Soylent Green review

Banana Rating: 4 out of 5

Soylent Green is set in the year 2022. Back in 1973, that must’ve seemed pretty futur­istic, and yet close enough for the movie’s grim mes­sage to strike fear into the hearts of a cinema going public.

In some ways, it must also have been very reas­sur­ing. No mat­ter that the world, fifty years down the line, would turn to shit. The 1970s man about town could tug his little cap over his fringe, run a fin­ger across a smoothly pressed col­lar, pull a comb through his grizzled side­burns, and tie his necker­chief just so, secure in the know­ledge that his fash­ion sense would never fail him.

That’s not all. Where mobile phones are now com­mon­place, Soylent Green still has Charlton Heston using a land­line housed in a huge metal box fastened to a wall in the street.

We also see an “advanced” arcade machine, all black and white vec­tor graph­ics, and bleepy-bloopy sound effects, in a rich man’s apartment.

More relevant than ever

To be hon­est though, it’s almost too easy to laugh at sci­ence fic­tion movies that have become hideously dated by their choice of clothes and sur­round­ings. Their job isn’t really to pre­dict the minute detail of every­day life. I’d say that sort of thing is pretty impossible. What good sci­ence fic­tion can do, is look at where we are today, at what we’re doing wrong, and ima­gine the future con­sequences of that in a broader, big­ger pic­ture kind of way.

Soylent Green’s mes­sage is one of over­pop­u­la­tion, food short­ages, and global warm­ing. Stuff that’s still rel­ev­ant, if not more so, now that we’re closer to the year Soylent Green is set in.

Besides, look closer, and you’ll see that the sev­en­ties fash­ions are actu­ally hid­ing some pretty state of the art tech­no­logy, designed to com­bat the warmer tem­per­at­ures caused by man’s envir­on­mental med­dling. No, really.

The plot has prob­ably one of the most fam­ous twists in movie his­tory. A search on the inter­net for the movie’s title will quickly throw up the story’s last line, ruin­ing the twist in the pro­cess, so I’d advise against it if you’ve never seen the film. Even know­ing the out­come, there’s still lots to enjoy though.

Charlton Heston plays a cop who’s been sent to invest­ig­ate the murder of an exec­ut­ive of the Soylent com­pany in his plush apart­ment. Soylent pro­duces the veget­able wafers that help feed the mil­lions of starving people liv­ing in abject poverty. Whilst there, Heston’s cop ques­tions the live-in pros­ti­tute, charm­ingly referred to as “furniture”.

He also robs the apart­ment in front of the dead executive’s body­guard, stuff­ing a pil­low case with fruit, veget­ables, a slice of beef, a towel and bars of soap. What I like about this scene is that des­pite some ini­tial dis­agree­ment, the body­guard barely does a thing to stop him. Even if he repor­ted Heston, there’d be little in the way of reper­cus­sion. His super­i­ors prob­ably wouldn’t give a shit. It’s like there’s an under­stand­ing that times are ser­i­ously hard, real food and lux­ur­ies are scarce, so who can begrudge a cop for help­ing him­self? Heston even pops back later for cas­ual sex ses­sions with the apartment’s “fur­niture”, mak­ing sure to take advant­age of the shower facilities.

When it's gone, it's gone...

Soylent Green makes a big thing of the little things. Real food, hot run­ning water, elec­tric light­ing, and so on. But now only the mega rich can afford them in any quant­ity. Edward G. Robin­son, play­ing Heston’s old aged roomie, is shown an extremely rare, fresh slab of beef, only to break down in tears over the tragedy of it all, over everything that has been lost.

Even though the murder of the Soylent exec­ut­ive is the story’s primary thrust and the basis of the twist, for me, the film’s true centrepiece is the assisted sui­cide: beau­ti­ful, sad, and some­what dis­turb­ing, it helps to ham­mer home the mes­sage that we move through our mod­ern lives, tak­ing far too much of it for gran­ted. Only when it’s all gone, will we real­ise how good we had it.

And the Advanced Sweat Fil­tra­tion Sys­tem? I’m all over the pat­ent for that one!