Soylent Green is a 1973 American dystopian thriller film directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Charlton Heston and Leigh Taylor-Young. Edward G. Robinson appears in his final film. Loosely based on the 1966 science fiction novel Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison, it combines both police procedural and science fiction genres; the investigation into the murder of a wealthy businessman and a dystopian future of dying oceans and year-round humidity due to the greenhouse effect, resulting in suffering from pollution, poverty, overpopulation, euthanasia and depleted resources.
Theatrical release poster by John Solie
|Directed by||Richard Fleischer|
|Produced by||Walter Seltzer|
|Screenplay by||Stanley R. Greenberg|
|Based on||Make Room! Make Room!|
by Harry Harrison
Edward G. Robinson
|Music by||Fred Myrow|
|Cinematography||Richard H. Kline|
|Edited by||Samuel E. Beetley|
|Box office||$3,600,000 (rentals)|
The 20th century's industrialization led to overcrowding and Earth-wide pollution. Natural resources exhausted, nourishment of the population is provided by Soylent Industries, a company that makes food from ocean plankton. In 2022, 40 million people live in New York City; housing is dilapidated; homeless people fill the streets; many are unemployed; those few with jobs are only barely scraping by and food and working technology are scarce with most of the population surviving on rations produced by the Soylent Corporation. Their latest product is Soylent Green, a green wafer advertised to contain "high-energy plankton" from the oceans of the world, more nutritious and palatable than its predecessors "Red" and "Yellow" but in short supply.
New York City Police Department detective Frank Thorn lives with his aged friend and police analyst, Solomon "Sol" Roth. Roth remembers life before its current state and often talks nostalgically. He is well-educated and has a small library of reference materials to assist Thorn. While investigating the murder of William R. Simonson, a member of the wealthy elite, Thorn questions a concubine, Shirl, and Simonson's bodyguard, Tab Fielding, who was escorting Shirl when the murder took place. Thorn searches Simonson's apartment for clues and helps himself to Simonson's whisky, fresh produce, and beef.
Thorn gives Roth both volumes of the classified Soylent Oceanographic Survey Report he found in Simonson's apartment. Roth's research reveals Simonson was a member of the board of Soylent. Thorn tells his lieutenant, Hatcher, that he suspects an assassination: nothing had been stolen from the apartment, security was absent, and the perpetrator used a meat hook instead of a gun to make it look like Simonson was killed in a burglary. Thorn, suspecting Fielding as one of Simonson's murderers, visits Fielding's apartment and interrogates Fielding's concubine, Martha, helping himself to a teaspoon of strawberry jam, later identified by Roth as too great a luxury for the concubine of a bodyguard to afford. Shirl reveals that Simonson became troubled in the days before his death. Thorn questions a Catholic priest that Simonson visited; the priest first fails to remember Simonson and is then unable to describe the confession. Fielding later murders the priest.
Governor Santini closes the investigation, but Thorn ignores this and the Soylent Corporation dispatches Simonson's murderer to kill Thorn. He tracks Thorn to a ration distribution center, where police officers are providing security. When the Soylent Green there is exhausted, the crowd riots. The assassin attempts to kill Thorn in the confusion but is crushed by a "scoop" crowd-dispersion vehicle. In retaliation, Thorn assaults and threatens both Fielding and Martha; warning Fielding and his accomplices not to follow him and returning to Shirl, with whom he has established a sexual relationship.
Roth takes Soylent's oceanographic reports to a group of researchers, who agree that the oceans no longer produce the plankton from which Soylent Green is reputedly made, and infer that it is produced from human remains, the only conceivable supply of protein matching the known production. They also deduce that Simonson was murdered by the corporation because he had found this out from the reports and his influence inside the corporation. Roth is so disgusted with his degraded life in a degraded world that he decides to "return to the home of the God" and seeks assisted suicide at a government clinic.
Thorn rushes to stop him, but arrives too late. Roth is mesmerized by the euthanasia process' visual and musical montage – extinct forests, wild animals, rivers and ocean life. Before dying, he tells Thorn his discovery and begs him to expose the truth. Thorn boards a human disposal truck to the disposal center, where he sees the human corpses converted into Soylent Green, but is spotted and has to flee.
Returning to make his report, he is ambushed by Fielding and others. In the ensuing firefight, Thorn kills his attackers but is himself wounded. When Hatcher arrives, he tells him what he has discovered and urges him to tell the researchers so that they can make a case against Soylent and to spread the truth about Soylent Green. Hatcher promises that he will. Thorn is taken away by paramedics, shouting out: "Soylent Green is made out of people!"
- Charlton Heston as Detective Frank Thorn
- Leigh Taylor-Young as Shirl
- Chuck Connors as Tab Fielding
- Joseph Cotten as William R. Simonson
- Brock Peters as Chief Hatcher
- Paula Kelly as Martha
- Edward G. Robinson as Sol Roth
- Stephen Young as Gilbert
- Mike Henry as Kulozik
- Lincoln Kilpatrick as the priest
- Roy Jenson as Donovan
- Leonard Stone as Charles
- Whit Bissell as Gov. Santini
- Celia Lovsky as the exchange leader
- Dick Van Patten as usher #1
The screenplay was based on Harry Harrison's novel Make Room! Make Room! (1966), which is 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 forbidden control over the screenplay and was not told during negotiations that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was buying the film rights. 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 fifty percent".
While the book refers to "soylent steaks", 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.
This was the 101st and last movie in which Edward G. Robinson appeared; he died of bladder cancer twelve days after the completion of filming, on January 26, 1973. Robinson had previously worked with Heston in The Ten Commandments (1956) and the make-up tests for Planet of the Apes (1968). 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."
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 the Peer Gynt Suite ("Morning Mood" and "Åse's Death") by Edvard Grieg.
The film was released April 19, 1973. 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." 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." Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four, calling it "a good, solid science-fiction movie, and a little more." 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." 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." Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times called it "a clever, rough, modestly budgeted but imaginative work." 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?"
Awards and honorsEdit
- Winner Best Science Fiction Film of Year – Saturn Award, Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films (Richard Fleischer, Walter Seltzer, Russell Thacher)
- Winner Grand Prize – Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival (Richard Fleischer)
- Nominee Best Film of Year (Best Dramatic Presentation) – Hugo Awards (Richard Fleischer, Stanley Greenberg, Harry Harrison)
- Winner Best Film of Year (Best Dramatic Presentation) – Nebula Award, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (Stanley Greenberg, Harry Harrison)
American Film Institute Lists
Soylent Green was released on Capacitance Electronic Disc by MGM/CBS Home Video and later on laserdisc by MGM/UA in 1992 (ISBN 0792813995, OCLC 31684584). 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) and Outland (1981). A Blu-ray Disc release followed on March 29, 2011.
- List of American films of 1973
- Survival film, about the film genre, with a list of related films
- Soylent, a brand of meal replacement products whose creator was inspired by the book and film to use that name
- Cloud Atlas, 2012 film also depicting a future society where workers are fed with human remains
- "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, January 9, 1974 p 19
- Shirley, John (September 23, 2007). "Locus Online: John Shirley on Soylent Green". Locus Online. Retrieved November 17, 2016.
- Jeff Stafford. "Soylent Green (1973)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved June 12, 2011.
- Danny Peary, ed. (1984). Omni's Screen Flights/Screen Fantasies. ISBN 0-385-19202-9.
- Harry Harrison (1984). "A Cannibalised Novel Becomes Soylent Green". Omni's Screen Flights/Screen Fantasies. Ireland On-Line. Retrieved September 7, 2009.
- Charlton Heston (1978). Hollis Alpert, ed. The Actor's Life: Journal 1956-1976. E.P. Dutton. p. 395. ISBN 0525050302.
- Goldberg, Marty; Vendel, Curt (2012). Atari Inc: Business is Fun. Syzygy Press. p. 45. ISBN 9780985597405. Retrieved May 16, 2018.
- A.H. Weiler (April 20, 1973). "Soylent Green (1973)". The New York Times. Retrieved June 12, 2011.
- "Cinema: Quick Cuts". Time. April 30, 1973. Retrieved June 12, 2011.
- Ebert, Roger (April 27, 1973). "Soylent Green". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved December 10, 2018.
- Siskel, Gene (May 1, 1973). "Scorpio & Soylent". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 5.
- Murphy, Arthur D. (April 18, 1973), "Soylent Green". Variety. 22.
- Champlin, Charles (April 18, 1973). "Grim Future in 'Soylent Green'". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1.
- Gilliatt, Penelope (April 28, 1973). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. 131.
- "Soylent Green Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved June 12, 2011.
- "Soylent green / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc". Miami University Libraries. Retrieved June 12, 2011.
- "The Future Is Then". New York Sun. November 27, 2007. Retrieved June 12, 2011.