Soylent Green

WHAT DOES BIG BROTHER WANT?  Big Brother wants only to feed the world.  Who doesn’t want to feed the world?  Go Big Brother!

WHAT DOES THE REBEL WANT?  The rebel wants only to solve the murder of Joseph Cotten.  Who wouldn’t want to solve the murder of Joseph Cotten?  Go rebel!

WHAT DOES THE REBEL GET?  The rebel does, indeed solve the murder of Joseph Cotten.  And a whole lot more.

IS THERE AN UPPER CLASS, AND DO THEY HAVE ANY FUN?  There is and they do.  They have clean apartments, soap, hot water, towels, alcohol, you name it.  Fun ahoy!

DOES SOCIETY CHANGE AS A RESULT OF THE REBEL’S ACTIONS?  Well, he sticks a defiant, bloody hand in the air and says “Somehow we’ve got to stop them!” before he’s carted off to Waste Disposal, so I guess that counts for something.

NOTES: By far the best-constructed, most entertaining of the Charlton Heston sci-fi world-gone-wrong trilogy.  Like Blade Runner and Minority Report, it tells us its skewed worldview through the guise of a detective story.  It’s not a very complicated detective story, but the sheer level of detail brought to the worldview is convincing and pervasive.  It’s not so much the physical details — the design world, in 2022, has ground to a dead halt in 1973 — but the characters’ attitudes, the sheer level of acceptance everyone has of “well, this is how the world is.”  This is introduced most vividly in the opening assassination scene — the assassin isn’t a bad guy and neither is the victim; one’s been hired to kill the other and they both just kind of sigh and get on with it.  That stunning scene sets the tone for the whole movie: people just kind of accept living in cars, or having to pedal a bicycle for their own electricity, or having dozens of homeless people living in their stairwell.  Women just kind of accept being treated as chattel and having police detectives ransack their house, stealing everything that isn’t nailed down.  The poor just kind of accept that there will be shortages, and when they riot, they just kind of accept that the police will respond with bulldozers.  It’s not pleasant, but what are you gonna do?  Everyone, rich and poor alike, just kind of accepts that everything is rotten and there isn’t anything you can do about it.  It’s the apathy in the movie that gets to you, not the production design, and it shows how a single idea and a mastery of tone can go a long way toward carrying a movie.  Because, let’s face it, the detective story in this movie is practically nonexistent.  The protagonist barely does any detective work at all; he punches people and asks them what’s going on while his elderly pal reads books and then goes asks somebody what’s going on and then they tell him.  There is no puzzle or layers of intrigue, rather it’s riddled with cliches (the detective gets involved with the doomed dame, pursues the hot case too far and catches heat from his superiors, blah de blah de blah).  The triumph is all tone and the looks on people’s faces.  When Chuck Connors shoots a priest in the head in a confessional, neither party seems surprised or even particularly uspet by the encounter.

It’s a shock to hear phrases like “Greenhouse effect” tossed around in a movie made in 1973, especially when the result of that effect is the world described here.  The whole thing seems creepily plausible, a world where an assassin has to go to a special contact to acquire a meathook but has no trouble getting a handgun.

Edward G. Robinson’s performance is as good as everyone remembers it and in a way, Soylent Green is a love story between Heston and Robinson, just as Double Indemnity is a love story between Fred MacMurray and Robinson.  I guess he was just that lovable.

Special bonus points for this movie for having Dick Van Patten realize his potential as an actor by appearing as a suicide assistant.
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9 Responses to “Soylent Green”
  1. thunder24 says:

    Lol, ouch with the Hotlinking.
    About your post, I feel Soylent Green is the worst kind of dystopia. A rather dull one. It’s a bad set up for the big reveal, which if you are following along, isn’t that much of a suprise. Still it gave Heston one of his 3 signature movie lines, so there is that.

  2. deathboy says:

    the place you’ve hotlinked the image from doesn’t like people doing that, it seems – it doesn’t look like I suspect you intended 🙂

  3. greyaenigma says:

    Mm, Soylent Green

    the isn’t a bad guy and neither is the victim; one’s been hired to kill the other and they both just kind of sigh and get on with it.

    The assassin is so stealthy, he doesn’t even appear in that sentence!

    Your image is being hot-link blocked. While it probably appears normal to you because it’s in cache, it appears to me (and I’m guessing everyone else) as text warning that the image is being linked to from somewhere else.

    Also, I’ve never seen the end of this because the improper time/length was reported to TiVo and it cut off right near (?) the end. Damn you, technology!

  4. craigjclark says:

    This is one of those films that I’ve never seen all the way through, mostly because — like Planet of the Apes — it’s all leading up to a big reveal that has been spoiled for decades by an endless parade of pop culture references. Of course, that didn’t stop me from watching and enjoying Planet, but I chalk that up to the fact that Planet is a much more enjoyable adventure. Whenever I’ve caught part of Soylent Green on television, it just hasn’t seemed like any fun.

    • mr_noy says:

      You’re right, it’s not a fun movie, per se. What’s amazing to me is that during the 70’s films like Soylent Green were blockbusters; these big-budget spectacles were the norm, in spite of their grim outlooks and downbeat endings.

  5. ndgmtlcd says:

    It’s a single idea well carried out with simple acting. That’s why it worked as a dystopian movie, for me, (despite cheesy production values now and then) while Zardoz (with its overdose of Big Ideas)didn’t. It’s all in the human and social attitudes. Heston is delighted with another yummy soylent meal. Hmmmm! Robinson, having known pre-soylent days looks disgusted with it, sitting right next to him. In just a few seconds you have the culinary horror of that dystopian socety fully exposed through the two’s emotions. What the soylent is made of is another question of course.

  6. toliverchap says:

    On the Off topic

    This is not about the movie but it addresses the theme that you’ve been blogging about lately. I was just listening and watching the commentary on the first season of Bruce Timm’s Batman Beyond cartoon show (btw JLU season 1 just came out and you should check that one out, the Superman Captain Marvel fight is awesome) In discussing the design of the futuristic world they have in that show Timm mentioned something about this graphic novel that then lead me to the wikipedia and to this:

    It sounds like it’s a good sci-fi distopia story . . . maybe there is a screenplay there.

  7. ghostgecko says:

    >>>It’s not pleasant, but what are you gonna do?

    That’s pretty much dystopias in a nutshell. People can get used to anything, and then their kids are born into it and they don’t know any better.