“On this first day of a new century, we humbly beg forgiveness.”
In a dystopic near-future, the Earth has been paved over, and the remaining gardens exist inside orbiting satellites manned by astronauts on a spaceship. When the ship receives order to destroy the satellites, an environmentally-conscious crewmate named Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) commits mutiny, and does what he can to protect his precious plants.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Bruce Dern Films
- Mental Breakdown
- Science Fiction
Douglas Trumbull (who created the special effects for both 2001 and The Andromeda Strain) made his directorial debut with this unusual science fiction flick. Silent Running features an impressive lead performance by Bruce Dern, and poses a provocative dilemma: what if you were asked to destroy the only remaining vegetation in existence? Would you blindly follow orders (as do the rest of Freeman’s crewmates), or take a stand and risk your life to “save the plants” at any cost? The bulk of the film follows Freeman’s gradual mental deterioration as he deals with profound loneliness, and tries to prevent his superiors from learning the truth about what’s happened. His interactions with three “friendly” robots on board the ship — Huey, Dewey, and Louie — are campy, but we actually start to care for these metallic creatures after a while, and can relate to Freeman’s fondness for them. The film’s ending generates true pathos: as Freeman makes the ultimate sacrifice in favor of his beliefs, we realize we’ve become just as invested in the outcome as our wacky yet noble protagonist.
Note: The incredibly dated soundtrack (sung by Joan Baez) quickly becomes insufferable, but is all part of the experience of this uniquely-’70s cult favorite.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Bruce Dern as the dedicated gardener who will stop at nothing to protect his plants
- Impressive early special effects and set designs
- An amusing yet eerie glimpse — a la Cast Away (2000) — at how loneliness can lead to increasingly wacky interactions with non-human objects
Yes. This cult movie — while certainly hokey in many ways — remains a surprisingly effective cautionary tale.