Friday, June 4, 2010

Soylent Green

The movie Soylent Green came out in 1973 and is somewhat of an enigma. On the one hand, anyone who hears a synopsis of the plot might consider it to be a bit campy and even comical. An SNL skit at one point made some fully deserved fun of the closing cry of the film "Soylent green is people!", which sums up the solution to what starts as a murder investigation and encompasses the entire plot.

On the other hand, the ideas it dealt with and the way they were portrayed were way ahead of its time. It had an all star cast, with Charlton Heston in the lead role, and excellent direction considering the number of people involved in many of the scenes. But the images it presented were powerful enough that I remembered it long after watching it with my Dad as a kid. In a genre where ideas are key, it remains a significant contributor.

The movie deals primarily with the problem of overpopulation. It postulates a world where humans have either consumed or polluted most of the earth's natural resources. Animals are all but gone and what's left of agriculture is processed into little square packets by the Soylent corporation and rationed to the public. Only the rich can afford most of the items we take for granted, like liquor, soap, running water, fresh fruits and veggies, and most of all, space. Apartments are tiny and many people just sleep in the hallways of buildings after a strictly enforced curfew. Churches look like crisis centers filled with the sick and dying. Although not all the factors involved are revealed, the way the people simply accept the dirty, crowded conditions is quite haunting, as are the large tractors that come when food riots break out to literally scoop people off the street. Even books are rare as survival is the main concern of the population. The film's richness comes from the fact that almost every scene is filled with innuendo's that provide fascinating windows into this strange future. For example, we're treated to a first hand look at assisted suicide centers that allow the elderly to choose to die on their own terms in exchange for a full Disney style surround vision show of the most beautiful aspects of the world before it was destroyed by man. This is all played out without fanfare, no horrifying musical scores (except at the end), and no narration. In fact, there is a wonderful flash-forward sequence at the beginning to provide some sense of the stretch of time between today and this bleak future. It is done completely with a picture montage of real world images and music rather than narration as most directors might choose today. Of course, there is one thing I'd like to know - are the crowd control guards wearing football helmets to indicate the general economic hardship or because the film producers ran out of money?

So for a film that gets a lot of flack over its plot line, there is a lot there to make an impression and generate some meaningful discussion. Although it was loosely based on a book, many aspects of the story including the main plot idea were created in Hollywood, believe it or not. And there are a few wonderfully prescient elements here and there, like when Sol mentions the reason everything is so hot has to do with the Greenhouse effect (1973!). Another interesting tidbit is that Ed Robinson, the actor who played Sol, whose death in the film is quite central, died in reality in January of 1973, two weeks after finishing the film. There is also a nice cameo of Dick Van Patten and Star Trek fans will recognize the heavily accented voice of Celia Lovsky, who also played the Vulcan ambassador T'Pau in the episode Amok Time.

I used to have a free link for it, but now you have to pay to watch on youtube at this link. At least you can see the trailer for free.

1 comment:

  1. This movie was indeed ahead of its time. I saw it as a 14 year old kid and still have strong memories to some scenes.