Anthony's Film Review

Soylent Green (1973)

Soylent Green presents a crime mystery in the context of an interesting sci-fi premise...

The first scene of the 1973 movie Soylent Green looks like it comes straight out of a convincing documentary about human overpopulation. It presents a series of images at a variable pace, without any narration to tell us what we're seeing since the pictures speak for themselves. First, you have a few old images related to farming and simpler technology for that purpose. Then you have pictures of automobiles, highways with heavy traffic, and other signs of upward human population growth. Finally, you see stuff related to massive overpopulation, such as piles of waste and dense urban landscapes. Overall, this sequence effectively sets the stage for Soylent Green: the year 2022, in New York City, where the population is 40 million.

Plenty of scenes in this movie depict overpopulation at its worst. In many apartment buildings, stairwells are full of homeless people sleeping on their steps. Yeah, that's how bad the population problem is. There are also scenes of crowds waiting in line for food rations, particularly on Tuesday that is designated Soylent Green Day, when people receive portions of a food product called Soylent Green whose nutrition derives from plankton. It's an interesting concept, because plankton is so abundant in the ocean that it might be the only way to sustain the world's human population, whatever the astronomical figure is.

Given that this movie is science-fiction, I was pleased to see a couple of things that make this fictional story more sensational without being too implausible for real life. I'll just describe two of them. There's one scene where an angry crowd begins to get out of control, and one way to deal with this involves a rather inhumane method: trucks scooping up clusters of people and dumping them into their bins. The ultimate fate of these victims may not be clear right away, but one cannot feel chills while watching this scene. The other interesting scene has an opposite tone. There is a place where one can "go home," or die peacefully. Imagine going into a nice quiet room, drinking a lethal but painless concoction, and spending the last few minutes of your life listening to pleasant music and watching beautiful panoramic images of nature. It's such an interesting scene that I cannot help but wonder if assisted suicide just like in this movie can be widely acceptable in real life.

I spent a somewhat considerable amount of time talking about the setting. That's because it's really the most admirable part of the movie. Soylent Green does have a plot and characters, but they are developed on a basic level. That's OK, because all they do is give us a reason to explore this fictional world. Basically, Charlton Heston is a New York detective named Thorn, who investigates the murder of a businessman named William Simonson, who is connected to the Soylent Corporation that makes Soylent Green. At first, it seems like a case of murder as part of a home robbery. But Thorn suspects something more sinister than just a random crime.

Sure enough, Thorn's investigation leads him into Simonson's business practices. The story also includes a couple of other interesting characters, include Leigh Taylor-Young as a lovely woman named Shirl, Simonson's bodyguard played by Chuck Connors, and a close friend named Sol Roth who is played memorably by Edward G. Robinson in his final film appearance. The various supporting characters provide support or conflict for Thorn, so that his investigation either moves forward or is threatened by people who want to silence him. Even if, like me, you don't think the plot is too spectacular, don't worry. The shocking revelation late in the movie is still worth it.

I'm one of those people who watched Soylent Green knowing already how it ends, because that plot twist and its associated quote are known well enough even to those who haven't seen it. But that didn't stop me from enjoying the movie, which I think is certainly a good one. It's one of those science-fiction movies that takes a real-life issue and presents a possible dark scenario that stems from it. That is the thrill of sci-fi after all: imagining the possibilities. Speaking of possibilities, here's a rather funny question. What does Soylent Green taste like? Is it sweet or salty, and does it go well with any other particular food? Yes, even after watching this movie and knowing what it's made of, it is amusing to wonder what it must be like to live on an overpopulated Earth relying on that food product whose name sort of has a nice ring to it.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about Soylent Green, visit the Internet Movie Database.


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