Monday, May 21, 2012

Soylent Green

Last week was Once Upon A Time’s season finale, so last night I took advantage of the free time to watch the 1970’s sci-fi classic Soylent Green. It starred Charlton Heston and movie great Edward G. Robinson in the tale of a futuristic dystopian society plagued with overcrowding, poverty, pollution, a climate impacted by the greenhouse effect where the heat doesn’t permit anything to grow, and which as such has caused the depletion of all the earth’s natural resources.

It’s 2022 in NYC, electricity and real food are luxuries allotted only to the rich, there isn’t enough housing for the millions of city residents so they live on the streets and sleep on fire escapes and building stairwells. The state run government has set up curfews and scheduled daily food and water distributions. Police detective Robert Thorn (Heston) is assigned to investigate the murder of William R. Simonson, a rich lawyer and member of the Board for the all-powerful Soylent Corporation, the company responsible for producing Soylent Red, Yellow and the all new high-energy plankton, Soylent Green, a food substitute manufactured to feed the masses across the globe. Helping Thorn on the case is his old friend and roommate Sol Roth (Robinson). Sol tracks down information for Thorn from the scarcely found records available, since now even paper is a rarity. Thorn is convinced that the murder is not the result of a staged home invasion, but a more sinister planned assassination. Relying on information shared by Simonson’s live in mistress, Shirl, an escort employed by the luxury apartment building and assigned to satisfy the tenant’s every whim, Thorn begins to question what Simonson knew, and who would kill to keep it quiet.

While the movie was quite ahead of its time in relation to the subject matter of climate change and its effects on the earth’s resources, the special effects – or lack thereof – was all 70’s cinema. Nonetheless, the actors did a good job in conveying the deprivation of and nostalgia for items which we take for granted today such as fresh produce, beef, water, and simple luxuries like a shower and ice cubes. Heston was OK as the weary cop hot on the trail of the truth, but as in all the other movies I’ve seen him in, Robinson steals the show as the old man disillusioned by the present, who reminisces about the ‘good old days’ when people still sucked, but the “world was beautiful.” Simple scenes like when he’s brought to tears by Thorn’s pilfered piece of beef; or the way he savors a single leaf of lettuce as if he’s tasting the world’s sweetest ambrosia, convey the character’s emotions beautifully. Above and beyond the revealed secret at the end of the movie, which most people know by now, for me the pièce de résistance to the entire film was the gut-wrenching and heartbreaking scene when Sol (Robinson) decides “to go home.” Ugh…brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it, especially after finding out that Soylent Green was Robinson’s last film, having succumbed to his fight against cancer only two weeks after the end of filming.

There are countless reasons to watch this movie, from the fact it’s a sci-fi classic, to the very current subject matter, but above all, watch it for Robinson’s performance. Heston looks like a hack next to him when they share the screen. It’s incomprehensible that one of the greatest actors in movie history never won an Oscar. He was to be presented a special honorary Oscar by the Academy, but unfortunately, died before he could accept the well-deserved honor.