Silent Running

Year: 1971

Production: Universal

Director: Douglas Trumbull

Starring: Bruce Dern, Cliff Potts, Ron Rifkin, Jesse Vint

Screenwriter: Deric Washburn, Mike Cimino, Steve Bocho

Based on a story by Douglas Trumbull

90 minutes; Color


All plant life on Earth has been destroyed in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust; only vast orbiting spaceships like Valley Forge, with its external hydroponic domes, still contains trees and flowers, the hope being that these may one day be used to re-seed the planet; but then their destruction is ordered by the totalitarian Earth government. Silent Running's premise is obviously fatuous - it would be cheaper to leave the spaceships in place. Bruce Dern plays, in penitent's robes, the only true conservationist left alive, a low-grade gardener aboard the Valley Forge. When the order comes through to dump the vegetation he kills his companions (with the film's tacit approval) and set off into deep space with plants (apparently forgetting they have previously needed sunlight to live). He is accompanied only by three small, cute, box-shaped robots (in fact operated by amputees). Silent Running is occasionally spectacular - Trumbull was one of the special-effects supervisors on 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and Silent Running's scenes of vast spaceships floating through space compare well with those in Stanley Kubrick's epic - but the film is morally dubious, scientifically unsound and sociologically implausible.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

A wonderful film. The message of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), for which Trumbull masterminded the special effects, was that man needed guidance from beyond. The message of Silent Running, siginificantly set in the year 2001, is that man (and his creations, the film's robots) must be his own savior, even at the risk of madness. Thus, adrift in space in a literal Garden of Eden that was intended to refurbish an Earth devastated by nuclear war, Dern (who gives a compelling performance) refuses to destroy his private world when ordered to. Instead with the help of his robots he tends his garden and then sends it out into deep space to seed a possible second chance for mankind. In keeping with this theme, Trumbull gives his film a human dimension. Thus even the flight through Saturn's rings is presented not as spectacle, as was the "stargate" sequence in 2001 , but as an essential part of Dern's escape: by chance he has been found by Earth's authorities who want to mount an rescue attempt. The final images, of the forest tended with a battered watering can by the remaining robot, is one of the most powerful images, both sad and optimistic at the same time, in modern sf film.

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

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