Silkwood – Oklahoma, Radiation & Cher
This 1983 film is Streep’s first role portraying a character based on a real person. The movie not only shows the series of events which lead up to Karen Silkwood’s death, but also examines the dynamics of her relationships, the rural life of small town Oklahoma and the work environment in a nuclear rod factory.
There is a similarity (at least superficially) between the restlessness of Karen Silkwood and Susan Traherne (in Plenty) and they both seek a variety of men to balm their dissatisfaction with their situations. Karen has a live-in boyfriend (Kurt Russell) in the movie but it is obvious that there have been many men in her past and she does go outside her relationship with her boyfriend Drew while she is out of town working with her union contacts. There is a point in the movie where Drew becomes aware of her outside involvement and he is justifiably upset by it. Karen mentions that there is someone she hasn’t told Drew about – it made me wonder if she had been upfront about what she’d done if he would have understood. – hey, I met this guy and we hooked up but I don’t feel anything for him.
I found the Middle America aspect of the film to be kind of an eye-opener. I know there are many small towns where the majority of the people who live there rely on one industry or factory as the main employer. Knowing everybody’s business (and all of them knowing yours) is probably overrated. It’s a very encapsulated culture and probably a lot like living in a perpetual high school environment. Interestingly enough, none of the movie was shot in Oklahoma where Karen’s story takes place.
I thought Cher was wonderful character in this movie and played her part very convincingly. I never did completely understand why her character chose to turn against Karen at the end other than maybe she felt (as Drew did) that Karen’s main priority had turned to her work with the union people and she felt less valued as a friend.
Nuclear energy and radiation is just scary and I can’t imagine what it’s like to work in an environment where not only is one exposed to radiation, but that there is such a thing as an acceptable level of exposure. I did find it ironic that the most of the main characters smoked like chimneys yet worried about getting cancer from their exposure to radiation – duh! smoking causes cancer to guys!
You know, Meryl Streep is a smoker in a lot of her movies. I don’t get the impression that she partakes in real life (I’m just surmising of course), but I wonder if it’s been difficult to stay off the smokes when she’s either not working on a smoking part or doing voice-overs. I also wonder if she’s ever pushed back on a part that calls for smoking. Frankly, I think cigarettes are used too much in modern movies, especially in a society that seems to be (ever so slowly) moving away from the habit.
This movie made a valid point about workplace safety (though I couldn’t figure out the point of the funny head coverings) and I think most businesses have improved their safety requirements to protect their workers.
Karen Silkwood’s separation from her children was a bitter aspect of the story and I wondered why she didn’t attempt to move closer to her children so that she could see them more often. Maybe it was a simple as not being able to find work near enough to them to make it worthwhile or sadder still, just too hard to pick up and make the move.
I chose not to add this movie to my collection and rented it from Netflix instead. It is a movie you should take the opportunity to watch. Given our current economic situation, I wouldn’t be surprised if there aren’t many people living in depressed circumstances and who would be more than willing to work in a risky environment in order to have a job. Streep gave an outstanding performance. Doesn’t she always?