"While the world keeps spinning
I will go
Right after his groundbreaking work on Stan Kubrick's 2001 special effects, Douglas Trumbull followed with Silent Running, his first feature as a director. With the same flair for "ships and space", a magic we still witness today in such movies and programs like Battlestar Galactica or Sunshine, Silent Running echoes the wakening green concern of the seventies, while addressing the issue of radical action.
Four men are stuck together, carrying what's left of earth's ecosystem in large spaceships. And only one cares about the stakes involved. Released in 1972, Silent Running is the perfect junction between the rise of the New Hollywood in the sixties and the 10 years "space fare" gap that separates 2001 and Star Wars. This interesting mix of "fantasy" and social comment is the trademark of other american movies of the era, such as Soylent Green (Richard Fleischer, 1973), Rollerball (Norman Jewison, 1975), Slaughterhouse 5 (George Roy Hill, 1972) and, to some extent, Death Race 2000 (Paul Bartel, 1975).
And not only Silent Running marks the debut of Douglas Trumbull as a director, but it serves equallly as a step up for Michael Cimino, who's sharing a writing credit here, along Deric Washburn, who will later participate in the writing of his own The Deer Hunter (1978) and Steven "NYPD BLUE" Bochco.
The tribute of loneliness
According to some of Imdb's movie boarders, the title of the movie, among other interpretations, could be a nod to Silent Spring, a book by ecologist author Rachel Carson, who is said to be at the core of environmental awareness. And the movie adresses topics and issues such as green activism, radicalism and even some subtle rant toward the Vietnam conflict. When his command tells our man that he is going to die alone in space, the faceless "leader" voice congratulates him, "You're a hell of a good american", mocking patriotism as Lowell responds, with a pause "Thank you Sir... I think I am".
After repeated viewings, I found it quite clear that the central character, Freeman Lowell, as well as the story itself, announces Cimino's next works. After first viewing, I took Lowell as a kind of heroic figure that is forced to go to murderous lenghts to protect what's most important to him, as was Jeff Spender's character in The Martian Chronicles, when he decides to kill his fellow comrads in order to protect the martian heritage. But I doubt Spender, through his radical actions, would ever regret anything. Unlike Freeman who finally tells us, in substance "I have killed these men for my belief. But now I am alone with guilt". Loners whose ideals are shattered by radical actions and loss are what James Averill and Stanley White are all about, respectively in Heaven's Gate (1980) and The Year of the Dragon (1985), while the environmental concern is felt through some road movie parts of Thunderbolt & Lightfoot (1974), the "royal hunt" sequence in the Deer Hunter (1978) and the Native American theme of his latest film to date, Sunchaser (1996).
Silent Running's legacy
Recently, as environmental awareness took the center stage, there has been quite a few movies, and good ones too, including Sunshine (Danny Boyle) and Moon (Duncan Jones, 2009) trying to recapture Silent Running's blend of "futurism" and comment, while Ron Moore's politically charged Battlestar Galactica makeover quotes it explicitly. If the original itself would seem a bit outdated (the costumes, hairdos and the look of the robots) its original touch of being naive, even children oriented - the original songs by Joan Baez help this way- and very "critical" at the same time, makes it an interesting offspring of the counterculture era, and a lasting seed.
INSERT The most wonderful movie poster ever made?
This poster is sublime and sums up the movie themes and sets perfectly. While the main character is planting some seed, surrounded by foliage, his demeanour and the look on his face suggests the trouble on his mind, while the broken pot on his side is another hint at his tragic actions: something has been or will be going awry. In the background, there are at least two perspective layers that beautifully showcases the general space sets of the action... as well as reflecting his loneliness.
Silent Running board on Imdb:
Rachel Carlson's Silent Spring wiki: