Search this blog and The Mike's favorite blogs!

December 15, 2011

Midnight Movie of the Week #102 - Soylent Green

Go ahead.  Just say it.  I know you want to.  

Feel better?  Good.

If you don't know the infamous spoiler from the end of Soylent Green, you might have looked at the above command with a puzzled eye.  But I'm willing to bet that most everyone out there who would stumble upon this little rambling about the film knows how it ends.  In fact, I'm willing to bet it's the most spoiled film that the least amount of people have seen in the history of Hollywood.  That's not to say Soylent Green hasn't been seen - over 19,000 IMDB voters give it an average score of 7/10 - but it's always been known more for its final reveal than the film that leads up to it.  Which is pretty sad, really.
I've wanted to feature Soylent Green here since the early days of this site.  Now that I'm taking the time to look at it, I find myself increasingly focused on just how heavy the film is on the viewer.  I'm sure the tone of Richard Fleischer's film is partially responsible (along with the film's dated visuals) for Soylent Green remaining a cult phenomenon that's not widely regarded as a mainstream sci-fi classic, and perhaps those who ignore the film for these reasons have a good point. 
Unlike many science fiction films of its era, Soylent Green tells the story of a darker, dirtier, and more depressing future.  The streets of our cities - particularly New York - have been overcrowded by a steadily rising population, which has also forced more and more people in to poverty.  The film's hero - Richard Thorn (played by Charlton Heston) - is a police detective.  Those of us in the real world of 2011 would assume he makes a large amount of money and can live comfortably based on that job.  But in the Soylent Green world of 2022 - just 11 years from now - he lives in a small apartment with few furnishings and a live-in old man named Sol (the great Edward G. Robinson in his final film) who pedals an exercise bike to keep the power going.
There are only two things in Soylent Green that don't like dirty and drab, the first of which is the proverbial "other side of the tracks" where Thorn must investigate the mysterious murder of an executive from the Soylent Corporation (a cameo by the also-great Joseph Cotten).  His investigation mostly consists of stealing precious items - in his world, that means apples, soap, and pillowcases - from the rich & deceased fellow's apartment, and getting to know the "furniture" that comes with the apartment - a gorgeous, but detached, woman named Shirl played by Leigh Taylor-Young.  This setting is presented as a different world than the one Thorn and Sol live in, and there's some real joy to be had in seeing Thorn take his confiscated items back to the overcrowded apartment building so Sol can tell him how much these simple items used to matter.
Meanwhile, everyone in the side of town that doesn't get a prostitute with their roof seems dirty and scared and sad and kind of just devoid of feelings.  The film hammers this home very simply when Thorn finds a dead woman on the steps of a shelter, her still crying toddler tied to her corpse.  There are entire movies that could be made or books that could be written about this kind of scene, but Thorn handles the whole thing matter-of-factly by untying the child, tucking it under his arm, and handing it off to a worker in the already bursting shelter.  And that's it.  There's no time for connection with the orphaned child or the dozens of men, women, and children who sleep on the steps outside his apartment.  There are 40 million people in Thorn's town, but none of them seem to actually look at each other very often.
The one time you will see emotion from these filthy masses?  Tuesday, which is Soylent Green day.  When faced with the prospect of not getting the mass produced foodstuff, these beaten souls quickly become the aggressors, taking on Heston and a whole squad of police officers in riot gear (in the SG world, riot gear - football helmets with little bills screwed onto them) until they are quickly wiped out by the riot control units "Scoops" - which are dump trucks with buckets to throw the masses into their bins.  If it wasn't so silly looking to see people being scooped up and dumped in the back of a truck this might have been one of the most horrifying scenes in sci-fi history, because it shows just how little human life is worth in this jaded future.
While Thorn deals with rioters and cavorts with Shirl, Sol investigates the documents that were found in the murdered man's apartment, and comes into contact with the sad truth that leads to the final reveal.  To me, the film becomes Sol's journey in its middle act, as the old man's memories of the past combine with the horrible things he's learning about the present to wear on his mental state.  In one scene he travels to the one place that doesn't seem to be overcrowded - the library - to get answers, and the expressions on Robinson's face as he learns more and more about the Soylent Corporation set the tone for what happens next.
Once Sol knows the truth we see the second thing in Soylent Green that's not dirty or drab - the suicide clinic.  In a dark way, I kind of think Soylent Green's suicide clinic is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen on film.  We don't know what Sol knows when he enters this sterile structure, but it's hard to really blame him for his choice based on what we've seen him go through.  This is a man who knew society when it was working - or at least when it wasn't crumbling - and seeing him burdened by the realities of the Soylent Green world is a tough sight.  When he is ushered into the buidling by a smiling young woman and offered music and his favorite color (don't forget how few colors there seem to be in this ugly world), it's easy to empathize with his character's desire to escape this sepia-toned world.
In fact, Sol's biggest concern as he enters his final resting place is simply wanting to be sure that he gets "the full 20 minutes", implying that his life matters less than the chance to experience a third of an hour of beauty.  The scene which follows is nothing short of remarkable, with classical music and nature photography washing over the walls as the old man cries for the last time and shares his knowledge with Thorn one last time.  Robinson, who died of cancer weeks after finishing the film, told Heston that he was afflicted with the disease just before filming this scene, and the results are obvious through both actors on screen.  And when the beauty of the scene does fade, and the viewer is left with simply a vision of an old man who died with his eyes wide and his mouth agape, it's hard to not be affected as a viewer too.
At this point - whence I have covered most of the film's plot EXCEPT the final quote that has permeated pop culture - you might wonder just why anyone would want to watch such a depressing movie.  To be honest, I'm kind of struggling with that too as I put it all in words.  But it's that dark vision of the future, one that is relatively unmatched in the sci-fi pantheon, that always keeps me fascinated and going back to the film.  There's a lot more to Soylent Green than what Heston shouts at the end of the film, and I think it's a unique sci-fi tale that speaks volumes about humanity.
I think I believe in people enough to say that I don't expect Soylent Green to happen to us.  But, given the political climate and the economic unease that seems to be driving so many people in the United States crazy, I'm not certain that we're strong enough to avoid a future in which we ignore the people who are stuck on our streets fighting for a cracker they think is made from plankton.  That's where I find the greatest intrigue in Soylent Green, which seems intent on warning us just how badly things can go if we lose humanity as we fight through the crowds of our daily lives.

But hey, if you're worried about the future, I've got good news for you.  You can start stocking up on Soylent Green immediately, because The Soylent Corporation is selling it RIGHT NOW.


R.D. Penning said...

There is only one other movie that has ever made me feel like Soylent Green did, and that is The Road. I'm sure you have seen it Mike. It had the same tone for sure. I enjoyed the review, and I will revisit SG soon I assure you.

Horror Movies said...

This was a great horror movies collection... i love horror movies. Thanks for the recommendtaion.

viagra online said...

this movie reminds me a lot of references from pop culture shows.