Monday, December 14, 2009

Silent Running

Silent Running; Science-fiction drama, USA, 1972; D: Douglas Trumbull, S: Bruce Dern, Cliff Potts, Ron Riffkin

In the far future, on Earth there is no unemployment, no diseases, no hunger, but also no plant life after global ecocide. Orbiting Saturn, the last few examples of plant and animal life are preserved in greenhouse domes attached to spaceships. Astronauts in the spaceship all detract the forest, but environmentalist Freeman Lowell genuinely cares for the flora and fauna. After they receive the orders to destroy all domes in an explosion, Lowell rebels, kills one colleague and fools the superiors by lying that the ship has a malfunction. He flies with the spaceship away from Saturn into space and spends many lonely days with the 3 small robots. After his superiors find him, he blows himself up with a bomb, while his last robot remains on the last dome watering the plants.

One of the first, if not the first environmentalist film ever made, cult science-fiction drama “Silent Running” again started to emerge from the ‘archive’ after directors of films “Wall-E” and “Moon” quoted it as their inspiration, complimenting the character development and honest promotion of ecological awareness. Just like “Nausicaa” and “Soylent Green”, this film shows the apocalyptic future as a warning to the viewers of what we have today in nature and that it needs to be protected from ecocide, and thanks to Trumbull’s skills the small budget is used nicely to make the execution of the screenplay plausible, whereas the modest special effects are surprisingly good, giving some unusual images, like Lowell walking across his greenhouse, passing by the window in the background where Saturn can be seen in orbit or when he uses a telescope to look at Earth from his spaceship. The first half where Lowell’s astronaut colleagues don’t share his enthusiasm and even disdain the last remaining plant and animal life in the dome is incredibly electrifying stuff, not only because of the ‘green’ message, but also because of the symbolism about how modern generation have no respect of past cultures or traditions, so it seems very fitting that the hero would rebel to save the plants. However, the second half is weaker and deflates, since it just shows Lowell alone in the refugee spaceship, talking only to his three mute robots, which some have characterized as a welcomed shift from the preachy, while others have found overstretched and feeble ‘kammerspiel’. An interesting and valuable little film with a sad, haunting ending.


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