Rated PG back when PG meant absolutely nothing. Sure, I'm fighting for those days again. But as long as it wasn't overly offensive, it got a PG rating. Maybe this is all having to do with the obliteration of the G rating. Anyway, Soylent Green borderline has nudity in it. I mean, IMdB calls it mild sex, but you can see the outlines of two people having sex in a steamy shower. But the real messed up stuff is the treatment of human life, whether through violence or poverty. PG.
DIRECTOR: Richard Fleischer
Should I be writing this? I absolutely know that I should be writing, but do I have the authority to write about this? Let me give you the pros and cons. If you think I have to rewrite this after you make the decision, then...well, that's your opinion and I probably won't do it. But still. I started watching Soylent Green on New Year's Eve. I tend to watch movies while I exercise, thus building good habits. But I knew that I was going to take a week off to celebrate a year of non-stop exercise. Well, one week turned into two months. So I watched the first half of Soylent Green on New Year's Eve and the second half in March.
But here's the thing: I've seen it before. The only reason that I watched it again, oddly enough, wasn't the fact that it took place in 2022. I didn't even know that when the movie started. (That moment of kismet was wonderful.) So when I split it in two, it's not like this was a new film. Yeah, I acknowledge it's not the best way to watch a movie. But sometimes life happens and I have to split things up. I'm back to exercising mostly, so hopefully there'll be more consistency, Regardless, I still have a couple of takeaways from this movie.
I lump this and The Omega Man together. Like, tonally and casting make these movies just one giant movie to me. The funny thing is that they really are very different movies. I know that there's some meat behind The Omega Man, but Soylent Green is just calling out humanity for its bad choices. While we're not at the unconscious eating of other human beings (as far as we know), we're not exactly at our most proud moment in history. The role of science fiction is to comment on society. It's why I like Star Trek so much. Star Trek is the optimistic response to how the world was going. The Civil Rights Movement finally started uniting humanity together enough to make what should have been real change. Gene Roddenberry, in response to that, made Star Trek imagining what the future would be like if we continued progress. But Soylent Green refused to look at the world in such a sunny disposition. It was a cynical look at the role humanity would take. It was the environmentalist's nightmare. It unfolded a world where we had choked the air and water so that no plant life would grow. Subsequently, only the super-rich could a sense of basic normalcy.
The insane thing is that this stars Charleton Heston, future NRA president and ultra-conservative. Now, I heard on Pete Holmes's podcast that Heston is actually a wonderful human being, despite having some pretty abhorrent views. Take from that what you will. But Soylent Green is the most hippie, progressive film I've seen in a while. That's saying something considering that I watch all kinds of stuff that is meant to push me to a progressive result. It's not perfect in terms of its message. But I will tell you what it is: on-brand. I don't deny that Soylent Green is a science fiction film first, but it is almost a precursor to Blade Runner. Rather than simply be a sci-fi movie, it takes the trope of the film noir of the flawed protagonist looking for justice while lining his own pockets. I also see elements of The French Connection in this movie. The French Connection made the world a pretty dirty place and it took a dirty police officer to clean it up.
But considering that this movie was just itching to take a swing at society, it's view of police officers is pretty dumb. It kind of glorifies the dirty cop. I'm sure Heston didn't hate that. I mean, nothing looks fun about Thorn. He lives in squalor. But then again, so does everyone else. He seems genuinely unhappy, but we also know that he's in the right, despite the fact that he steals from crime scenes. But Fleischer doesn't exactly give this character nuance. There's a cool attempt to make Thorn layered. But we also know that from moment one that Thorn is ultimately the hero of the story. It's his relationship with Sol and his empathetic nature when it comes to the struggling poor of the shelter that make him the character we're rooting for. Don't get me wrong, Thorn's relationship to Sol is my favorite part of the film. But it also means that the dynamic change that Thorn goes through isn't that dynamic. Yeah, Thorn is willing to stick his name on the line to ensure that the Soylent company is taken down. (Let's take a breath and establish that a soy-based food company, in reality, saw a movie about secret cannibalism and named their healthy drink after it. How the heck are they still a company? Them and the Baby Bullet...)
It's not insane that anyone would try to save a world that was unknowingly eating their own population. Yeah, it costs him his life. If we're arguing dynamic change, seeing Thorn go from a guy who valued his own life first and foremost to someone who is willing to die for others is good. But it's almost like a studio was afraid of making Thorn too unlikable. His name is Thorn, for goodness' sake. But that's all getting nitpicky.
There's a good story behind Soylent Green that isn't handled too well. I love that there's an attempt to get complex with this plot when really the film wants to just scream its last line of "Soylent Green is made of people!" (How much of a bummer was it when the marketing team revealed the big twist in the trailer?) The whole murder of Mr. Simonson should be a compelling story. It forces the character to make twists and turns throughout the story and explore this dystopia with all of its foibles. But the story makes almost no sense unless you read the Wikipedia article on it. And it is in the reading of the Wikipedia article that I get frustrated. There's a cool element of the movie that is buried under Charleton Heston's scene chewing. Heston plays the movie like a tank in almost every scene. One element of the story that is kind of lost on the audience is that the priest of the mission knows that Soylent Green is made of people. He's going nearly insane holding that in because he can't share any information gained in the confidentiality of confession. But the movie almost seems like Thorn is shaking down a drugged out priest rather than someone who is taking his spiritual vows seriously while dealing with an insane moral dilemma.
But the movie makes the Simonson case the center of the film and the Simonson case is not well ironed out. There are all of these relationships and characters that seem to know each other without a ton of background to how they know each other. Even the most powerful scene in the movie, Sol Roth's assisted suicide, is kind of buried under the importance of maintaining a secret ending that would ultimately get spoiled by a trailer. But knowing what I know, there's something very telling about Sol Roth's death: Fleischer wanted to film an assisted suicide scene, even if it didn't make any sense.
I'm going to go on a limb. Thorn represents the selfish. He takes what he wants and justifies it by saying that the world is a terrible place full of terrible people. I commented that his obsession with getting the truth out there makes sense that anyone would do the same. But Sol is fundamentally a good person. He's obsessed with truth and art and history. When Sol discovers the truth, his natural inclination is to kill himself? Okay, I'm going to play devil's advocate here because I like the scene so much. I could imagine that Sol is tired of discovering that the world is worse than he previously thought. But that ends his life on the most selfish note imaginable. Not only does it treat a lovely (not excusing it, but just saying it's a cool scene) suicide as a cowardly act, but he's also allowing people to continue to eat other people. Instead of doing anything that would do something good for humanity, which would probably lead to his death similar to how the truth led to Thorn's near death, he takes the secret with him to the grave, only telling Thorn to do something. That's an uphill battle for Thorn, as proven by the film's one and only action scene, filled with conveyor belts and ledges.
So Soylent Green is a better movie than I remember, but it is hampered by a poorly constructed murder mystery that is just a build up to the final line. It takes down the rich, the government, and humanity, which I love. But it is also a muddy film that needs a good scrub.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.