Movie Review: Soylent Green

In an age where we are worried about overcrowding the planet, where global warming looms, the degree of it depending what political orientation you have, where urbanization is rampant, particularly in the developing world, and more particularly in China, watching a 1973 movie about an overcrowded world is an odd experience.

I don’t have to hold back on the plot and the story. Charlton Heston plays a cop who investigates the murder of an industrialist. We follow him for a few weeks of his life in New York City in 2022. The Soylent Corporation sells a substance, called Soylent Green, that is a synthetically created, highly nutritious food. It is distributed in solid wafers, perhaps a half-inch thick and three inches square, the consistency of peanut brittle. It looks like plastic blocks. The protagonist eventually figures out that Soylent Green is made out of recycled corpses, and that’s the end of the movie.

That may have been meaningful in 1973, but today the story is completely hokey and not particularly interesting to watch, except as an academic exercise. It was a bit like watching a 1970 porn without the skin.

I enjoyed the movie not for its message or plot, but for the experience of seeing what we thought the world would be like in 2022 from a perspective of 1972, fifty years hence.

New York City had 40 million people and was a dirty wasteland of decrepit buildings and roads, trash everywhere, and 1970 clunker cars strewn about. No flat screens, but 1970 style televisions. Telephones looked like telephones in 1970. Not much innovation anywhere.

Of course, nobody predicted computerization or miniaturization. In 1970, computers were still mainframes only. There were no flat screens. The movie tried to show high-tech concepts, like control consoles with smallish CRTs and normal keyboards. There was one Pac-Man-like video game. The housing looked somewhat like a rounded arcade game that would not start appearing until the late 1970-ies, and the screen was black and white with awkward controls. That video game was probably the most high-tech item in that world.

There were plenty of elevators that looked like our elevators today, and doors that closed automatically. When the cop had to call the office, he had to find a little call box on the side of a building that had a telephone in it.

The rich and privileged all were young and beautiful, and the girls wore pastel colored gowns and dresses that showed off their cleavage. For every rich and privileged person, there were a thousand people in the gutters, hungry and thirsty. A bleak world – and funny to watch from a 2010 perspective, with 2022 really close now.

Like 1984, the Orwellian nightmare that came and went, Soylent Green has more life and I should rent it again in 2022 just for kicks.

Rating: **

3 thoughts on “Movie Review: Soylent Green

  1. Devin

    So you say that the story was hokey…I feel like the story is the best part of the movie. You left out a lot of detail in your description of the story. While the main theme in the film deals with the “soylent green is people” aspect, there are many other interesting concepts and themes that are wonderfully portrayed. Urbanization, overpopulation, and the disappearance of physical landscapes and their beauty are ideas that are wonderfully portrayed in the film.

    I feel like you only gave it 2 stars because it didn’t captivate you or draw you in. I recommend watching Soylent Green or The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly with a mindset of the time period that the films were made in. They are growndbreaking for their time in many ways. And they offer a lot more depth than movies like Avatar that are made to be blockbuster hits that captivate all audiences.

    Oh, and the rich and privileged were not “young and beautiful” in Soylent Green, they were old and filthy business men. The young and beautiful people you are mistaking for the rich were called “Furniture.” They are the live in concubines of the dwellings of the rich.

    So before you defend yourself, I recommend you read a book on cinematography in order to understand what moviemaking ( and movie reviewing) is all about. Especially considering that “movie reviews” is one of the main categories of your website, I suggest you read up on “how to review movies” before you start to post your opinion of their quality.

    If your going to review movies, I think you should leave out the number of stars you give them and just write what you think of them. Would you like it if someone narrowed down the value and overall quality of your paintings to “stars” ? I think not.

  2. Ah, great comments.

    You are right in many ways. I do tend to have a thing about watching older movies, and I have a hard time getting into the periods of when the movies were made.

    And yes, I did overlook the furniture aspect of the concubines and young and beautiful.

    I do think I am entitled to rate movies – the rating is a subjective measurement of my subjective response to the experience of watching – in the now.

    When I spend time on observing an art form — movies — I can rate the experience of having spent that time and the value. It’s not valuing the movie for everyone else, it’s telling everyone else what the payoff was for me for spending the time and the effort to watch.

    And yes, if somebody looked at my work, read my writing, observed my painting, and gave their subjective experience a star rating, I would not mind, as the world gives us rankings and ratings as it “pays us” for our contribution, either by money, or by fame, recognition, awards or admiration. Some get more and some get less. Hopefully the ones with real talent get more. I am ok with that concept.

Leave a Reply