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.