In Silence of the Lambs, there are lots of scenes where the boss, Crawford, and his trainee, Clarice, are relying on knowledge that they both share, but screenwriter Ted Tally has to somehow explain to the audience what they’re doing.
Obviously, the worst way to do these scenes would be to have them trade off insights interchangeably. You see scenes like that all the time on the dreadful TV knock-off of this movie, “Criminal Minds.”
A slightly better way to do it would be to simply have Crawford tell Clarice all this information and instruction for the first time, catching her up on the fly, since, after all, she’s still a beginner. That would be more believable, but it would cause three big problems:
- We would suspect that Clarice must already know most of the stuff he’s saying: the dreaded “as you know” scene.
- Those scenes would have no conflict: they would be “listen and accept” scenes, which is the lowest level of scenework.
- We would lose sympathy for Clarice and be drawn to her boss. We would start to wonder, “why isn’t the movie about him?”
- They now have a good reason to say the stuff out loud, even though they both already know it.
- There’s conflict: Will she pass the test? Will she keep the respect of her tough boss?
- We’re impressed by Clarice, and trust her to solve the case if her boss can’t, which turns out to be the case.
This isn’t explained, but we can guess that this is to counteract the smell. Whenever possible, Tally lets us play catch-up...He reserves his neat little “final exam” trick for those times when we need the characters to narrate what they’re doing.)