… Valley Forge

Silent Running (1972) Dir. Douglas Trumbull
Spoilers!

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What is the priority: the man or the Nature? Should one be saved at the cost of the other? Can one survive without the other?

A tree-hugging hippie astronaut Freeman (Bruce Stern) tries to save forests placed under domed glasshouses attached to his spaceship called Valley Forge. The official orders from the earth state the domes are to be blown up. Freeman’s mission is being cut short. He and his crew can finally go home. Unlike his three fellow astronauts, Freeman is devastated by the news. There are no more forests and Nature on earth since it turned into a colorless, tasteless wasteland where every place is exactly the same with identical temperature and climate. Being a sole caretaker of the forests, a glorified ranger, one might add, he opposes the destruction of the space forests. He prioritizes the Nature and refuses to follow the orders.

I’m wondering why Freeman was chosen to go on a mission like this. There are stark differences between him and his colleagues. Characterized by his ruffled long hair, big blue passionate eyes, and flower power attitudes, he couldn’t be more unlikely to be an astronaut. He talks to his trees and bunnies, and goes on long runts about the beauty of Nature. And every single time he is being sneered and laughed at by the astronauts. He eats only the produce he grows himself (he’s probably a vegetarian since he’s never seen killing his precious bunnies), whereas they eat chunky artificial-looking food sput out by the food machined. Finally, there is the biggest difference between them: he is willing to sacrifice a lot, including his own life, while they just want to follow orders and go home.

It seems then that the Nature is the priority here. Yet the story talks about the humanity more than about the Nature. In desperation Freeman manages to save one last glasshouse by killing all of his colleagues. At first, he seems relieved, but then the guilty conscience and images of the dead astronauts catch up with him. The other thing haunting him is his loneliness. Before he could at least argue with the other guys or play poker with them. Now, he’s all alone in the endless space. He transfers his feelings into the drones. Quite significantly, the three drones symbolize the three dead astronauts — mindless, soulless, sent into space to blindly follow orders. Little by little, Freeman customizes them to assist him in maintaining the forest, healing his wounds, or even play poker with him. He changes their names into more “human-like.” Curiously, the drones do not behave like machines programmed to perform tasks, but more like living, reasoning, feeling creatures. We can almost sense sadness in the two drones (Huey and Dewey) when the third drone is smashed to pieces in an accident. They are more human than the astronauts. Freeman even addresses them with a kind of affection, the very affection he lacked when talking to his colleagues.

Before the ending we see Freeman is really fighting for his humanity. Yes, he sacrifices his own life, but before that he teaches Dewey how to take care of the forests and somehow transfer his human behaviors into the drone. By preserving the last existing forest under the supervision and protection of the robot, he preserves the last existing human emotions and reactions. He knows the drone will protect the forest, something he cannot be sure of when it comes to people on earth.

Long days, pleasant nights,

Veronica Bazydlo

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