Silkwood (1983)

The protagonist of Mike Nichols' “Silkwood” is an ordinary but unconventional woman, Karen Silkwood (Meryl Steep), the nuclear plant worker, who died in 1974 under mysterious circumstances, on her way to meet a N.Y. Times journalist with a confidential report.

Working as a lab technician at Kerr-McGee nuclear plant in Cimarron, Oklahoma, Karen Silkwood is a distraught, selfish mother, who has left her three children in Texas. Imperfect and reckless, she is flighty, free-living, devil-may-care woman (she defiantly bares a breast in front of her male workers). But like Norma Rae, another working class heroine in a popular film (of the same title), Karen is capable of changing. Once she becomes aware of her exposure to poison, she transforms from a careless woman to one with an acute political consciousness, a worthy individual capable of thinking and acting for herself. Through strength of character, Karen becomes a heroine, though in her personal life she continues to be “nontraditional,” a woman with “loose” morality.

In one of his stronger performances, Kurt Russell plays Karen's live-in boyfriend, Drew Stephens, who at first resents her political involvement. Cher plays Karen's lesbian roommate and friend Dolly Pelliker, a working-class woman, who carries on an affair with Angela (Diana Scarwid). Cher's gutsy turn, which was Oscar-nominated, exceeds her acting in the comedy “Moonstruck,” for which she won the Best Actress Oscar four years later.

“Silkwood” signaled Mike Nichols absence from direction in eight years, since the disastrous response to “The Fortune,” starring Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty.

Oscar Nominations: 5

Director: Mike Nichols
Screenplay (Original): Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen
Actress: Meryl Streep
Supporting Actress: Cher
Film Editing: Sam O'Steen

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

In 1983, the big Oscar winner was “Terms of Endearment,” which received Best Picture, Director for James L. Brooks, and Best Actress for Shirley MacLaine.

The winner of the Original Screenplay Oscar was Horton Foote for “tender Mercies.” Linda Hunt won the Supporting Actress for “The Year of Living Dangerously.” The Editing Oscar went to the team of “The Right Stuff,” which included Glenn Farr, Lisa Fruchtman, Stephen A. Rotter, Douglas Stewart, and Tom Rolf.