In this thoroughly environmentally friendly sci-fi tale, Bruce Dern plays botanist Lowell (a good 40 years or so before Matt Damon had a go at it!) and it concerns his personal mission to preservative the precious, endangered plant life aboard his ship, not letting anything stand in his way, least of all his fellow crew members.
Wow, what a face Bruce Dern has! With incredibly expressive eyes, he goes through a range of emotions in this film and his performance is certainly the main draw of the film. He clearly conveys his annoyance with his crew for their apathy and for eating “fake” food, as well as a growing level of mental instability when he decides that the preservation of his forest is more important than anything. And of course, he is inevitably haunted by his actions and soon begins to feel remorse. The character of Lowell goes through a wide range of emotions and Bruce Dern expresses them perfectly; his character’s journey is engaging and Dern is constantly genuine and believable.
It is also remarkable how the drones, simple machines, can appear so expressive! It is a testament to the director that he can allow us to know exactly what the drones are thinking; through carefully thought out camera angles and close-ups, we fully empathize with these machines and think of them as proper characters.
The highlight of the film is definitely where Lowell plays poker with the two drones. It is both funny and unnerving, further showing us Lowell’s decreasing sanity.
It is laudable how “Silent Running” is committed to its central message of eco-friendliness and perhaps even vegetarianism. It is a message that is still around today, that one shouldn’t consume artificial, processed food and instead, eat what is lovingly grown by hand from the ground. The passion and commitment from the writers is admirable.
The special effects are alright; obviously it all looks dated by today’s standards but there is a certain nostalgic charm, reminding us of the early days of Star Trek and the like.
This film also features some beautiful songs, wonderfully sung by the great Joan Baez.
The film isn’t perfect though; the main problem is that certain parts drag far too much and interest definitely wanes at various points. Also, the tone changes far too often; “Silent Running’ goes from being all about the preservation of the environment to being a straightforward sci-fi disaster story and then back again.
Probably the best eco-friendly sci-fi film you’ll ever see, “Silent Running” is thoughtful, interesting and features an amazing Bruce Dern performance.
★ ★ ★ ★