Soylent Green (1973)

Release date: 09 May 1973

It is the unthinkably distant future of 2022. Pollution and its consequent global warming has caused environmental and economic collapse around the globe. Unemployment is rife, nearing 50%. Agricultural systems have collapsed and overpopulation has run rampant. In New York City, the Malthusian masses sweat all the time and are rationed water and plant-derived crackers from one of the few remaining Corporations, known as Soylent. Soylent supplies food for half the world. But the staples of Soylent Yellow and Soylent Red are running out, and replaced with a new product, Soylent Green, said to be created from plankton gathered “from the oceans of the world.” It’s very popular and only available on Tuesdays, which is called “Soylent Green Day.”

In honor of this, individual posts from this review will only be released on Tuesdays.

In this hellscape, police detective Thorn spends much of his time at home with curmudgeonly old-timer Sol. (The nature of their relationship is quite affectionate but otherwise unclear. Because it would annoy the hell out of the ghost of asshat Charlton Heston, I am going to backworld that they are winter-spring lovers, having met when Thorn was a young, pansexual sex worker.) Sol is a police “book,” doing research that complements Thorn’s footwork to solve cases.

Thorn receives a new case, to investigate the mysterious murder of William Simonson, a wealthy member of the Soylent board. Over the course of his thuggish and openly-corrupt investigations, Thorn follows a chain of high-priced food items in suspect hands ($150 strawberries! Actual ice!) to:

  • Steal stuff
  • Enjoy a meal of tasty graft
  • Assault people
  • Uncover connections between Soylent, the police, Simonson’s corrupt ex-bodyguard Tab, and the governor’s office (Tab is important, remember him)
  • Learn that very powerful people are hiding a very powerful secret
Spoiler-not-a-spoiler: It’s this stuff.

On the way there’s a pointless and uncomfortable subplot about Thorn’s using Simonson’s housegirl Shirl (whom he charmingly nicknames “Furniture”⸮) for sex-she-cannot-refuse. But it’s OK because they fall in love (ser 👏 i 👏 ous 👏 ly 👏 uncomfortable). Nota bene, all this dark nonsense has literally no bearing on the plot.

In the investigation, Thorn retrieves two books from Simonson’s apartment, “Soylent Oceanographic Survey Reports,” that Sol uses to uncover a horrible truth: The world’s plankton are going extinct. This raises the question of what exactly is in Soylent Green. Sol puts two and two together, but Thorn, not so much.

“Four, Thorn. It’s four. Oh, what was I thinking all those years ago?”

Despairing of this revelation, Sol decides to commit suicide via a public-service thanatorium. After reading Sol’s farewell note, Thorn rushes after him. At the thanatorium, Thorn assaults the workers there so he can defy their protocol and observe Sol’s death before saying his adieu. In his dying breath, Sol shares the dark secret and tells Thorn he must prove it.

Thorn follows Sol’s cadaver as it is taken with others from the thanatorium to a processing plant, where Thorn murders some Soylent employees and confirms what Sol already told him—that Soylent Green is made of people, only now with more Sol. Thorn escapes the processing plant and calls his Lieutenant from a nearby police wall phone, but is cut off by a gunfight with Soylent security forces, including—surprise—Tab. Thorn runs to a church where he is pursued and fatally shot by Tab. But before succumbing to his wounds, he manages to knife Tab to death, and speak the horrible truth to the people gathered there, who, ultimately, can do nothing with this information since their choices are that or starvation.

Fade to credits.

Soylent Green is not a good movie though it was popular in its time. And it really only has one interface of note—which is the thanatorium. But its themes of climate change, growing inequality, corporate evil, and resulting social collapse feel oddly prescient. And, since it was meant to take place in 2022, I’ve chosen it for what apparently is to be my only review this year. Let’s do this.


Leave a Reply