Soylent Green

1973, Movie, PG, 97 mins

Review

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A sluggishly directed look at life and death in the 21st century, SOYLENT GREEN is set in a Big Apple that is rotten to the core. Smog is everywhere, humidity is constantly oppressive, space is at a premium, and the population explosion has crammed more than 40 million people in greater New York, many of whom live on the streets, in subways, in abandoned vehicles, or in burnt-out buildings. Because real food costs so much that no one can afford it, the government provides the people with a synthetic substitute, supposedly made from plankton. Said to have all the vitamins and nutrients needed to maintain life, this pseudo-food is manufactured by a huge conglomerate known as the Soylent company. Starving people line up for their quota of Soylent Green wafers, but when there appears to be a lack of the foodstuff, riots breakout that the cops quell by scooping up the rioters with huge garbage-clearing contraptions. Heston is a detective who lives in a seedy apartment with Robinson, an aged researcher who is a walking data bank. Robinson is old enough that he can recall what bananas tasted like and what real soap felt like against one's skin. Cotten, an executive with the Soylent company, is killed, and Heston gets the job of investigating the murder. From Cotten's mistress, Taylor-Young, Heston learns that Cotten had been inexplicably depressed for a few weeks before his death. As one of the society's elite, he had little reason to be so down, and Heston thinks that Cotten may have been killed by his bodyguard, Connors, to prevent Cotten for divulging a big secret. Heston continues prying but then is told by his boss, Peters, that the governor, Bissell, has ordered that he cease his investigation. A dedicated cop, Heston ignores the order. When an attempt is made on his life, Heston recovers from the wound and is ready to arrest his would-be assassin, Young; however, Young is killed before Heston can nail him. Robinson begins his own investigation and winds up in an underground repository of books and records where nobody goes anymore. Uncovering the truth about the Soylent company, he is able to understand why Cotten became so desperate that he more-or-less condoned his own death. This terrible truth is also too much for Robinson to bear, and he, too, decides that death is preferable to living with this secret. In this future world, citizens are encouraged to chose to die. Prior to being injected with a painless but lethal narcotic, those opting to die are allowed to listen to 20 minutes of their favorite music and shown films of verdant vistas of yesteryear. Responding to a note left for him by Robinson, Heston races to the death clinic just before the old man expires. Robinson tells the cop what he's discovered, but Heston is still dubious. Hiding aboard a truck filled with people who've elected to die, Heston can't believe his eyes as he watches the dead being transported along a conveyor belt to a large manufacturing device, emerging at the other end of the line as the ubiquitous wafers of Soylent Green. Now that he knows the secret, Heston's life is worthless. He is able to fight off Connors and his thugs, but when he returns to the teeming city, he is waylaid by more henchmen. As he is being beaten by agents of the company, Heston shouts, "Soylent Green is people!"

Despite winning the Nebula Award as best science-fiction film of 1973, SOYLENT GREEN is a short, unsatisfying film. Not surprisingly, Edward G. Robinson's performance here is excellent, but it's shame that it is this film that proved to the swan song for the immensely talented actor whose career spanned five decades and included more than 100 movies. Ironically, Robinson knew he was dying when he performed in the scene in which his character also faces death. Regrettably, Connors and Heston, who have two of the most stoical faces in films, look as though they are about to expire through most of the film. Professor and futurist Frank Bowerman served as the technical consultant on this message picture, which has dim of view humankind's future. Keep the kids away from this one, it may cause bad dreams. leave a comment

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