Friday, 18 April 2014
Silent Running (1972)
So, nearly forty years before Avatar was boring me with its "Dances with Wolves In Blue" narrative and blighting the entire movie industry with an obsession for 3D, this film was also doing the whole heavy-handed environmentalist message thing. Or was it?
Silent Running is widely identified as an environmentalist film, and it certainly has an environmentalist as its main character, but Downfall has Hitler as its main character and it's not like that's a Nazi-friendly movie.
In the distant future, there is no natural biodiversity remaining on Earth. The place doesn't seemed to be some blasted hellhole, mind you. We hear that it's '75 degrees all the time' (that's 24 Celsius for those of us on a sane system), that no-one goes hungry, and that everyone has a job.
You'd think that everyone would be happy enough with that, but our main character, Lowell, is not. He thinks that modern life is insipid and bland and uniform, and aches to restore 'real food' and real parks to the world. He's been part of a multi-year mission to generate seed stock for just such a project, and has high hopes that they will soon begin the final stage and return to Earth.
Instead, the project is cancelled, and all six of Lowell's meticulously-tended biodomes are slated for destruction. He goes a little nutty as this process progresses, murders the other three crew, and attempts to flee into deep space with the single remaining dome.
So is this an environmentalist film? I don't think it's unequivocably so. It's true that Lowell makes several impassioned speech about the importance of plants and animals and the natural, rather than artificial, world. But it's also true that the world he is railing against doesn't sound that bad. And there's also the fact that he ultimately forms a much stronger emotional connection to the robot drones that tend the ship than he ever did to his living human colleagues. Not to mention that the 'natural' world of the biodome is as artificial as the Earth he hates.
This is a slow-paced film, and one that I don't think actually presents a very clear argument one way or another. But in some ways, that ambiguity is kind of what made it interesting to watch.