As part of a police effort to suss out the workings of serial killer Buffalo Bills mind, rookie FBI Agent Clarice Starling (Foster) is assigned the task of interrogating Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter (Hopkins). Having extracted the information that she suffered verbal abuse from fellow prisoner Miggs (Stuart Levine) on the way in (“I can smell your cunt,” he hisses charmingly), the good Doctor turns the conversation towards fragrances of a less personal nature…
LECTER: (Sniffing at the air-holes above him) You use Evyan skin cream and sometimes you wear L’Air du Temps. (He lowers his head and gazes at Clarice) But not today.
CLARICE: (Hastily changing the subject, noticing one of Lecter’s works of art) Did you do all these drawings, Doctor?
LECTER: Ah! That is the Duomo seen from the Belvedere. Do you know Florence?
CLARICE: (Ignoring him) All that detail just from memory, sir?
LECTER: Memory, Agent Starling, is what I have instead of a view.
CLARICE: Well, perhaps you’d care to lend us your view on this questionnaire, sir.
LECTER: Oh no, no, no, no! You were doing fine. You had been courteous, and receptive to courtesy. You had established trust with the embarrassing truth about Miggs. And now this ham-handed segue into your questionnaire. (Tuts reproachfully) It won’t do.
CLARICE: I’m only asking you to look at this, Doctor. Either you will or you won’t.
LECTER: Yeeeah. Jack Crawford must be very busy indeed if he is recruiting help from the student body. Busy hunting that no one Buffalo Bill. What a naughty boy he is. Do you know why he’s called Buffalo Bill?
Please tell me — the newspapers won’t say.
CLARICE: Well, it started as a bad joke in i Kansas City Homicide — they said, “This one likes to skin his humps.”
LECTER: Why do you think he removes their skins, Agent Starling? (Sarcastically) Thrill me with your acumen.
CLARICE: It excites him. Most serial killers keep some sort of trophies from their victims.
LECTER: I didn’t.
CLARICE: No. No. You ate yours.
LECTER: (Indicating the questionnaire) You send that through now.
(Clarice warily stands up and slides the questionnaire into Lecter’s cell. He begins to thumb through it, smiling and winking at Clarice as he does so)
LECTER: Oh, Agent Starling, you think you can dissect me with this blunt little tool?
CLARICE: No! I thought that your knowledge—
LECTER: You’re so ambitious, aren’t you?
You know what you look like to me, with your good bag and your cheap shoes? You look like a rube. A well-scrubbed, hustling rube, with a little taste. Good nutrition’s given you some length of bone but you’re not more than one generation from poor white trash, are you Agent Starling? And that accent you’ve tried so desperately to shed — pure West Virginia. What does your father do? Is he a coal miner? Does he stink of the lamp? You know how quickly the boys found you. All those tedious sticky fumblings in the back seats of cars, while you could only dream of getting out, getting anywhere, getting all the way to the F … B … I.
CLARICE: You see a lot, Doctor. But are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at yourself? What about it — why don’t you look at yourself and write down what you see? Or maybe you’re afraid to . . .
LECTER: (Snaps the questionnaire back out of the cell) A census taker once tried to test me.
I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti. (He leans against the glass of the cell and lets loose a terrifyingly convincing slurping sound, as though he had just finished off a particularly piquant morsel of human flesh) You fly back to school now, little Starling. (Turns his back on her and, his voice dropping to a whisper) Fly, fly, fly. Fly fly, fly …