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Soylent Green

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message 1: by Manuel (last edited Mar 17, 2010 01:48AM) (new)

Manuel | 144 comments Soylent Green (1973)

This is one of those rare instances when the movie is much better than the book.

Based on the Harry Harrison novel "Make Room, Make Room". The movie is set in a bleak over populated and sweltering New York in the year 2022. Manhattan is bursting with a population of 40 million, there is massive unemployment and a night time curfew.

Charlton Heston plays an over worked underpaid detective assigned to investigate the suspicious murder of an industrialist in his luxury apartment.
When I first saw this movie, (I was 12) I was kind of shocked to see a police detective helping himself to some of the dead man's possessions, mostly ordinary (ordinary to my eyes)things like, some celery, lettuce, liquor, a steak and some soap as well as a beautifully bound book.

As the movie progresses, we learn Charlton Heston is sharing an apartment with his "book" named Sol. Book; in this case being an older retired scholar (brilliantly played by Edward G Robinson in his 101st and last film) who helps Heston fill in the gaps in his investigations. We see Heston share his "liberated" treasures with Robinson and we learn that these items are no longer available to the general population.

Robinson plays the voice of reason and purpose, someone who still remembers when food was plentiful, and electricity wasn't rationed and the earth was still green and winters still cold. We see Robinson and Heston almost like a father and son who take care of each other. Heston clearly loves his "book" but these stories of a plentiful earth seen too fantastic to believe and you get the feeling he probably shrugs off the stories almost like just another "fish that got away story".

In this world of 2022, real food is too expensive ($500 for a steak) most of the population now live off processed high energy food wafers in the form of Soylent Red, Soylent Blue, Soylent Yellow and now a new and tastier version called Soylent Green, supposedly made from the plankton in the sea.

Thorn (Heston)is very suspicious of the murder. He begins to learn the victim was a highly placed member in the Soylent food corporation. Thorn is attracted to Shirl, the kept woman of the murder victim. Shirl is one of those women that come "with" the luxury apartment and are referred to as "furniture".

Shirl tells Thorn; Simonson (the victim) had become moody and depressed and would sometimes cry for no reason. Simonson once took her to church, where he felt compelled to "confess" to a priest.

Thorn decides to question the priest about any possible clue he might have into Simonson's death. The priest seems almost like a walking zombie, he is clearly overworked and exhausted and the weight of Simonson's confession has nearly drained him of his sanity. As a Catholic priest he is forbidden to tell anyone the contents of anyone's confession and it is becoming too much to bear.

After Thorn is warned to stay off the case and the priest is mysteriously killed, Thorn is more determined to stick with the investigation. The book he took from Simonson (SOYLENT OCEANOGRAPHIC SURVEY FOR 2015-2019) is studied by Robinson and he takes it to the "exchange" (a meeting of other scholars) where they discover the terrible secret of Soylent Green.

The movie seems rather dated to us in the 21st century, not many special effects, the streets are full of people and abandoned cars, everything seems to be breaking down. When the movie came out in 1973, it was mostly ignored and forgotten;but suddenly in October the oil crisis brought about by the Arab/Israeli war and oil embargo hit everyone on a personal level. Gasoline shot up in price and gas became rationed, everyone had to take their turn in long lines to fill up the car. Big cars were seen as inefficient and small cars became popular. Energy conservation became an everyday topic and everyone started practicing something called RECYCLING. Suddenly there was very real interest and renewed look at the depressing movie with the strange name "Soylent Green"; depicting a possible nightmarish future scenario of ecological disaster, over population and conspiratorial big business and government.

It is refreshing to see a movie that didnt rely so much on special effects; the driving force is a good plot and acting by Heston and Robinson. The riot control vehicles "Scoopers" seem laughable (they resemble modern garbage trucks with front load scoopers) These vehicles are the 21st century version of crowd control; any trouble maker is simply scooped up and detained in the hold. They seem ridiculous and hardly very effective since they move like slow charging dinosaurs and you wonder why people dont just get out of the way?

Robinson's death scene is still very moving to watch and the high point of the movie. It feels like a kick in the stomach every time I see it. (Robinson died in real life a few days after it was filmed)
Heston's Thorn finally gets to mourn for the tragic loss of a once beautiful and thriving Earth. I can never listen to Beethoven's Pastoral symphony without thinking of this scene. (on a personal note, many of the coastal scenes showing the once beautiful earth were filmed near my home town Carmel California) If you dont feel like getting the movie, look up the death scene on YouTube. Heston's tears are real, he knew his friend was fighting terminal cancer and he only had a short time to live.

Still very much worth watching and still the cause of much discussion. Interesting to view this version of 2022 as portrayed in 1973 and compare life today only a decade away from the dates of the movie.


message 2: by Mawgojzeta (new)

Mawgojzeta I did enjoy the movie quite a bit. Read the book a few years back and then saw the movie for the first time. Loved both.


message 3: by Tracy (new)

Tracy (tracy_falbe) | 9 comments Truly this is a brilliant movie, but hits home so hard it is terribly depressing. Instead of calling it dated, I find it more relevant than ever in the 21st century with its portrayal of global warming, over population, and the employed people's desperate need to cling to their jobs. More than once people in the movie state they will not take risks that would jeopardize your job.

Plus the references to the poisoned and ruined Earth where crops can hardly grow are direct criticisms on modern agricultural practices that are destroying top soil and creating toxic run off that pollutes water and causes things like the enlarging dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. I know, depressing. But this movie is enormously relevant. The masses huddled in the street and kept out of employed people's homes by armed guards are a gripping metaphor for the vast inequality among people on our planet and the increasing scarcity of resources.
Soylent Green is totally chilling. I hope much of it never because entirely true.


message 4: by Kandice (new)

Kandice This has always been one of my favorite movies. I fear what that say about me since it IS so bleak and depressing. I saw the movie before reading Make Room, Make Room and I agree, in this instance, the movie outshines the book.

Heston has always been one of my favorite actors and I never love him so much as when he portrays a desperate future. I can be flipping channels, but if I come upon Book's death scene, it will still lead me to tears. That's even without the build up of the whole movie. What a fitting role to be his last.

I agree with Tracy. The style may be outdated, but the actual story is more relevant today than it was when first made. It's almost painful to watch and relaize how very close we are to this reality. Of course it would be prettied up in modern times, but the underlying cause and effect would remain.


message 5: by Tracy (new)

Tracy (tracy_falbe) | 9 comments Ditto on the love of Charlton Heston. Ten Commandments, Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green...he makes a lot of great movies even greater.


message 6: by Phillip (new)

Phillip i haven't seen this one since it came out. it was really powerful back then - the portrayal of society careening out of control made a big impression on me back then.


message 7: by Ubik (new)

Ubik | 101 comments Mod
What do people think about assisted suicide? Does anyone feel that it could be a reality in the future?

Also, it seems that just out of the posts here that females like the movie (myself included-its one of my favorites), but I have heard complaints from females in the past regarding their status in the film as furniture. Any thoughts on that? Im not personally offended just FYI...


message 8: by Kandice (new)

Kandice I'm not offended at all. It didn't seem that all women were considered furniture, and honestly, in a time when it seemed almost no one had enough to eat, or even basic amenities, being considered "furniture" had it's perks. If the movie were made today, I'm sure they would make reference to male AND female furniture being available. To EITHER sex.


message 9: by Manuel (last edited Mar 16, 2010 05:32PM) (new)

Manuel | 144 comments An interesting point Kandice. Yes, If the movie were made today, they would show the luxury apartments with female as well as male "furniture"

The book doesnt mention anything about women being "kept" as furniture. In the book, Shirl moves in with Thorn and Sol. But women are not second class citizens as they are in the movie. Shirl eventually leaves Thorn for another wealthy man, when Thorn doesnt want or is unable to improve his job and living conditions.

However in the movie, we dont see that many women; Just Shirl and the brief scene with the other "furniture"from the building when they all get together for a small party.

The only other significant woman is the bodyguard's (Chuck Conners) black girlfriend in a much more humble apartment; she also refers to herself as "furniture" when Thorn comes to question her boyfriend.

Being that this is a very harsh society, I would assume that being kept as "furniture" would be a relatively comfortable way to survive. You get a nice place to live and you get to eat real food and not the Soylent crap everyone else gets.


message 10: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 342 comments Mod
I haven't seen this for years but always liked it as a kid. Nice discussion because I think there is a prescient subtext to the film concerning overcrowding, pollution, patriarchal heirarchy, big business and government abuse, assisted suicide...all in the guise of a future noir crime thriller. I need to watch it again with these themes in mind.

And Heston's cool, as this part of his career was science fiction oriented including PLANET OF THE APES & OMEGA MAN. Now that would be a fun movie night!


message 11: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 144 comments Regarding assisted suicide:
Ive heard some people say this is what would happen if the Obama health plan were ever voted in. Im of the opinion; the scenario in the movie would happen to a society WITHOUT healthcare.

In the society portrayed in the movie, it is clear society/government can no longer take care of it's citizens. It has become cheaper and desirable to make ending life very convenient and comfortable. The entity/venue where termination of life takes place, looks very clean and orderly, the clean counters and open spaces look like airport checkin centers. When Sol approaches the building, he is greeted by a pretty girl who opens the door for him with a smile; the movement of her hair shows the air conditioning is working.

If I could shoot the scene today, I imagine I would show some plants and perhaps some comfortable furniture and maybe something cool to drink? I would also show some family members joining their loved ones to say goodbye.

In the movie, we see mostly old people with crutches and having difficulty moving. Clearly it is a place for people who find the thought of life termination much easier to accept than the living nightmare New York has become in 2022.

It is not clear if assisted suicide is only offered to the old and poor? Most of the people we see in the background are wearing pajamas or the nondiscript street clothes of the very poor. Sol is the only one who is wearing color along with his best clothes....Blazer, tie, hat, and trousers.

I would imagine the nightmarish scenario of the movie, might make assisted suicide more appealing to people STILL YOUNG, but no longer able to survive or function without a job or not knowing where or when their next meal will take place? Such a situation would probably make things easier for the government. ONE LESS MOUTH TO FEED.


message 12: by George (new)

George | 63 comments I certainly enjoyed it when it came out, and for me Edward G Robinson's final scene is incredibly moving, a wonderful goodbye to all his fans. haven't seen it in quite a while, but I remember the scoopers which do seem a tad goofy in retrospect. Charlton is fun to watch as usual, although I think I prefer his performance in the Omega Man, but among these two and Planet of the Apes he was quite the sci-fi guy there for a while. I guess the chariot thing got a bit old.


message 13: by Kandice (new)

Kandice I think Omega Man was one o fhis best performances and am always surprised when people look at me like I am crazy. I'm glad to see people here agree with me, at least!

As far as assisted suicide in the future...I don't think it's at all far-fetched. That particular future was incredibly bleak, and dying in a clean, cool environment, when you can still choose to do so seems infinitely better to me than starving on the streets.

My husband and I were just talking about the possibility, in the future, of enforced birth control or sterility if our population continues to explode. I think this is just the flip side of that. You look at the cultures where the elderly are revered and they are, for the most part, cultures where there were few children per couple. It was neccesary, and gave them the ability to care for and revere their elders. Look at American pioneers who had children every year just in case they didn't all make it to adulthood and that's where this breaks down. It seems the next logical step.

I wonder which would come first? Assisted suicide, or enforced birth rate caps?


message 14: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 342 comments Mod
I wonder which would come first? Assisted suicide, or enforced birth rate caps?

Kandice, read Philip K. Dick's A CRACK IN SPACE! Written in the early 60s (but set in the 90s) one of the main characters is an abortion counselor. Since the Earth's population has exploded, millions of people (Read: poor people & minorities) are in "cold pack" to be revived if aother planet is discovered. A black President is elected on a platform to revive those in storage. But where to put them???


message 15: by Phillip (new)

Phillip if there's a way of capitalizing on assisted suicide, you can bet it's on the menu for upcoming attractions.


message 16: by Kandice (new)

Kandice Alex DeLarge wrote: "I wonder which would come first? Assisted suicide, or enforced birth rate caps?

Kandice, read Philip K. Dick's A CRACK IN SPACE! Written in the early 60s (but set in the 90s) one of the main cha..."


Dick is one of my favorite authors. I read that, but it's been a while. He is such a mind-bender.


I've thought, since reading Children of Men, that if that actually happened, and there was the opposite problem of over-population, would scientists be able to use all the sperm in sperm banks, and harvested eggs that were gathered for whatever reason, to overcome that? I think it would make an excellent sci-fi book. Who would parent the children that were the result if they were successful? Would it be the biological parents, or would only the wealthy and priveledged be given the care of humanity's future.

I wish I were a writer.


message 17: by Manuel (last edited Mar 17, 2010 04:03PM) (new)

Manuel | 144 comments You raise some more interesting points Kandice.

I remember in "The Handmaid's Tale"; America is now run by a fundamentalist Christian Theocracy. Due to some sort of ecological disaster, very few women can conceive children.

The government conscripts fertile women against their will to have children for "the state". These women are then assigned to prominent Christian couples, to bear children.

That movie opens with scenes of government troops breaking into a Catholic convent and hanging the old nuns, while the younger ones are taken away screaming about "NOT WANTING TO BREAK THEIR VOWS!!!"


message 18: by Kandice (new)

Kandice The Handmaid's Tale was one of my favorite books even before the movie. It's very, very good and presented a believable way. People who are frightened will agree to accept an awful lot.


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