Silent Running

Silent Running

Synopsis of Movie

The early 1970’s was a fascinating time for the science-fiction film. In this pre-blockbuster era, science fiction films had to rely on stories more than visual effects. One of the best examples of this trend was Silent Running, a subtle but effective cautionary tale that used a sci-fi scenario to comment on meaningful social and ecological issues.

Set in the year 2008, Silent Running revolves around a space station called Valley Forge. The ship gets its name from its contents, which happen to be the last surviving forests taken from the now-barren surface of the planet Earth. Freeman Lowell is among the crewmen who tend to these forests and care for them with the help of three robot drones dubbed Huey, Duey and Luie (intentionally spelled differently than the Disney ducks). Ever the dreamer, Freeman looks forward to the day when Valley Forge will receive the order to return home and replant Earth’s forests.

These hopes are dashed to pieces when the long-awaited orders finally come through, telling the crewmen to destroy the forests. Freeman can’t accept this and is forced into a showdown with the other crewmen, who want to follow the orders and return home. He successfully fights them off and moves the ship’s orbit off into deep space as he silences the ship’s radios. He has now gone into “silent running” and must keep the ship together while fighting the rigors of outer space and avoiding another ship sent out to destroy Valley Forge’s cargo.

Silent Running was the directorial debut of Douglas Trumbull, a visual effects designer who made his name by creating the mind-blowing visual effects for the classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. In this film, however, he downplayed visual effects wizardry in favor of a surprisingly moody and thoughtful story that was carried by Bruce Dern’s performance as the obsessed but honorable Freeman.

The imaginative script was crafted by a writing team that included Michael Cimino (The Deer Hunter) and Steven Bochco (creator of Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law). The film was also notable for avoiding the typical choice of a spacey musical score in favor of a folk-styled soundtrack by Joan Baez.

Silent Running used a desolate possible future to make commentary on the problems of how humanity behaves today, a trend reflected by other socially-minded early 1970’s sci-fi films like Zero Population Growth and Soylent Green. Its ecological and social themes still carry weight today, making it a favorite among fans of thought-provoking sci-fi and even inspiring other projects. Do the robots, Tom Servo and Crow, from Mystery Science Theater 3000 remind you of anything?

Movie Release History

1971 - Silent Running

Movie Sub Categories


Movie Studio



Freeman Lowell Bruce Dern
Wolf Cliff Potts
Barker Ron Rifkin
Keenan Jesse Vint

Other Movie Links