Soylent Green is a 1973 dystopian science fiction movie depicting a future in which global warming and overpopulation lead to depleted resources on Earth. This in turn leads to widespread unemployment and poverty. Real fruit, vegetables, and meat are rare, commodities are expensive, and much of the population survives on processed food rations, including “soylent green” wafers.
The film overlays the science fiction and police procedural genres as it depicts the efforts of New York City police detective Robert Thorn (Charlton Heston) and elderly police researcher Sol Roth (Edward G. Robinson) to investigate the brutal murder of a wealthy businessman named William R. Simonson (Joseph Cotten). Thorn and Roth uncover clues which suggest that it is more than simply a bungled burglary.
The film, which is loosely based upon the 1966 science fiction novel Make Room! Make Room!, by Harry Harrison, won the Nebula Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film in 1973.
Set in the year 2022, Soylent Green depicts a dystopian future in which the population has grown to forty million in New York City alone. Most housing is dilapidated and overcrowded, and the impoverished homeless fill the streets and line the fire escapes and stairways of buildings. Food as we know it today–including fruit, vegetables, and meat–is a rare and expensive commodity. Half of the world’s population survives on processed rations produced by the massive Soylent Corporation (from soy(bean) + lent(il)), including Soylent Red and Soylent Yellow, which are advertised as “high-energy vegetable concentrates”. The newest product is Soylent Green – a small green wafer which is advertised as being produced from “high-energy plankton”. It is much more nutritious and palatable than the red and yellow varieties, but it is — like most other food — in short supply, which often leads to riots.
Processed “Soylent Green” ration wafers
Robert Thorn (Charlton Heston) is a New York City police detective who lives in a dilapidated, cramped one-room apartment with his aged partner Sol Roth (Edward G. Robinson). Roth is a former professor who searches through the now-disordered remnants of written records and books to help Thorn’s investigations. Roth and his like are known as “books”. He tells Thorn about the times before the ecological disaster and population crisis, when real food was plentiful, although Thorn is generally not interested in the “stories”.
Thorn is assigned to investigate the murder of William R. Simonson (Joseph Cotten). When he goes to the crime scene, he finds Simonson lying in a pool of blood from being struck multiple times in the back of the head. Instead of looking for clues, the poorly-paid detective helps himself to some of the wealthy man’s food, liquor, soap, and books. He also questions Shirl (Leigh Taylor-Young), an attractive 24-year old prostitute (euphemistically known as “furniture”) who comes with the luxury apartment, and Simonson’s bodyguard, Tab Fielding (Chuck Connors), who claims that he was told to escort Shirl on a shopping trip when the attack took place.
Returning to his apartment, he gives Sol two large books he took from Simonson’s apartment, the two-volume Soylent Oceanographic Survey Report, 2015 to 2019. Thorn returns to work and talks to the Chief of Detectives, telling him that he suspects it may have been an assassination, since nothing was stolen from the apartment and the murder seemed professional. He finds it odd that the luxury apartment’s sophisticated alarm and monitoring electronics happened to be inoperative on the night of the murder, and his bodyguard just happened to be out of the apartment at the time.
After Thorn questions Fielding’s live-in “furniture”, he realizes she was eating from a “$150 a jar” container of strawberry jam, which is an out-of-place luxury for the prostitute of a bodyguard. He returns to his own apartment to eat a meal of the purloined food, where Sol tells him that Simonson was a member of the board of directors of the Soylent Corporation, one of the most powerful corporations in the world. Thorn then returns to question Shirl, who tells him that Simonson had become deeply troubled in the days before his death, even taking her to church. Thorn later attempts to question the priest about Simonson’s confession, but the priest is almost catatonic with exhaustion and does not reveal anything. Fielding later murders the priest to ensure he never talks. After Thorn begins to uncover evidence on why Simonson was murdered, New York Governor Santini (Whit Bissell) instructs Thorn’s superior officer, Lieutenant Hatcher (Brock Peters), to close the investigation. However, Thorn refuses, and continues his investigation into the murder. Later, when Thorn is on riot duty during the distribution of rations, Simonson’s murderer fires several shots at Thorn, wounding him, but Thorn is able to push his attacker under a riot control vehicle, a “scoop”.
In the meantime, Roth goes over oceanographic reports that Thorn took from Simonson’s apartment with other intellectuals at the “supreme exchange,” a library of old books. The other books convince Roth of a “horrible” truth, which despite reading it for himself finds it almost impossible to believe. The “books” intend to use the overwhelming evidence against the Soylent Corporation and to prove what Soylent are doing before taking it to the Council of Nations. Unable to live with what he has uncovered, Roth opts for assisted suicide or active, voluntary euthanasia (euphemistically known as “going home”) at a government clinic. There, he is taken to a comfortable bed, is given a poison-laced beverage, and is shown panoramic views of an unspoiled pristine Earth as he dies. As Roth is viewing this, Thorn (who has since read a note from Roth that he is “going home”) forces the staff to allow him to see and talk to Roth. He thus sees the earth as it once was for the first time. Overwhelmed at seeing what is for him such wondrous natural beauty, he is moved to tears. During Roth’s final moments, he begs Thorn to prove the horrible truth about “Simonson… Soylent.”
After Roth dies, Thorn sneaks into the basement of the government-assisted suicide facility, where he sees corpses being loaded onto waste disposal trucks. He secretly hitches a ride on one of the trucks, which drives to a heavily guarded waste disposal plant. Once inside the plant, Thorn sees how the corpses are processed into Soylent Green wafers. After Thorn escapes from the plant and heads for the supreme exchange with the information, he is ambushed by Fielding and several other gunmen. In the shootout, Thorn kills some of the gunmen, but is himself wounded and retreats into a cathedral filled with homeless people. After a desperate fight, Thorn stabs and kills Fielding. When police backup arrives, the seriously wounded and nearly hysterical Thorn confides to Hatcher the horrible secret behind Soylent Green and urges him to spread the word: “Soylent Green is people! We’ve got to stop them somehow!”
The screenplay was based on the 1966 Harrison novel Make Room! Make Room!, which is set in the year 1999 with the theme of overpopulation and overuse of resources leading to increasing poverty, food shortages, and social disorder as the next millennium approaches. While the book refers to “soylent steaks”, it makes no reference to “Soylent Green”, the processed food rations depicted in the film. The book’s title was not used for the movie since it might have confused audiences into thinking it was a big-screen version of Make Room for Daddy.
The director Richard Fleischer, who began by shooting film noir thrillers after World War II, learned to do special effects in the 1950s and 1960s when he did a number of Science Fiction films such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Fantastic Voyage (1966). In the years before and after Soylent Green, Fleischer did films centering on famous serial killers and capital punishment (1968’s The Boston Strangler and 1971’s 10 Rillington Place) and the controversial and provocative Che Guevara biopic Che! (1969).
This was the 101st and last movie in which Edward G. Robinson appeared. He died from cancer twelve days after the shooting was done, on January 26, 1973. Robinson had previously worked with Heston in The Ten Commandments (1956). The female lead character, Shirl (Leigh Taylor-Young), is briefly seen playing a Computer Space arcade game, an early depiction of the 1970s pop culture phenomenon of videogames. The game was similar to Atari’s popular “Asteroids” video arcade game, in which a triangular space capsule blasts away at asteroids on a collision course with the capsule. However, this game was not released until 1979, six years after the release of the film.
In the film, after the aged Roth learns the truth about Soylent Green, he decides he can no longer deal with the world, and states that he is “going home”. By this, he means that he is going to sign up for government-assisted suicide. When Roth arrives at the clinic, he is asked to select a lighting scheme and a type of music for the death chamber. Roth selects orange-hued lights and “light Classical music.” When he goes to the death chamber, a selection of Classical music plays through speakers and films are projected on large screens.
The “going home” score in this part of the film was conducted by Gerald Fried and consists of the main themes from Symphony No. 6 (“Pathétique”) by Tchaikovsky; Symphony No. 6 (“Pastoral”) by Beethoven; “Morning Mood” and “Åse’s Death” from the Peer Gynt Suite by Edvard Grieg. As the music plays, scenes of majestic natural beauty are projected on film screens: “deer in woods, trees and leaves, sunsets beside the sea, birds flying overhead, rolling streams, mountains, fish and coral, sheep and horses, and lots and lots of flowers — from daffodils to dogwoods”. Amidst the music and the scenes of nature, Roth remembers the world as it once was. Yet, he cannot peacefully take his last breath as he is pained by the beauty lost and cannot stand the awfulness of the real world. Roth struggles to tell Thorn about the secret of “soylent green,” urging him to “prove it” before taking his dying breath.
Joe Morton stars in this dramatic comedy, set in New York City in the early 1980s, as “The Brother,” an alien and escaped slave who, while fleeing “Another Planet,” has crash-landed in Upper New York Harbor.
Picked up as homeless, he is deposited in Harlem. The sweet-natured and honest Brother looks like any other black man, except that he is mute and – although other characters in the film never see them – his feet each have three large toes. The Brother has telekinetic powers but, unable to speak, he struggles to express himself and adjust to his new surroundings, including a stint in the Job Corps at a video arcade in Manhattan.
He is chased by two white Men in Black (David Strathairn and director Sayles himself); Sayles’s twist on the Men in Black concept is that instead of government agents trying to cover up alien activity, Sayles’s Men in Black are also aliens, out to re-capture “The Brother” and other escaped slaves and bring them back to their home planet. Unlike the many human characters in this film, the aliens themselves are oblivious of skin color, and screenwriter Sayles has one of the Men in Black utter an epithet “Three Toe” when describing their quarry, in attempt to prove that skin color is just as arbitrary as number of toes or any other human characteristic that would make one different from another.
The Brother From Another Planet: Original Soundtrack [SOUNDTRACK]
|1. Homeboy – Joe Morton|
|2. Burning My Heart Out – Ren Woods|
|3. Dinero – Efrain Saldgado,|
|4. Pussy-I-Cocky-I-Water – Lee “Scratch” Perry|
|5. Getaway – Dee Dee Bridgewater|
|6. Dealer Steel – Denzil Botus|
|7. Tunnel – Mason Daring|
|8. Boss of the Block – Dee Dee Bridgewater|
|9. Yomutha – Jeff Anderson|
|10. Night – Mason Daring|
|11. Dos Chase – Denzil Botus|
|12. Promised Land – Laborers In The Vineyard All Community Choir, Madelin Wilson,|