It is 2022, a perfect time to talk about the iconic movie Soylent Green. The movie came out in 1973 and starred Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young, and Edward G. Robinson in his final film role. While at the time it showed a civilization in ruin due to overpopulation and a lack of resources, the message it portrayed shocked audiences and is still referenced by movie critics and pop culture.
So how does this version of 2022 compare to reality?
People Become Things
The overarching theme of Soylent Green is that as the world dies, people will be treated as things. This is referenced in a variety of ways, including characters talking about being replaced if they can’t keep working, a mob of people being scooped up by what looks like giant garbage trucks with no regard to their life, and humans being leased alongside expensive apartments. One of the most prevalent examples is the treatment of women throughout the movie. None of the women characters have a job except that of “furniture,” which is the equivalent of being someone’s wife or girlfriend. The women on screen that are not furniture are those too poor to have a home and are seen in passing sleeping in the streets or attempting to buy food.
The Rich Horde Resources
In Soylent Green, a cop is asked to look into the death of a very wealthy man. While there, he is seen luxuriating over the fact that this man has beef, hot running water, air conditioning, and soap. When he returns home, he is one of the lucky few to actually have a job, yet he wears the same outfit every day, is rationed food, and is seen using only minimal drops of water to wash his hands. The contrast between the rich and poor is so vast it is impossible for those without to ever bridge the gap and live a decent life.
Part of the fear surrounding the masses in the setting of Soylent Green is that the world has become overpopulated. Because of this overpopulation, land is scarce and people are not allowed to live in the country because that land is dedicated to growing food. There are so many humans in and around the city in the movie that the main character can’t walk down stairs. Mobs are literally scooped up by trucks when they are densely packed.
Corruption to Placate the Masses
While the big twist at the end of the story is known by many, I will not give it away here just in case there are those that are unfamiliar with the movie. The main plot of the story is driven by characters coming to understand a horrifying fact that has been committed to keep the masses placated. The big business committing this act is powerful enough that it is only accountable to the Council of Nations. However, in order for the Council of Nations to act, they need explicit evidence to take action, something they are unlikely to get as everyone who knows this secret is systematically killed.
The Destruction of the Planet
Again, because of the overpopulation of the planet, resources are scarce and the earth is no longer able to produce adequate food for starving people. Most people eat soylent, a nutritionally dense food substitute. The oceans are poisoned and the only farmable land is kept under strict regulation.
So how does Soylent Green compare? What did they get right? While we know worldwide about one third of the world’s population does not receive adequate food, we still thankfully have a ways to go before we enter the world of Soylent Green. Movies like this, although a little extreme, give us a look into what our futures could be if we don’t do anything to change and bring to mind what we consider the most important things in our lives.
Review by Nora, General Reference