Silent Running (1971)

Article #340 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 2-18-2002
Posting date: 7-5-2002

A crewman takes drastic measures to save the last forest in existence, a forest that is preserved on a space station going around the orbit of Saturn.

After watching this movie, I popped into the user reviews on IMDB and got the definite impression that a lot of people love this movie. Actually, I can see why, and by all rights, I should love it, too; it’s science fiction, it involves ecology, which I do think is an important cause, the special effects are great, and there are some individual scenes that work very well indeed. However, upon my first viewing of the movie, I was so disgusted with it, I trotted off an angry and rather dismissive review which I have now thrown out and rewritten. Not that I love the movie now; I just felt my first review was unfair, and largely based on my distaste for propagandistic movies of any type. I’ve now had a long time to consider the movie and I feel better able to write something that better expresses just what were the problems I had with the movie.

At heart, there’s a central contradiction to this movie that drives me crazy. On one level, it’s a message movie about the environment; on another, it’s a portrait of a man who engages in extreme measures for his cause. Unfortunately, the first level involves turning the Bruce Dern character into a hero, while the second leads me to believe he is unbalanced, at least partially homicidal, and not a healthy person by any means. I have serious trouble reconciling these two outlooks. I also have serious problems with a movie that tries to get me to hate most of the human characters, and then turns around and tries to make me fall in love with three robots by anthropomorphizing them (I detect more than a hint of misanthropy here), and when at one point the Bruce Dern character spent five minutes fretting over his inablility to figure out why the forest is dying when I had been able to zero in on the reason within two seconds, I lost any and all motivation to like the character or the movie. Thus, the potentially powerful end to the movie left me feeling just empty and depressed, and not in a cathartic sense.

This being said, I’m sure some people will believe that my dislike for this movie marks a serious lapse of taste on my part, and maybe they’re right. All I can say is I wish I did like it; it would have made writing this Musing a lot easier. As it is, one thing I can say is that I thought longer and harder about this review than anything else I’ve written for this series, and any movie that can inspire me to that much effort must be worth viewing for no other reason that it does make you think. And that is a lot more than many other movies do.


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