feedingbrett’s review published on Letterboxd:
Silent Running introduces it’s protagonist right out the gate through scenes of Bruce Dern as Freeman Lowell, interacting with flora and fauna, demonstrating a deep and significant connection that highlights the mutualistic relationship between man and nature. It is to one surprise that the film pulls away from this intimacy and reveals the saddening but wondrous outcome of not just Earth, but humanity itself. It is learned that nature no longer thrives in our planet’s habitat due to the inhospitable conditions that have emerged from the planet, a potential metaphor for climate change. Earth’s nature has been preserved and cultured in space via large spaceships that contain these specimens in isolated domes.
Lowell’s attachment to the necessity and beauty of nature is contrasted by the more ignorant, hostile, and indifferent crew mates, who lack insight into the significance of its preservation and thus frequently cause tension between them and Lowell. The recent announcement that was relayed to them that the domes must be detonated and to return the crew back to Earth without these specimens has caused a disappointment and frustration from Lowell, who eventually acts against his crew in order to ensure the safety of his forest.
The film’s environmental message is a fascinating one, wonderfully highlighting the downward trend between man’s relationship with nature and the frightening prognosis that nature has with the slowly evolving hostile conditions of our planet. It shoots for its high concept gracefully that fully realises the possibility of needing to embark on such an endeavour. It’s themes on environmentalism are amplified through the conflict that is raised between Lowell and the other crew, his passionate interaction with nature, the contrast between his relationship and the sterility and isolating aura that surrounds them, a distance between humans and technology.
Once Lowell begins to act against the crew, it is here where the film begins to lose its grips as the film then turns itself into an analysis of Lowell’s condition; a man who begins to suffer the consequences of his actions, in that loneliness, boredom, and aimlessness begins to consume his life, in which the film suddenly spaces itself from it’s driving point, the film’s environmental message. Sure, these areas do allow the character to grow in depth, but Trumbull and his writers could have allowed these moments to exist and still feel focused with the film’s initial intentions.
Just a few years after his successful collaboration with Stanley Kubrick in conceptualising and realising the visual effects of 2001: A Space Odyssey, this directorial debut once again showcases his talent for visuals as from the moment he introduces to his audiences the model designs of the ships that its characters inhabit, one cannot help but be in awe at the realism and intricacy that Trumbull and his team have provided for it. The film’s interior spaces may not deliver much to impress, but it is appropriate in the film’s emphasis on simplicity and sterility in order to contrast itself from the more organic outlook that exists within the ship’s domes.
Silent Running may disappoint some in the film’s lack of desperate urgency in its storytelling, but its high concept premise and resonating themes do allow the film to remain significant even through modern eyes. Trumbull may not carry a consistency in his storytelling after the film’s complication follow through, but it never reaches to a low point of dullness of dormancy that would infuriate or severely distance its viewer. Had the film been under the hands of a more seasoned, skilled and confident filmmaker while Trumbull remains concentrated on the visual department, then Silent Running may prove itself to be more impressive and impacting, but to reach for so would now be just wishful thinking, and the result that we were actually left with is not at all a tragic one, so I guess one can be happy about that.