Film Review: Silent Running

Every week I listen to Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo witter on about everything film in the BBC’s flagship film podcast whilst I do the housework. And last Friday while hoovering the lounge they started to talk about Wall-E and how, the opening half an hour is actually just nothing more than a rebranding of the film Silent Running. Now I must admit, I’d never actually heard of Silent Running, but I have heard, seen and own Wall-E a film I really enjoy, and when I discovered Bruce Dern took the lead role in Silent Running I was sold, the idea of revisiting my DVD collection rather than buying new had lasted all of about 48 hours!

And that was how I went into this film, knowing only that the it starred Bruce Dern and that the plot was essentially the beginning of Wall-E. In one respect being that blind of what’s about to happen can be a good thing, you go in without expectation, without predujice. Sometimes though, the idea of borrowed connections can distort what you expect. And I think the idea of a link to Wall-E meant I thought the connection would be stronger than it turns out to be.

The argument that the films are essentially the same, is in my view stretching the truth a little. They aren’t the same, they aren’t really connected, they just share an idea, they are essentially a stereoscopic view of an environmental issue. Wall-E is tasked with searching a baron and desolate Earth for proof of life, Bruce Dern is tasked with protecting life and nurturing fauna to repopulate a baron but managed Earth. I can see why people make the connection, but it’s like saying an extra strong mature cheddar is the same as a creamy french brie simply because they are both cheese.

Once I’d got my head around the fact that this isn’t really Wall-E and accepted that I couldn’t compare the films, I started to view Silent Running in a different light. I just sat back and let the film draw me in rather than try to pull anything directly from it. And sadly, that approach just left me more and more confused as the film went on. To begin with Freeman Lowell – Bruce Dern – is on board the ship with 3 polar opposite crewmen. Crew who are so opposite that you can’t help but wonder exactly why the 4 of them were teamed up. They just don’t seem to get on, they just don’t fit together and it causes you question, not why they are in the situation they are in, but rather how they haven’t managed to kill each other yet. The interactions between the characters has more power in proving Lowells’ self control rather than any insightful story telling.

And as the film progresses, once the orders to destroy all plant life arrive and once you take the other crew members out of the equation, the film does improve, but not enough to really make me enjoy it. Once Lowell becomes alone with nothing but the drones from company this film suddenly develops the potential to be very strong, to be capable of asking and answering some fundamental questions of what it means to be human, what it means to be alone and the lengths a man can go, mentally and physically on his own and for how long, before falling off the cliff, before going insane. Instead though we get a film, which while Dern puts in a stunning performance, sadly lacks the depth or strength of it’s own convictions. It never pushes the boundaries with it’s plot. There is a real sense that this film lacked the courage to really get tough, to grab the audience and give them a damn good shake. And that’s such a shame.

I am convinced though that these problems come about because of the script which feels under developed. There is a slight elementary sense the style in which it’s written and the watered-down answers to the few questions it poses mean that as the film moves forward, and the pacing is OK, you become less and less bothered about the path the story is taking. I actually found myseld pulling completely way from the film. The longer it went on, the more I found it dull and almost at times boring, because the ideas on which everything is based are just too simple. Nothing really happens, life ticks by and because Lowell has been isolated, the script is withdrawn to such an extent that what little dialogue is left doesn’t have the power to linger with you for more than a fleeting moment. There could have been a powerful, thought provoking film about what it means to be human, the lengths you can go to protect that core and how isolation and madness are directly linked; but instead we got a film that is one big corporate advert with a message about plants tacked onto it.

I think in future I’ll stick to Wall-E

4 out of 10 stars (4 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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