‘Soylent Green’ was a 1973 dystopian science fiction film taking place in the year 2022. It was directed by the late-great Richard Fleischer and released through MGM Studios.
New York Police Detective Frank Thorn (Charlton Heston) is assigned to investigate the death of wealthy Soylent Industries executive William R. Simonson (Joseph Cotten). The city is overcrowded with forty million citizens and is being fed by Soylent Industries with special wafers as a food source for the populace, the newest one being Soylent Green. Only the rich can get spacious apartments, fresh food, warm bath water, and bodyguards. With the help of his older roommate Sol (Edward G. Robinson), who reminisces about before the Earth became overpopulated and polluted, Frank thinks this was an assassination and not a simple break-in. Frank grows close to Simonson’s concubine Shirl (Leigh Taylor-Young) as Sol researches the mysterious origin for Soylent Green. Frank suspects William’s bodyguard Tab (Chuck Connors) as the killer, but before he make headway, he is told to drop the investigation. This only makes Frank more suspicious and he soon finds a conspiracy that will reshape the world.
This movie was made before political correctness and it shows. It does dive into conspiracy theory territory, relying on the debunked “overpopulation” problem set forth by the environmentalists. It approaches this with the same amateurish way the elite academics in society still try to push this. That being said, it also touches on issues such as government overreach, cronyism, religion, loneliness, poverty, and even just care for your fellow human. With these issues, it uses the subtly and care that a film can use to bring it together.
The plot does have some issues as far as pacing. At times, as it shows off the desolate city that is New York, it slows down to emphasize its point that things are bad. It was done one too many times. That being said, it does present the world well. I enjoyed it a great deal and found it compelling.
The story of Frank Thorn is an interesting. He is not some super soldier and his human limitations are on full display. At first, he sees Shirl as nothing more than “furniture” and she eyes him with suspicion, but their mutual outlook brings them together in an organic way. Heston and Taylor-Young are both dynamite actors, performing their characters with excellence.
For me, the most inspiring part of the movie is between Frank and Sol. The former is a gruff police officer and the latter is a gentle man who remembers better days. Robinson gives Sol gives real life. The two form a friendship based on a mutual respect and quasi father/son bond. One of the most memorable scenes in when Frank brings home fresh meat, vegetables, and booze he raided during an investigation. They have a moment of true enjoyment and the acting in this scene is probably my favorite. It is a quiet in the storm of a crazy conspiracy they are investigating.
It is engaging, even as it balances being a crime story and a dystopian science fiction. In the year of our Lord 1973, the future that is 2022 seemed far off. The temptation to exaggerate the technology was there, but they kept it clear and not beyond the realm of possibility. Fortunately, none of the film’s predictions came through.
Bottom line, a film like Soylent Green does seem outdated, but its acting, setting, characters, and themes are what make the movie memorable in the realm of cinema.
PARENTAL CONCERNS: Violence, Sexual content, Foul language
FAVORITE QUOTE: You know, when I was a kid, food was food. Before our scientific magicians poisoned the water, polluted the soil, decimated plant and animal life.
Check out the trailer below:
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