buffalo Bill stuffs in the throats of each of his victims, flutter through the house, she knows that she has found her man and tries to arrest him. Gumb flees, and Starling follows him into his basement, where his latest victim is alive and screaming for help. Gumb turns off the electricity in the basement, and stalks Starling through the rooms wearing night vision goggles. As Gumb readies to shoot Starling, Starling hears him cock the hammer of his revolver and opens fire towards the sound, killing him.

Weeks later, Lecter writes Starling a letter from a hotel room somewhere in Detroit asking her if the lambs have stopped screaming.

The final scene of the novel has Starling sleeping peacefully at a friend's vacation house at the Maryland seashore.


In Hannibal, Starling is in her early thirties and a full-fledged FBI agent, although her career has been held back by Paul Krendler, a Department of Justice official who resents her for rejecting his sexual advances. She takes part in a bungled drug raid, in which she returns fire after a drug kingpin fires at her, using an infant as a human shield; her superiors blame her for the resulting mess, and she is removed from active duty, mostly at Krendler's instigation. She receives a supportive letter from Lecter, who is (unknown to her at the time) residing in Florence, Italy. One of Lecter's surviving victims, a sadistic pedophile named Mason Verger, is searching for Lecter and has offered a huge reward, which corrupt Florentine police inspector Rinaldo Pazzi tries to claim when he deduces Lecter's true identity in Florence.

Starling finds out that Lecter is in Florence and attempts to warn Pazzi. As Starling predicted, Lecter knows about the plot to capture him and, as a result, he kills Pazzi. Lecter then flees to the United States and immediately starts to follow Starling. Starling, meanwhile, is being harassed at the FBI by various corrupt agents, especially by Krendler, who is secretly assisting Verger in his attempt to capture Lecter. Starling attempts to find Lecter first, not only to capture him but also to save him from Verger. Krendler attempts to frame Starling in a scheme planned by Verger, alleging she sent coded newspaper messages to Lecter; this only results in her being suspended, but she is now powerless to stop Verger's men. Lecter is captured by Verger, who plans to feed him to a pack of specially bred wild boars.

Julianne Moore as Starling in Hannibal; Lecter is in the background.

Starling is aware that Lecter is being held by Verger, so she attempts to save him. Following Verger's death at the hands of his sister Margot, Starling uses the distraction to try to rescue Lecter. She is wounded in the ensuing gunfight with Verger's men, but Lecter rescues her and nurses her back to health. He then subjects her to a regimen of mind-altering drugs and classical conditioning in an attempt to make her believe she is his long-dead sister, Mischa.

During this time, Lecter captures Krendler and performs a craniotomy on him while he is still alive. During an elaborate dinner, Lecter scoops spoonfuls of Krendler's forebrain to saute with lemon and capers. In the novel, he feeds Krendler's brain to Starling, who finds it delicious.

Lecter's plan to brainwash Starling into believing she's Mischa ultimately fails, as she refuses to have her own personality sublimated. She then opens her dress and offers her breasts to Lecter; he accepts her offer and the two become lovers.[2] They disappear together, only to be sighted again three years later entering the Teatro Colón opera house in Buenos Aires by former orderly Barney Matthews, who had befriended and respected Lecter while he was incarcerated in Baltimore. Fearing for his life, Barney leaves Buenos Aires immediately, never to return.


In the film adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs, Starling's role remains relatively unchanged from the book. However, the film adaptation of Hannibal significantly diverges from the novel's conclusion. In the film, Lecter neither attempts to brainwash Starling nor feeds her Krendler's brain (although he does feed portions of it to Krendler himself); instead, Starling tries to apprehend Lecter, but he overpowers her and she handcuffs both of them to the refrigerator in an attempt to keep him in the house before the imminent arrival of the police. Lecter then cuts off his own hand and escapes, leaving Starling to explain the situation to the police. He is later seen on a plane, apparently fleeing the country again.

Although she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for playing Starling in The Silence of the Lambs, Jodie Foster decided not to reprise her role in Hannibal.[3] Julianne Moore portrayed the character in the sequel, with Anthony Hopkins himself recommending her for the role after his previous experience working with her in the film Surviving Picasso.


In May 2012, Lifetime announced that they were developing a television series centered on Clarice Starling after her graduation from the FBI academy, titled Clarice, which was to be produced by MGM.[4]

Bryan Fuller, the creator of the TV series Hannibal, stated prior to the show's cancellation his desire to include Clarice Starling as a character in the fifth season, provided that he could get the rights from MGM.[5] He said that he planned for the show's fifth season to cover the events of The Silence of the Lambs, and the sixth to cover the events of Hannibal, with the seventh to be an original storyline resolving Hannibal's ending.[6] Since the series' cancellation, Fuller has stated that should the series continue, whether for a fourth season or feature film, and should they obtain rights to adapt The Silence of the Lambs, Ellen Page would be his ideal casting for Clarice Starling.[7]


  1. ^ AFI. "AFI's 100 YEARS...100 HEROES & VILLAINS". Retrieved 20 September 2011.
  2. ^ Harris, Thomas (8 June 1999). Hannibal (1st ed.). New York City: Delacorte Press. ISBN 0-385-33487-7.
  3. ^ (29 December 1999). "Jodie Foster Declines "Hannibal's" Invite". Retrieved 20 September 2011.
  4. ^ Schneider, Michael (May 25, 2012). "Exclusive: Lifetime Developing Clarice, Based on Silence of the Lambs Character". TV Guide. Portland, Oregon: NTVB Media. Retrieved November 10, 2012.
  5. ^ Goldman, Eric (April 3, 2013). "Hannibal: How Bryan Fuller Approached the Iconic Character". IGN. San Francisco, California: j2 Global. Retrieved April 5, 2013.
  6. ^ Bernstein, Abbie (June 13, 2013). "Exclusive Interview: HANNIBAL news on Season 1, Season 2 and beyond from showrunner Bryan Fuller". Assignment X. Retrieved June 21, 2013.
  7. ^ Jeffery, Morgan (July 24, 2015). "Bryan Fuller opens up on Hannibal's axing and plans for a season 4". Digital Spy. London, England: Hearst Magazines UK. Retrieved July 25, 2015.