Soylent Green is a 1973 American ecological dystopian thriller film directed by Richard Fleischer, and starring Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young, and Edward G. Robinson in his final film role. It is loosely based on the 1966 science-fiction novel Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison, with a plot that combines elements of science fiction and a police procedural. The story follows a murder investigation in a dystopian future of dying oceans and year-round humidity caused by the greenhouse effect, with the resulting pollution, depleted resources, poverty, and overpopulation.[2][3] In 1973, it won the Nebula Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film.

Soylent Green
Theatrical release poster by John Solie
Directed byRichard Fleischer
Screenplay byStanley R. Greenberg
Based onMake Room! Make Room!
by Harry Harrison
Produced byWalter Seltzer
Russell Thacher
StarringCharlton Heston
Leigh Taylor-Young
Chuck Connors
Joseph Cotten
Brock Peters
Paula Kelly
Edward G. Robinson
CinematographyRichard H. Kline
Edited bySamuel E. Beetley
Music byFred Myrow
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • April 19, 1973 (1973-04-19) (US)
Running time
97 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Box office$3.6 million (rentals)[1]

Plot edit

By 2022,[4] the cumulative effects of overpopulation, global warming, and pollution have caused ecocide, leading to severe worldwide shortages of food, water, and housing, bringing human civilization to the brink of collapse.[5] New York City has a population of 40 million, and only the elite can afford spacious apartments, clean water, and natural food in walled-off communities patrolled by armed guards. The homes of the elite are fortified, with moats, security systems, and bodyguards for their tenants. Usually, they include concubines (who are referred to as "furniture" and have no human rights, and are passed from one apartment owner to the next). The majority poor live in squalor, haul water from communal spigots, and eat highly processed food wafers made by a single large food processing firm, the Soylent Corporation. Their mainstay products, Soylent Red and Soylent Yellow are a staple food, and the latest product, a new, more nutritious and flavorful wafer derived from plankton, Soylent Green, is introduced to the populace.

NYPD detective Robert Thorn lives in a cramped apartment with his aged co-worker and friend Sol Roth, a brilliant former college professor and police researcher (referred to as a "Book"), who helps him with his cases. Thorn is called to investigate the murder of the wealthy and influential William R. Simonson, a board member of the Soylent Corporation, which he suspects was an assassination. With the help of Simonson's concubine Shirl, his investigation leads to a priest whom Simonson had visited shortly before his death. Because of the sanctity of the confessional, the visibly exhausted priest can only hint to Thorn at the contents of the confession. Soon after, the priest is murdered in the confessional by Fielding, Simonson's former bodyguard. Under direction from Governor Henry C. Santini, Thorn's superiors order him to end the investigation, but he continues, fearing that he will lose his job if he files a false report. He soon becomes aware that an unknown stalker is following him. As Thorn tries to control a violent throng during a Soylent Green shortage riot, he is attacked by the assassin who killed Simonson. The killer shoots three times at Thorn, but misses, his shots accidentally striking several innocent bystanders in the crowd. Thorn manages to locate the killer and throw him to the ground. Then, the killer shoots Thorn in the leg before being crushed by the hydraulic shovel of a police riot-control vehicle.

In researching the case for Thorn, Roth brings two volumes of the Soylent Oceanographic Survey Report, 2015–2019, taken by Thorn from Simonson's apartment, to the team of other "Books" (former professors and judges turned researchers) at the "Supreme Exchange." The "Books" quickly conclude from the oceanographic reports that the oceans are dying, and can not actually produce the plankton from which Soylent Green is allegedly made, thus revealing that the ingredients in Soylent Green are, in fact, human bodies. This information confirms to Sol Roth that Simonson's murder was ordered by his fellow Soylent Corporation board members, who knew Simonson was increasingly troubled by this truth, and feared he might disclose it to the public.

Roth is so shaken by the truth that he decides to "return to the home of God" and seeks assisted suicide at a government clinic. Thorn discovers this, and rushes to stop him, but arrives too late. Before dying, Roth whispers his discovery to Thorn, who is horrified. Thorn moves to uncover proof of crimes against humanity, and to bring it to the attention of the Supreme Exchange, so the case can be brought to the Council of Nations to take action.

Thorn secretly boards a waste truck transporting human bodies from the euthanasia center to a waste-disposal plant, where he witnesses human corpses instead being processed and turned into Soylent Green. Thorn is discovered, but he escapes. As he returns to the Supreme Exchange, he is ambushed by Fielding and his men. Finding refuge in the church where Simonson confessed, Thorn kills his attackers, but is seriously wounded in a gunfight. As paramedics tend to Thorn, he urges his commanding officer, Chief Hatcher, to spread the truth. Thorn shouts to the surrounding crowd, "Soylent Green is people!"

Cast edit

Production edit

 
Harry Harrison, whose 1966 novel Make Room! Make Room! was adapted into Soylent Green, had no creative control over the film and was of mixed opinion on the final product.

The screenplay was based on Harry Harrison's novel Make Room! Make Room! (1966), which was set in the year 1999 with the theme of overpopulation and overuse of resources leading to increasing poverty, food shortages, and social disorder. Harrison was contractually denied control over the screenplay and was not told during negotiations that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was buying the film rights.[6] He discussed the adaptation in Omni's Screen Flights/Screen Fantasies (1984), noting the "murder and chase sequences [and] the 'furniture' girls are not what the film is about – and are completely irrelevant" and answered his own question, "Am I pleased with the film? I would say 50 percent".[6][7]

While the book refers to "soylent steaks" (made from soy and lentil), it makes no reference to "Soylent Green", the processed food rations depicted in the film. The book's title was not used for the movie on grounds that it might have confused audiences into thinking it a big-screen version of Make Room for Daddy.[8]

This was the 101st and final film in which Edward G. Robinson appeared; he died of bladder cancer on January 26, 1973, two months after the completion of filming. In his book The Actor's Life: Journal 1956–1976, Heston wrote, "He knew while we were shooting, though we did not, that he was terminally ill. He never missed an hour of work, nor was late to a call. He never was less than the consummate professional he had been all his life. I'm still haunted, though, by the knowledge that the very last scene he played in the picture, which he knew was the last day's acting he would ever do, was his death scene. I know why I was so overwhelmingly moved playing it with him".[9] Robinson had previously worked with Heston in The Ten Commandments (1956) and the make-up tests for Planet of the Apes (1968).

The film's opening sequence, depicting America becoming more crowded with a series of archive photographs set to music, was created by filmmaker Charles Braverman. The "going home" score in Roth's death scene was conducted by Gerald Fried and consists of the main themes from Symphony No. 6 ("Pathétique") by Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 6 ("Pastoral") by Beethoven and Peer Gynt ("Morning Mood" and "Åse's Death") by Edvard Grieg. A custom cabinet unit of the early arcade game Computer Space was used in Soylent Green and is considered the first appearance of a video game in a film.[10]

Critical response edit

 
Edward G. Robinson was praised by critics for his performance in Soylent Green, which he completed filming 84 days before his death.

The film was released April 19, 1973, and met with mixed reactions from critics.[11] Time called it "intermittently interesting", noting that "Heston forsak[es] his granite stoicism for once" and asserting the film "will be most remembered for the last appearance of Edward G. Robinson.... In a rueful irony, his death scene, in which he is hygienically dispatched with the help of piped-in light classical music and movies of rich fields flashed before him on a towering screen, is the best in the film".[12] New York Times critic A. H. Weiler wrote, "Soylent Green projects essentially simple, muscular melodrama a good deal more effectively than it does the potential of man's seemingly witless destruction of the Earth's resources"; Weiler concludes "Richard Fleischer's direction stresses action, not nuances of meaning or characterization. Mr. Robinson is pitiably natural as the realistic, sensitive oldster facing the futility of living in dying surroundings. But Mr. Heston is simply a rough cop chasing standard bad guys. Their 21st-century New York occasionally is frightening but it is rarely convincingly real".[11]

Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four, calling it "a good, solid science-fiction movie, and a little more".[13] Gene Siskel gave the film one-and-a-half stars out of four and called it "a silly detective yarn, full of juvenile Hollywood images. Wait 'til you see the giant snow shovel scoop the police use to round up rowdies. You may never stop laughing".[14] Arthur D. Murphy of Variety wrote, "The somewhat plausible and proximate horrors in the story of 'Soylent Green' carry the Russell Thacher-Walter Seltzer production over its awkward spots to the status of a good futuristic exploitation film".[15] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times called it "a clever, rough, modestly budgeted but imaginative work".[16] Penelope Gilliatt of The New Yorker was negative, writing, "This pompously prophetic thing of a film hasn't a brain in its beanbag. Where is democracy? Where is the popular vote? Where is women's lib? Where are the uprising poor, who would have suspected what was happening in a moment?"[17]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 70%, based on 40 reviews, with an average rating of 6.20/10. The site's consensus states: "While admittedly melodramatic and uneven in spots, Soylent Green ultimately succeeds with its dark, plausible vision of a dystopian future."[18] A German film encyclopedia notes: "If you want, you can see a thrilling crime thriller in this film. By means of brutally resonant scenes, however, the director makes clear a far deeper truth ... Soylent Green must thus be understood as a metaphor, but has a simple message. When the overwhelming need to survive in an increasingly overpopulated world short of the resources for that survival, it will employ whatever means nessary to continue. Even if those means are not ethical or 'palatable' to those benefiting from such actions."

Awards and honors edit

Home media edit

Soylent Green was released on Capacitance Electronic Disc by MGM/CBS Home Video and later on LaserDisc by MGM/UA in 1992 (ISBN 0-7928-1399-5, OCLC 31684584).[19] In November 2007, Warner Home Video released the film on DVD concurrent with the DVD releases of two other science fiction films: Logan's Run (1976), a film that covers similar themes of dystopia and overpopulation, and Outland (1981).[20] A Blu-ray Disc release followed on March 29, 2011.

See also edit

  • Soylent (meal replacement), a brand of meal replacement products whose creator was inspired by the book and film
  • Cloud Atlas, a 2012 film, based on David Mitchell's 2004 novel Cloud Atlas, both depicting a future society in which workers are fed with human remains
  • Judge Dredd – in Mega City One, the deceased are recycled into food after they have had the funeral.
  • Tender Is the Flesh, a 2020 dystopian novel by Agustina Bazterrica in which humans are farmed for their meat
  • An Excess Male, a 2017 dystopian novel by Maggie Shen King that critics compared to Soylent Green due to similar speculations on human overpopulation
  • Logan's Run, a 1976 dystopian movie where the population and the consumption of resources are maintained in equilibrium by killing everyone who reaches the age of 30. Those who try to escape are captured, and frozen for food.
  • Soup Is Good Food, a 1985 opening song on the album Frankenchrist by hardcore punk rock band the Dead Kennedys, references Soylent Green and draws parallels between it and modern America.

References edit

  1. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1973". Variety. January 9, 1974. p. 19.
  2. ^ Shirley, John (September 23, 2007). "Soylent Green: An Appreciation 34 Years Too Late". Locus Online. Retrieved November 17, 2016.
  3. ^ "Soylent Green ( 1973)". archive.org. Internet Archive Digital Library. March 10, 2021. Retrieved October 16, 2023. Topic Soylent Green, Richard Fleisher, 1973, Charlton Heston, Edward G. Robinson, Harry Harrison, Stanley R. Greenberg. Full film free download. 1h 36m 48s.
  4. ^ Kooser, Amanda (January 13, 2022). "Soylent Green predicted 2022 as a dystopian hellscape. Did the movie get it right?". CNET. Retrieved January 17, 2022.
  5. ^ Valls Oyarzun, Eduardo; Gualberto Valverde, Rebeca; Malla García, Noelia; Colom Jiménez, María; Cordero Sánchez, Rebeca, eds. (2020). "17". Avenging nature: the role of nature in modern and contemporary art and literature. Ecocritical theory and practice. Lanham Boulder NewYork London: Lexington Books. ISBN 978-1-7936-2144-3.
  6. ^ a b Stafford, Jeff (July 28, 2003). "Soylent Green". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved June 12, 2011.
  7. ^ Peary, Danny, ed. (1984). Omni's Screen Flights/Screen Fantasies. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-19202-9.
  8. ^ Harrison, Harry (1984). "A Cannibalised Novel Becomes Soylent Green". Omni's Screen Flights/Screen Fantasies. Ireland On-Line. Retrieved September 7, 2009.
  9. ^ Heston, Charlton (1978). Alpert, Hollis (ed.). The Actor's Life: Journal 1956–1976. E. P. Dutton. p. 395. ISBN 0-525-05030-2.
  10. ^ Goldberg, Marty; Vendel, Curt (2012). Atari Inc: Business Is Fun. Syzygy Press. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-9855974-0-5. Retrieved May 16, 2018.
  11. ^ a b Weiler, A. H. (April 20, 1973). "Screen: 'Soylent Green'". The New York Times. Retrieved June 12, 2011.
  12. ^ "Cinema: Quick Cuts". Time. Vol. 101, no. 18. April 30, 1973. Retrieved June 12, 2011.
  13. ^ Ebert, Roger (April 27, 1973). "Soylent Green". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved December 10, 2018.
  14. ^ Siskel, Gene (May 1, 1973). "Scorpio & Soylent". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 5.
  15. ^ Murphy, Arthur D. (April 18, 1973). "Soylent Green". Variety. p. 22.
  16. ^ Champlin, Charles (April 18, 1973). "Grim Future in 'Soylent Green'". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1.
  17. ^ Gilliatt, Penelope (April 28, 1973). "The Current Cinema: Hungry?". The New Yorker. p. 131.
  18. ^ "Soylent Green (1973)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 8, 2023.
  19. ^ "Soylent green / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc". Miami University Libraries. Archived from the original on September 26, 2011. Retrieved June 12, 2011.
  20. ^ Hendrix, Grady (November 27, 2007). "The Future Is Then". The New York Sun. Archived from the original on July 13, 2011. Retrieved June 12, 2011.

Further reading edit

External links edit