Sometime in the future something has happened on Earth causing issues with the balance of nature, in order to preserve the woodlands and fields a series of bio-domes have been set up in space where a small number of crew maintain these islands of nature waiting for their call back to help reforest the planet when it is ready. Aboard the US Valley Forge is Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern - The Cowboys) who after 8 years of tending to the forest in his bio-dome believes he and his 3 crew mates are on the verge of being recalled to start the reforestation. Except when the call comes it is not as he hoped and he along with his crew mates are ordered to destroy the forests he has cared for, leading him to some tough choices.
That probably sounds like 1972 sci-fi movie "Silent Running" is all about the environment and trying to preserve it. And in a way it starts of as such as we listen to Lowell preach to his crew mates who eat synthetic foods and look at their time aboard the Valley Forge as a holiday where they shoot pool, play cards and mess about on buggies. In fact it is less than subtle in preaching about the importance of having to protect nature for future generations who may never get to feel a leaf fall on them from a tree.
But the thing is that whilst "Silent Running" starts off with this heavy environmental message which when accompanied by a Joan Baez soundtrack feels almost hippy-ish it's not really about that. Instead "Silent Running" becomes all about the madness brought on by loneliness as Lowell's reactions to the orders to destroy the forests leads him to some desperate actions. And as such we watch as he ends up alone, with just 3 drone robots as his companions and finding the lack of human contact changing him. We see him start to treat the drones as if they were human, naming them and bonding with them as if they were people even teaching them to play cards. But we also see how despite his best efforts to create a quasi-normal life he starts doing strange things as loneliness sets in.
It is quite fascinating as we watch Lowell spiral into a state bordering on madness, manically laughing when one of the drones actually grasps how to play cards. And at the same time we also watch how he is haunted by the actions he took when the order came in to destroy the forests which he had become a father to. It does occasionally become a little cheesy, especially when ever we have scenes featuring rabbits but still it remains a fascinating look at a man who finds his solitary existence driving him mad.
Now "Silent Running" is a futuristic movie made in 1972 and you have to allow for the fact that it looks dated especially compared to today's CGI enhanced adventures. But for a movie made on a low budget the simple futuristic look aboard the US Valley Forge is nicely done with most of the effects done in real time rather than post edit. And you will love watching the 3 drones who I reckon must have been an inspiration for ET in the way they shuffle from one place to another.
Aside from the 3 drones "Silent Running" is a movie all about Bruce Dern as Lowell and Dern does a nice job. He plays Lowell very nervously but I sense intentionally so because it adds to that element of being space crazy, yet at the same time you can understand that his connection with the forest he has cared for has driven him to be the way he is.
What this all boils down to is that "Silent Running" is a surprisingly interesting movie which may look like a 70s sci-fi movie about the environment but turns into a movie all about what loneliness does to one man. It is dated but strangely none of that matters and for a sci-fi movie it has great heart.