Week 3 – Sound Techniques Used in The Silence of the Lambs (1991)


Along with the plot, characters and visual imagery, sound is an extremely important and well respected part of the movie making process.  The three basic elements of sound in a film are dialogue, sound effects and music (Goodykoontz & Jacobs, 2014).  They work together to enhance the movie’s experience and sets the mood for a particular scene.



Dialogue is widely recognized as the words that are said by the characters in the movie.  In many movies the dialogue is one of the more important elements in the movie. It’s more important what’s being said, rather than what’s being seen.  Silence of the Lambs is a psychological thriller that relied heavy on its sophisticated dialogue that especially took place between Clarice and Dr. Lecter, as they introduced us to “quid pro quo”.  In the scene where Dr. Lecter is being housed inside a cage in the middle of the room, as Clarice enters, he greets her with turning to look at her.  They begin to trade secrets about each other, as they go back and forth in their dialogue the camera begins to move closer to their faces giving the feel of intensity and added tension as the scene progresses.  Together with the framing and the dialogue of Dr. Lecter, it creates an added level of intimidation, whereas, Clarice comes off as innocent and wounded.


Sound effects enrich the sounds and objects on and off-screen without the use of music or dialogue and are used to enhance the scene (Goodykoontz & Jacobs, 2014).  There are several types of sound effects used in The Silence of the Lambs like the footsteps of the guards are heard before they are seen.  The sound of the prison bars as they open or closed.  These are examples of the Foley, where the sounds effects enhance smaller objects such as keys or handcuffs.

The score of the movie was brilliantly composed by Howard Shore featuring the Munich Symphony Orchestra.  Much of the music in Silence of the Lambs is non-diegetic and was classically inspired.  However, there are scenes where the music is diegetic; for example, in the scene where Dr. Lecter is killing the prison guard Bach is playing from a cassette player or when Buffalo Bill is dancing to Goodbye Horses (Garvey, 1988).  During much of the movie there is music that subtly plays in the background.  It gives a tone of eeriness and a feeling of being uneasy.  The somberness of the music helps create an on-the-edge-of-your-seat feeling which lends to an easy identification that is in the horror genre.

Matthias Büdinger (1991) says it best, “You get your feelings from all elements simultaneously, lighting, cinematography, costumes, acting and music.”



Garvey, W. (Composer). (1988). Goodbye Horses. [Q. Lazzarus, Performer, & W. Garvey, Conductor]

Goodykoontz, B., & Jacobs, C. P. (2014). Film: From Watching to Seeing, 2nd Ed. San Diego: Bridgepoint Education Inc.

Shore, H. (1991). Howard Shore on The Silence of the Lambs. (M. Büdinger, Interviewer)