The Silence of the Lambs is iconic—a household title and a genre-defining exploration of a serial killer’s psyche. The film received wide critical acclaim upon its release and continues to appear in pop culture by reference, a relentlessly influential piece of media. Based on a 1988 novel by Thomas Harris, the film centers around FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), her interactions with the imprisoned cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), and her eventual confrontation with active serial killer Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine).
Yet, much discussion surrounding the film excludes its inherently Appalachian content. Clarice is from West Virginia, and Buffalo Bill’s territory in Ohio is also within the bounds of Appalachia. Even the FBI training takes place in Virginia. Hannibal says to Clarice, “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 is your father, dear? Is he a coal miner?” Elizabeth Price reckons with this quote in her piece on “Hillbilly Horror,” writing that Lecter’s comment “might strike a familiar nerve for Appalachians who similarly leave home and are forced to leave their accents behind” .
Appalachia is, in The Silence of the Lambs, a point of shame for Clarice and a space of violence for Buffalo Bill’s victims. This renowned film, despite its many connections to Appalachia, is not thought of as an Appalachian film. Rather, Appalachia is merely tangential to the film and typically connected to violence, to shame, to poverty. White trash and coal mining, a brutal killer in a home that serves as a stereotypical vignette of Appalachian poverty. Appalachia is, for Clarice and for the film itself, something to leave behind—an afterthought.