By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: People are the food.
This Review May Contain Spoilers.
The year is 2022 and the world is so overpopulated that people must sleep on stairwells and hallways and fight over getting their hands on the one and only food source called Soylent Green. Thorn (Charlton Heston) works as a police detective and assigned to a case involving the investigation of the murder of William Simonson (Joseph Cotten) who worked as a board member to Soylent industries. Thorn is convinced that there is more to the killing than simply an in-home robbery, but finds as he pursues the case that others are trying to prevent him from continuing on it, which makes him more determined to find the answers and connect-the-dots.
We’ll get the elephant out of the room right away by divulging that Soylent Green is made up of people who are killed to feed the rest of the population. Normally that would be considered a ‘spoiler’, but this film has become so well known for this ‘twist’ it that it seems almost absurd to avoid giving it away. If that ruins the film for you then I apologize, but the truth is I knew going into this how it was going to end, due to watching one of many parodies done on the movie particularly a SNL skit from years back involving Phil Hartman, and yet I came away enjoying it anyways. Mostly what I liked was the film’s neo-futuristic look that combines old buildings with a mod image and an opening sequence, which is the best part of the movie, used over the credits that was done by filmmaker Charles Braverman and shows visually through rapid-fire photographs how the world came into its bleak situation.
I was also really impressed with Heston’s performance. He is not an actor I’ve particularly enjoyed as I feel he is routinely too stiff and conveys his lines in an overly dramatic way that is quite stagey and even hammy and yet here he portrays a rough-around-the-edges man quite well and I consider this one of his best performances.
This also marks the final film of screen legend Edward G. Robinson who died only 20 days after production was completed. The scene where he and Heston eat fresh food, which is something the characters hadn’t done in a long time due to its scarcity, was completely improvised, but an excellent and memorable moment. I did feel though that there needed to be a backstory about why these two men, who had such contrasting differences in age, were living together and the fact that at one point both men say that they ‘love’ the other made me wonder if it was implied that they were gay.
The ending isn’t bad and I liked the way Thorn investigates the inner workings of the Soylent factory with the only noise coming from the plant’s machinery and no music, which makes it creepier. It is mentioned earlier though that this plant is ‘highly guarded’ and yet he is able to get into it rather easily and he walks through it for quite a bit before he is spotted by anyone and even then the men aren’t armed, which makes it seem like it isn’t too well guarded at all. Also, I didn’t get why Thorn, who is quite jaded for the most part, would get so noble and heroic once he found out the plant’s secret and feel the need to ‘warn’ others. The world they live in is quite bleak, so what is he ‘saving’ them from anyways as some may actually choose death over the squalor that they were stuck in.
The ultimate logic to this ‘clever’ twist ending doesn’t hold up too well either. For instance the idea that the company would just kill a few people here and there wouldn’t be enough to keep up with the demand and at one point does the overpopulation begin to go down? If so many are supposedly being killed to feed the others then the crowding should lessen, which again only reiterates the fact that the filmmakers hadn’t completely thought this thing through and if anything the film should’ve used Thorn’s discovery as springboard to a more complex and intricate plot instead simply relying on it as a ‘shock’ ending.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: May 9, 1973
Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes
Director: Richard Fleischer
Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube
The implication is that the source of the cadavers that are processed into Soylent Green is the euthanasia center where Edward G. Robinson goes to die: that’s why there isn’t enough Soylent Green to go around.
An atmosphere redolent of Blade Runner. The secret is hardly dire; it’s not like they are killing people for food, but live Survive…
Sol is a “book”, either briefly explained or at least alluded to as a resourceful and educated sidekick to Thorn’s detective. I seem to recall that each detective in the movie has access to the service of such a fellow.
Re: whether or not Soylent will address the overpopulation, IIRC “Green” was being hyped as simply joining the other Soylent “colors” as a new variety. Bigger truth, as exposed in Sol’s visit to the library and his acquisition of the Soylent Corp.’s documentation, there did not remain sufficient processable material to provide adequate food for the world’s population, so Green was being made from humans themselves. Regardless of whether or not there would *now* “be enough”, or whether it would help abate the overpopulation, would be secondary to the idea that the human race had now been reduced to feeding upon itself for its own survival.
I did feel though that there needed to be a backstory about why these two men, who had such contrasting differences in age, were living together and the fact that at one point both men say that they ‘love’ the other made me wonder if it was implied that they were gay.
That is really bad analysis; Thorn has sex with (the female) Shirl halfway through the film in the shower at Simonson’s apartment.
They were living together because they were book and detective; and needed to be in close proximity one to another for the utilitarian purpose of expediting the solving of homicides.
There are no emails or voice mails or even phones in 2022; except for a limited number of phones used for “official” purposes; such as when Thorn called Hatcher for help; a special call box with a code needed.
Moreover; the cost of living is off the charts; and housing almost non existent; see all the people sleeping in the stairway leading up to Thorne’s apartment. Between their two salaries; they probably had just barely enough to pay the rent on their crappy little apartment.
Lastly; Sol is less than 20 minutes from leaving the world when Thorne and he say they “love” one another.
Oh my! What a horrific crime against humanity; for best friends to say goodbye for the last time with the word “love”!
The Collective Conscious is intensely sick and it shall take a solid three generations to undue the Mind Wipe y’all is under…
Also, I didn’t get why Thorn, who is quite jaded for the most part, would get so noble and heroic once he found out the plant’s secret and feel the need to ‘warn’ others
The ultimate logic to this ‘clever’ twist ending doesn’t hold up too well either. For instance the idea that the company would just kill a few people here and there wouldn’t be enough to keep up with the demand and at one point does the overpopulation begin to go down? If so many are supposedly being killed to feed the others then the crowding should lessen,
No one is being killed or murdered; it is voluntary euthanasia; that is assisted suicide; and it is legal I believe in some parts of “real” 2021 America (Oregon?).
Then the suicides are converted into Soylent crackers / wafers.
So it is the cannibalism part that fuels Thorn’s revulsion; as everyone knew (and more or less accepted) the assisted suicide facilities / Going Home.
Moreover though the film was set in 2022; it was made in 1973; and cannibalism was probably viewed in a far more unfavorable and hideous light than here when you are penning your review; scores of things that would have been deemed unspeakable abominations 50 years afore have been normalized in the Collective Mind by the early 21st century; and that includes yours. Man has a marvelous capacity to rationalize (Rational Lies!) away all his atrocities. The film – maker probably did not fully grasp this dynamic of moral devolution in full; rather concentrating on its economic and physical aspects.
Lastly; Thorne notes the slippery slope in the denouement.
“Next thing they will be breeding us like cattle for food!”
He is of course correct; as Joseph Conrad presciently noted:
“The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.”
Just look out your window!
I knew the twist in advance too thanks to Phil Hartman. I learned later on that it wasn’t in the original novel. Finally seeing the film in this century, and Heston’s delivery of one of the most unforgettable quotes in sci-fi history, was like knowing it for the first time and it was quite an impact. Thanks for your review.