The Hidden Meaning of That Iconic Line in The Silence of the Lambs
Liver, fava beans, a glass of antioxidant-packed red wine. Sounds like a relatively healthy combination, right? Not if you're taking a class of antidepressants known as monoamine oxidase inhibitors, or MAOIs.
In 1992's Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) warns Dr. Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) against pushing him too far with her questions. Explaining how he dealt with a census taker who had also "bored him," he utters one of the film's most iconic lines: "I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti."
Author Thomas Harris, on whose novel the movie was based, probably didn't choose that combination arbitrarily. As Reddit user mrcchapman first pointed out earlier this year, people taking MAOIs are given a long list of high-tyramine foods and beverages to avoid or limit [PDF]. On that list: liver, fava beans, and red wine. Although MAOIs are most commonly used to treat depression, they have also proven effective in treating people with various personality disorders [PDF]. (We’re looking at you, Lecter.)
As an FBI trainee, Starling may or may not have caught the fact that this meant Lecter, a psychiatrist himself, wasn't taking his meds—because that combination on an MAOI could prove fatal.