Soylent Green Review

Soylent Green

We reach the 1970s in the Sci-Fi films “10 Decades” marathon, and with it we reach another film where I’ve seen / heard it mentioned or parodied so much I wanted to finally watch it. Soylent Green is a dystopian story set in 2022 New York, where over-population has caused a greater divide between the rich and poor, and global warming has made the weather constantly muggy and unpleasant… Probably closer to how a lot of the world will be like in four years’ time than we’d all like, really… Anyway, enough current day political bollocks, let’s have a look at the film in question!

Synopsis:

The 20th century’s industrialization led to overcrowding, pollution and global warming due to the greenhouse effect. 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.

Admit all this is New York City Police Department detective Frank Thorn, who lives with his aged friend and police analyst, Solomon “Sol” Roth. Frank’s next case is going to change their world, and not for the better…

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

Cast of Characters:

Soylent Green 2

“You’re really captivated by me, aren’t you?”   “Huh? Er, yeah… You and those weird curtain things behind you… What on Earth are they?”

Frank Thorn (Charlton Heston) – Frank is thankful for being one of the few people in New York with a job. He helps capture criminals as a Detective, though given the rampant population, it’s not as easy as it sounds…

Solomon Roth (Edward G. Robinson) – Solomon is an old police analyst from back in the time where people could still buy food like vegetables and meat. He still helps Frank with cases, even though most in the local law enforcement feel he’s past it…

Shirl (Leigh Taylor-Young) – Shirl is a concubine of rich and powerful William R. Simonson, a common feature of 2022 New York, so much so they’re often referred to as “Furniture” by the wealthy and poor alike…

Tab Fielding (Chuck Connors) – Tab is Simonson’s bodyguard, but he’s also loyal to the Soylent company, meaning he’s not afraid to kill to keep their secrets secret…

William R. Simonson (Joseph Cotten) – William works for Soylent, and he knows their big secret. After having this knowledge weigh down on his soul for so long, he feels the need to let the world know…

Plus more!

The Good:

Soylent Green 1

That Soylent Green there… I think it may be made of people.

Like most people today watching Soylent Green for the first time, all I knew about it was Charlton Heston shouting “Soylent Green is people!” while being carried out of a room, so I was quite surprised how much the film leans on the police side of things, but it works, for the most part. He and his analyst friend Solomon are a good duo, and when Frank has to look over the case of a dead top-brass businessman he eventually falls for a lady, who unfortunately in this society is referred to as Furniture, and soon figures out that it’s clearly assassination.

While he’s at the scene he interviews the aforementioned lady and the businessman’s bodyguard, as well as ending up seeing amazing sights like large bars of soap and actual vegetables and meat, so he ends up swiping them from the crime scene and taking them back to Sol. The scene where they eat the food and drink the bourbon he also nicked was good, the sheer amaze and delight they have thanks to actually eating a good meal for once gets the point across in a more unique way then just showing people only eating dry biscuits of various colours.

Anyway, after some further scenes of Frank beating up some people involved in the case and getting away with it (because in this society anyone who attacks a law enforcer is sent to work in the Soylent factories without trial) Solomon discovers why Simonson, the businessman, was killed: the ever popular Soylent Green is made from reprocessed dead people, not sea plankton like advertised. This drives him to commit suicide in a euthanasia facility in a rather well shot and dramatic scene. He manages to tell Frank, who arrived too late to stop the process, about the truth and that he must get evidence to bring to some weird council of old people in a library that is never fully explained.

This brings us to an odd final act where all prior plot points are dropped as Frank sees the truth through his own eyes at a Soylent Factory, then gives a quick call to Shirl (the woman he fell for) and tells he to get on with her life with her new tenant (who is a complete bastard) before getting into a shootout and chase with the corrupt bodyguard and other Soylent-hired assassins. The chase ends with him wounded after he successfully killed his foe, and the now-classic scene of his screaming that “Soylent Green is people!”. It’s very strange for an ending, it’s one of those things where everything was normal, a murder investigation, Frank falling in love with someone he normally “shouldn’t”, that kind of thing, but then once the truth is found out everything changes… literally. Then the film just ends with no real resolution to anything…

The Bad:

Soylent Green 4

The minister who was told the big secret and become incoherent as a result. I never mentioned him, but he was good in his small role…

Scenes of our lead Frank literally having to walk over hallways and floors full of people just laying and sleeping in order to get out of his apartment building and go to work is an extreme visual of the problem the writer foresaw, and when a riot starts and several trucks with scoops on them start to literally scoop up civilians and plop them into the back it all gets too… silly, to take seriously. It’s a shame, because the message is a good one, or at least it came from someone’s legit fears of how the future will turn out, but they took it a tad too far and a bit too on-the-nose for the message to land properly… The opening montage of real life historical photos and clips phasing into modern footage and scenes of crowds of people would’ve been more effective if it weren’t so long…

I’m of mixed feelings about the ending. As I said in the good, everything is just dropped. Frank’s love interest is now a “piece of furniture” for some guy who is clearly going to mistreat her, and that’s all we know. Frank shouts the truth about Soylent Green but does the company actually face any legal trouble? Who are this mysterious council of older people Solomon visited and asks Frank to get proof for? Sometimes an open-ended ending is good, but sometimes the more questions than answers can be … annoying. It’s been a few decades now, so I doubt we’ll get a sequel to find out, that’s for sure!

Overall Thoughts:Soylent Green 3

“Oh God! …. I think I left the oven on… Wait, I guess it doesn’t matter…”

Soylent Green is a good film, it has some interesting characters and some surprisingly good action scenes towards the end, but it does also feel overly preachy and occasionally slow-moving in the middle. The ending being so open-ended might leave you feeling cheated, too… It’s a hard one to judge, and while I enjoyed watching it, I don’t see myself watching it again…I guess an average score then, but I am glad I finally watched it.

3 Star Watch

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