Soylent Green (1973)

soylant green

“Next thing they’ll be breeding us like cattle for food!”

The Scoop: 1973, directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young, Chuck Conners and Edward G. Robinson

Tagline: It’s the year 2022… People are still the same. They’ll do anything to get what they need. And they need SOYLENT GREEN.

Summary Capsule: Well it’s 2022 and people are not quite the same; at least not in the showered, healthy, non-cannibalistic sense of the word.

Heather’s rating: Mmmmm…..*chomp* *smack*……what?

Heather’s review: Futurama’s food of choice is a huge part of pop culture; even if a person has never seen this film before, the grisly truth behind Soylent Green’s true contents is well-known. The movie and its “secret” are referenced numerous times in media, used by Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xenogears, Left 4 Dead 2, The Simpsons and by  singer/songwriter Jonathon Coulton. The most famous example is when the late Phil Hartman melodramatically cried out “Soylent Green is made out of people! It’s peeoopllleeeee!” in an SNL skit, cementing the phrase into America’s lexicon.

All of that goes to say that this review of a nearly forty-year-old movie makes no apologies for the spoilers.

Soylent Green (Soylent being a mashing together of “soya” and “lentil”) is based on a 1966 novel by Harry Harrison titled Make Room! Make Room! The film takes liberties with the plot, most notably with the introduction of cannibalism as a solution to the food shortage. Still, the movie gets the book’s message across: Protect our environment and its resources.

Picture it: New York, 2022, population 40 million. The world is a lovely shade of brownish-olive, people eat square-shaped pieces of chemically processed food and they’re thankful for what they have! That is until Soylent Green, the newest and most palatable energy-filled foodstuff, comes along. It’s so much better than Soylent Red or Yellow. Why, it’s gathered from the oceans of the world! It’s plankton and stuff! Sadly, amidst all this utopian living lies a dark and dreary secret.

The movie starts us off with a murder almost immediately. I tell ‘ya, there’s nothing like a meat hook to the back of someone’s head to pull me in to the story. Our hero, Detective Ty Thorn (Heston), is called in to investigate and finds himself in one of New York’s most high-class living spaces. It turns out the decadent apartment, complete with real food like apples and beef and a live-in “furniture” girl, belonged to a high-ranking member of the Soylent Company board. From the moment he steps in (and helps himself to the dead guy’s goods) Thorn suspects this was an assassination rather than a burglary, as everyone around him would have him to believe. Eventually his hunches lead him and his best friend and mentor Sol, one of the few humans alive that remembers life before the world went from bad to worse, to a horrifying conclusion about the Soylent corporation’s ideas about nutrition.

I’ve read other reviews saying that the movie didn’t age well.  I wholeheartedly agree, just not with the way every else means it.  As far as the visuals go there is very little that didn’t age well.  This movie doesn’t fall into that trap of trying too hard to visualize a bunch of ridiculous technologies, like homes where your kitchen makes dinner for you, or flying cars making margaritas (not that those things don’t sound great).  The only vehicles about are a few very normal-looking garbage trucks, and the housing doesn’t look much different from something you would find in Los Angeles. For the most part the outfits are pretty normal.  No PVC, no winged shoulder pads, and not a toga in sight. There’s the usual ’70s rich-people-wear-pastel-sitting-on-bulbous-white-furniture, but otherwise the world SG creates is something we in 2010 can easily imagine.

No, it’s not the visuals that bother me. What bothers me about this and other movies in the seventies is the horribly sluggish way the story moves along. Most of the time I watch movies from that decade and feel like I could have skipped through the first 3/4 of it and been just fine.  It doesn’t help that, as much good talent as there was in this film, that darned old seventies-itis strikes again and makes nearly everyone talk and interact with each other as if they’re in a drug-induced stupor. I’m trying so hard not to make a seventies drug use joke here.

Soylent Green isn’t a great movie, but it’s a sci-fi classic with an important message to send, which it pulls off in a way that doesn’t make you feel as if you were just forced to sit through an educational film at school.  With 12 years left ’til the time in which the movie was set, we’re definitely nowhere near the problems that it portrays. Still, with an ever-growing population’s demand for fast, cheap food we’re living in a time where one has to travel to special stores and pay grossly high prices to buy food that isn’t chemically processed in some way. It makes one think.

“It says here that red dye is made from… oh come on!

Intermission!

  • Charles is easily one of the stupidest-looking characters I’ve seen in a movie.
  • The inviting friendliness of the door girl for the assisted suicide clinic was just creepy. Brr.
  • According to the director’s commentary, Eddie’s wife, who was at the set every day during lunch to check on her extremely ill husband, declined to watch him filming his death scene.
  • NON-CANNIBALISM-RELATED SPOILERS!  Charlton Heston’s tears during the scene where Sol “goes home” were real. Eddie had confided in Charles the severity of his condition shortly the scene was filmed. END NON-CANNIBALISM-RELATED SPOILERS!
  • Every good sci-fi movie needs at least one railing kill!
  • This was the last film to be made on the back lot of MGM studios.
  • This was Edward G. Robinson’s last film (his 101st, actually).  He died of cancer 12 days after it was finished.
  • Mr. Robinson almost entirely deaf by the time of the movie’s shooting. He had to memorize his and everyone else’s lines, as well as the timing, perfect to get it right.
  • The first time we see Shirl (the “furniture”) she’s playing a video game. I like her.

Groovy Quotes:

[Commercial announcement]
Richard: …is brought to you by Soylent red and Soylent yellow, high energy vegetable concentrates, and new, delicious, Soylent green. The miracle food of high-energy plankton gathered from the oceans of the world.

Gilbert: [hesitating before killing Simonson] Uh… they told me to uh… to say that they were sorry, but that you had become… unreliable.
Simonson: That’s true.
Gilbert: They can’t risk, uh… catastrophe, they say.
Simonson: They’re right.
Gilbert: Then, uh… this is right?
Simonson: No, not right… Necessary.
Gilbert: To who?
Simonson: To… God.

Det. Thorn: You know, there are 20 million guys out of work in Manhattan alone just waiting for my job.

Det. Thorn: [Det. Thorn takes a cigarette from one of the girls at the party and smokes it] You know if I had the money I would smoke two… three of these every day.

Hatcher: And what about the furniture?
Det. Thorn: [motions to chest] Like grapefruit.
Hatcher: [chuckles] You never saw a grapefruit.
Det. Thorn: You never saw her.

Det. Thorn: [inquiring about her incinerator] Used it lately?
Martha Phillips: It doesn’t work.
Det. Thorn: What does?

Sol: There was a world, once, you punk.
Det. Thorn: Yes, so you keep telling me.
Sol: I was there. I can prove it.
Det. Thorn: I know, I know. When you were young, people were better.
Sol: Aw, nuts. People were always rotten. But the world ‘was’ beautiful.

Sol: [after reading the Soylent report] Good God!
Exchange Leader: What God, Mr. Roth? Where will we find him?
Sol: Perhaps at home…
[with resignation]
Sol: Yes, at home.

Det. Thorn: Who bought you?
Hatcher: You’re bought as soon as they pay you a salary.

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • Blade Runner
  • The Omega Man
  • Silent Running

5 comments

  1. i knew about ‘soylent green’ years before seeing this movie.
    but even if i hadn’t i probably would have pieced it together after the first half hour (based on obvious clues in the movie, and the generally bleak tone of ’70’s science-fiction)

    so is there anybody who watched this movie who did not know ‘soylent green is PEOPLE!!’ untill the movie throws it in their viewers faces?

  2. I felt the same way when I fist saw the movie. I tend to feel that way about many movie with a twist that I already know about, though.

  3. I think I first saw this in about 1975 or so when I was 10 and it was on TV. I loved the scoops! They were both cool and scary.

    To me the most shocking part about the end was not that Charlton Heston found out what Soylent Green was, but that he shouted it out and the whole world found out. It was the psychological factor that had the most impact.

    That stupid scarf around Heston’s neck really bugs me. Ascots were apparently a big thing in the 60s and early 70s, but you need a nice shirt and a coat for an ascot, and even then they’re totally dorky. Heston looked like he was doing a failed attempt at a “cowboy on the range” look. I hope the costume designer got smacked in the head.

    In the year 2020 in Bladerunner the world was incredibly advanced and well-off. Most of the people had left to join the off-world colonies. The people left behind were the dregs, but they certainly didn’t turn the dead into crackers.

  4. I wonder; are we meant to think that Thorn’s proclamation as he is being carried out of the shelter will affect anything? Or will most people be too caught up in simply trying to survive?

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