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Message Subject Frankenfoods for YOU
Poster Handle zacksavage
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Soylent Green
Hmm....so what exactly is Olestra, anyway?

Soylent Green

Starring Charlton Heston, Edward G. Robinson

MGM/UA Home Video

Rated PG

97 minutes

Color 1973

Review by Tamara I. Hladik

In 2022, New York City is populated with 40 million people, half of whom are unemployed. The air is smoggy and sooty, and the sun bakes everything, everyday, at 90 degrees. Overpopulation and the destruction of the environment may have rendered human life cheap, but food--that is, real food--is quite expensive. A jar of real strawberry jam costs $150, if it´s available--supermarkets don´t exist anymore. The government now dispenses rations of food substances made by the Soylent corporation: Soylent Yellow, Soylent Red, and the newest product, Soylent Green.

But even these Soylent products are in short supply. Riot police are always dispatched when Soylent is distributed, because violence kicks in when the food runs out. Thorn (Heston) is a member of this modern, beleaguered police force, which pilfers every crime scene for the necessities of life. When Thorn is called in to investigate the death of a Soylent Corporation executive, his take is a treasure trove: a towel, a bar of soap, paper, and some real food--celery, a couple of apples, and half a pound of beef.

But what at first seems to Thorn a clumsy robbery soon seems a highly-managed assassination. But ironically, it is the death of Thorn´s aging friend, Sol (Robinson), one of the few who still remembered what food was, what plenty meant, that cracks the case and unmasks a conspiracy. It is only through Sol´s death that Thorn understands what the world has lost and what it has become...

Dystopia, euthanasia and all the rest

Soylent Green is a basic, cautionary tale of what could become of humanity physically and spiritually if it doesn´t nurture the planet that nurtures it. There is little in this film that has not been seen in its brethren: faceless, oppressive crowds; sheep mentality; the corrosion of the soul, of imagination, of collective memory. Quirkily enough, Soylent Green often succeeds despite its director, whose tendency is to overuse Charlton Heston to illustrate every nuance of this dystopia.

Ironically, the film´s most powerful moments do not belong to Heston, who makes a dubious, ambiguous hero. It is Robinson who lays claim to the most moving passages of the film. As Sol he speaks frequently throughout the film of what the planet was like, and he sounds like any old-timer of any generation. But in this bleak future, as one of the few who remembers, he is the film´s conscience and soul. When Sol finally succumbs to despair and relinquishes himself to a government euthanasia center, Thorn sees glimpses of the Earth´s lost legacy. In his world, the average person only sees blue skies and green forests via canned video during their last 20 minutes of life in a government euthanasia center.

The film definitely has its moments, when its imagery is powerful and haunting. The sight of inexorably rolling front-loaders indiscriminately scooping up masses of squirming humanity from the streets is as powerful as anything else the film has to say. Mostly, though, the profundity of humanity´s transformation is dealt with in less than a masterful manner. This theme has been conducted better by others.

One of my favorite scenes was when Sol goes to the Exchange, one of the last crippled vestiges of democracy left in the city. There he has a terrific scene with Celia Lovsky (who played the Vulcan matriarch T´Pau in Amok Time). As the elderly, as people who have living knowledge of what was, they are us, and bridge the gap between now and this possible future. -- Tamara

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