Sometimes, real horror stories come true, and sometimes, it’s we humans that make it happen. Soylent Green, the 1973 science fiction thriller, has always been on my list of most frightening films. There are no vampires, serial killers, or aliens to deal with in this film, but in my opinion its horror goes unmatched. Why? Find out after the jump.
Directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young and Edward G. Robinson, this film (based on the novel Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison) begins with a murder investigation. The year is 2022 and there are 40 million people living in New York. The world is overpopulated and the effects of climate change can be found everywhere.
Frank Thorn (Charles Heston) is working on a case where wealthy businessman, William Simonson (Joseph Cotton) was killed. Simonson was a board member for Soylent Corporation, a company that manufactures the Soylent green biscuits that are made from plankton. Although Thorn is a dedicated cop, he does steal food and other valuable items from crime scenes because it’s the only way for Thorn and his older roommate to survive. Things are bad in the city. The year is 2022… not that far into our own future.
Although the murder investigation is important because it eventually leads to an unimaginable conspiracy, the viewer focuses on the horrible living conditions that Frank and his roommate Sol Roth (Edward G. Robinson) live in. As a cop, Frank is barely able to afford the hovel he calls home. Sol, who is much older than Frank spends his time reading and remembering the good old days. Unfortunately, for the rest of humanity, life sucks.
There are multitudes of homeless people living on the streets of New York. The air is stifling and the temperature a constant 90 degrees. The poor and former middle class fight over food and water rations, while the rich live in fancy apartments. If you are a pretty woman, you might temporarily escape life on the streets as a sex slave, but I doubt that these women are treated well by their johns.
While the poor try to earn or steal enough money to buy a Soylent green biscuit, the rich enjoy luxuries like eggs, jam and an occasional beef meal. It’s like a zombie apocalypse, except the people have not resorted to cannibalism…. or have they? What government does exist is only there to do the bidding of powerful corporations, like the Soylent Corporation that owns most of the world’s food supply. Earth is a desolate and barren place with few forests. The oceans, rivers and lakes have been polluted.
When Frank Thorn gave Sol the oceanographic reports that he found in Simonson’s apartment, he had no idea what the documents held, but Roth took the documents to a group of scientists. What Roth learns from those documents is so horrifying that he signs up for government assisted suicide. When Thorn follows one of the disposal trucks, he sees for himself what Soylent Green consists of and he tries to spread the word. It’s much too late.
I don’t know about you, but the scenes where the bulldozers scooped up rioters really left a mark on me. Soylent Green is a warning of what could happen if we don’t limit population growth or curb our use of fossil fuel. We haven’t changed our ways much since the film premiered, and now our politicians are denying climate change even exists. Politicians are openly attacking the scientists that warn us of the dire situations that humanity faces, but luckily for us, the military is speaking out on our behalf.
I recently watched a film called The Age of Consequences, but it was scarier than Soylent Green. This film is like The Hurt Locker meets An Inconvenient Truth and it gives us an unflinching look through the Pentagon’s eyes of the impact of climate change and how it is connected to food shortages, extreme weather, sea-level rise, terrorist groups and a refugee crisis. This is our military telling us that climate change and overpopulation will have dire effects on their ability to keep us safe. Soylent Green is one hell of a thriller, but the truth is even more frightening.
Films are useful tools in showing us what can happen in the future. Soylent Green was a warning. The Age of Consequences is the hammer that drives the message home. What will we be forced to eat when there is no food? Soylent Green is people!