Movie Review 2007 #55: Soylent Green

One of the reasons why the link on Making Light to the interesting a href=””>Paleo-Future blog was so resonant with me is that, yesterday, I watched a classic movie showing a dystopic future: Soylent Green.

Its more than just “Soylent Green: It’s People!”, although many people who have never seen this movie know that line and plot twist.
The movie, Edward G Robinson’s last, really focuses more on Heston’s Detective Thorn, a corrupt cop in an overcrowded and decaying New York City in a dying 2022. Pollution, Overpopulation and Global Warming(!) have done a number on America and the World, and things truly are falling apart. Real food is impossibly expensive, and even Detective Thorn takes the opportunity to snatch some on cases when possible.
And the population doesn’t know the half of it. Investigating the murder of a powerful board member of the Soylent Food Company gives us, and Thorn an entree into this unhappy world. Things are breaking down, power and resources scarce, and New York looks like a modern Calcutta in this grim film. Women that come as part of expensive apartments. “Furniture”. Its a nasty, unhappy, depressive movie.
And yet it is a classic. Why? Heston is pretty good as the corrupt cop who isn’t above stealing food from a dead rich man’s apartment, or even a spoonful of strawberry jam (understandable at $150 a jar!). Robinson is a tragic, pitable figure who remembers the world as it was–and laments what the world has become. The female lead, Leigh Taylor-Young, is luminous as Shirl.
But, maybe, the classic status the movie has is because the movie in the end doesn’t make compromises with itself or the audience. A modern remake probably would miss the point and have the hero save the world.But Soylent Green isn’t meant for the hero to save the world, its meant as a cautionary tale, for us. Our world, where Global Warming and Climate Change finally are sinking into people’s brains, is the target of the movie. Do something, or else this is our future, or a possible future. As it is, the movie and the book (Make Room! by Harry Harrison) miss some tricks. In such an overpopulated future, disease, I think, would be even more rampant, given the unsanitary conditions many people live in.
Not just to see Heston’s histrionic “Soylent Green is people!”, but in general, its worth a look.