Soylent Green (1973)

Soylent Green (1973), directed by Richard Fleischer.

First review

A minor science fiction effort, actually a simple murder mystery dressed up in a dystopian setting. It's a "statement" movie made shortly after the first Earth Day when the population bomb, pollution and social regimentation were fresh and vital issues. It's remembered for the famous punch-line and for being Edward G. Robinson's last picture.

New York in the near future is hot and overcrowded: 40 million people without enough water or electricity. The air is yellow-green and garbage trucks collect the dead bodies. Charlton Heston is a cop investigating the murder of a rich man in a luxury apartment building: as a perk of the job he pilfers freely and makes use of the A/C, running water and resident prostitute (called "furniture" for some reason -- as in "piece of"? Or because it is a "furnished apartment").

Heston must have liked science fiction, he did so much of it. Robinson died just a few days after the end of filming and I read that he told Heston what was up before their big good-bye scene. That's moving, although I wish it had been in a better movie. And yet: the euthanasia chamber scene is distressingly lovely.

Available on Blu-ray.

Second review

I'm writing this in 2022, the year of the story. We do not have 40 million people in New York City and I haven't seen riot control done with big powered scoops, but neither have I looked for it. Fears of the population bomb have declined with birth rates; I remember charts forecasting the leveling off even before this film was made.

We still worry about pollution and lack of clean water, and the film was prophetic in citing the greenhouse effect, illustrated with a dirty, sweaty urban peasantry. Also for its concern in the extreme gap of wealth and poverty, where -- as the commentary track says -- some are above the law and the rest are completely beneath it.

This is considered science fiction but there is no advanced technology. It's just set in the future. I appreciate it more now without offering it as a great film.

The cast:


Available on Blu-ray. The director and Leigh Taylor-Young provide an appreciative commentary track.