The Silence of the Lambs' director and writer on the films original ending

THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS may be twenty-five years old and I may have watched it a few dozen times since then, but the film has never once lost its effectiveness; from the opening moments all the way until the end in which Lecter comments that he'll be having an "old friend for dinner," THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS remains one heck of a film and features great performances from Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Ted Levine, and all the rest. Deadline recently put together an article celebrating THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS' twenty-fifth anniversary and gathered together a few of the individuals responsible for the films success, including director Jonathan Demme and screenwriter Ted Tally.

One aspect the pair touched upon was the films ending, which was originally a little different than the one we got. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS ends with Hannibal Lecter making a call to Clarice Starling from the tropics to congratulate her on her graduation as well as to warn her not to come after him. He ends the call by mentioned that he was having an old friend for dinner, all while looking at the man who kept him imprisoned for so many years, Dr. Chilton. Deadline describes the original ending a little differently:

When Lecter speaks to Starling, he compliments her outfit, which makes her realize he had watched from a distance. In the original ending, Lecter is cutting orange segments with a small paring knife, while he speaks to Clarice. As he hangs up the phone, the camera shot widens. We discover that he’s at a desk in a book lined office. There is the body of a bodyguard on the floor, and then we see Lecter is not alone. Chilton is trussed up in a chair across from him, the same method of restraints the doctor used on Lecter earlier in the movie. Lecter rises, slowly, a dreamy gleam in his eye, as he approaches his terrified victim, paring knife in hand. “Shall we begin?”

Ted Tally on writing that original ending:

In the book, Hannibal says goodbye in a letter. That’s not cinematic. You had to see the faces. It has to be live. So I came up with this idea that Hannibal was stalking Chilton, who lived in Baltimore. I put him in a vacation house with security guards in Chesapeake Bay. I had Lecter overcome them and tie him up, and it ends just the way you described it. Jonathan, who hadn’t asked for a lot of changes, said, ‘You know, that’s kind of icky. Chilton is despicable, and we don’t like him, and he’s a crumb-bum, but he’s still a human being, and to have him trussed up for slaughter just is too squirmy. Ted, shouldn’t we give him some kind of fighting chance?’

Jonathan Demme on why the ending was changed:

It was too horrifying a way to close the proceedings. Whatever we had done to get to that moment, that ending would’ve turned the movie into something else. One of those shockers that kicks you in the gut in the last minute, and then the screen goes black, and the credits roll. I thought this story deserved more to it than the crude trussed up Dr. Chilton about to be carved up by Dr. Lecter. And I didn’t think it was very cinematic. I thought, really? We’re going to end the movie in some room like that? That’s the image we take home with us? I liked the idea of paraphrasing what Tom Harris had done in his book. Yes, Clarice gets a call. I’m never going to bother you. And then we see a version of Chilton trussed up about to be eaten? Instead, let’s honor that Chilton is the target. That will be delightful. That’s something that we can take pleasure in actually, because Dr. Chilton has behaved so poorly previously in the story. Also, it was more interesting to see Lecter finally out in the world. We’ve seen him in cells for 90 percent of the time we’ve spent with him. Let’s see him out in the world.

The interview, which is well worth the read by the way, also brings up a few other interesting tidbits, including that Jonathan Demme originally thought that Sean Connery would have been a perfect Hannibal Lecter. However, when Jonathan Demme sent the script to Connery, word came back that Connery thought that "it was disgusting and wouldn’t dream of playing that part." Just imagine "hello Clarice" with a Scottish accent.

Source: Deadline



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