Soylent Green (1973)

(On DVD, December 2017) Everyone knows Soylent Green’s big twist, but there’s a lot more to the movie than Charlton Heston’s panicked “it’s PEOPLE!”  Firmly dystopian even when it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t take a long time for Soylent Green to showcase its nightmarish vision of an overpopulated New York in a world where the environment has been (entirely?) destroyed. Things are so bad that steak and vegetables are a rare delicacy, and where even good cops can’t help but pillage the apartment of a rich murder victim. Euthanasia has been ritualized, street protests are cleaned up by heavy machinery and there’s a clear twilight-for-humanity theme to the film’s atmosphere. Heston stars as a cop intrigued by the murder of one of the city’s elite, but much of the movie is one bad thing after another, all the way to a gut-punch of a conclusion that finalizes the grim fate of its protagonist through a happy montage earlier established to signify a Requiem. You can know everything about Soylent Green’s conclusion and still be impressed (in the most depressing sense of the word) by the film’s relentless grimness. Very loosely adapted from Harry Harrison’s classic genre SF novel “Make Room! Make Room!” (which doesn’t even feature the big twist of the film), Soylent Green gets more interesting the more you read about it, especially how Edward G. Robinson’s final performance ends with an elaborate death sequence (the actor died twelve days after filming). Firmly belonging to the “Science-fiction as a warning” school of filmmaking, Soylent Green is often rough and crude. But it does carry a certain impact that helps make it stand out even today. It’s clearly a product of the seventies, but I found it somewhat more interesting than it’s endlessly parodied twist would suggest.

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