Soylent Green is People

soylent

Judy wrote about cannibals. She usually writes poetry, and occasionally, exceptional creative nonfiction about her abusive childhood. Recently, she isn’t writing anything at all, just linking videos, so she hasn’t heard from me in a while. I’ll warn you up front, if you post a video, I’m not going to watch it.

Thinking back, I can only recall ever watching three videos on WordPress. One was a Miley Cyrus song; the singers were arranged in a Brady-Bunch-esque square; I was curious. One video was about a weird homemade musical instrument that makes groaning sounds for horror movie soundtracks. One was an ice-skating routine. I can’t remember why I watched the ice-skating routine.

Specifically, Judy wrote about cannibalism in films. She made a list—thirteen movies with cannibalism themes. Although one, Warm Bodies, she describes as a zombie apocalypse movie. If we’re counting zombie films, we need a longer list. Her list includes Soylent Green. Now I’m stuck in nostalgia-land.

I should add a spoiler alert. My title alone ruins the movie Soylent Green. When I was ten, I saw the trailer. I’m not sure I’ve got my timeline straight, but I think I saw it when I went to the Poseidon Adventure. Or possibly it was the Towering Inferno.  Lot’s of younger people read this blog, I should probably explain what I’m talking about. In the early seventies, the hot genre of action movies was ‘disaster’ films. A ship gets whacked by a rogue wave and capsizes; we follow twelve survivors trying to make their way to safety. A sky rise catches fire, we join a select few inhabitants as they climb higher and higher trying to stay ahead of the flames. Sounds stupid? Those disaster movies were made for preteen kids like me.

When Soylent Green came out, I was relentless. I see my son do this every now and then. If he really wants to do something—and I mean REALLY—he’ll mention it in every other sentence. “Eli, are you good with curry tonight for dinner?”

“Yes, that would give us a lot of energy to go tubing at the ski resort.”

“Eli, excellent job on that test!”

“We should celebrate by going tubing.”

Eventually, in days or weeks, we cave in. I imagine I used this tactic to get to Soylent Green. My brothers are only one and two years older than me. Usually, we all liked the same entertainment. But in this case, neither sided with me in my quest to see Soylent Green. In truth, I think my mother must have been curious about the film. She packed us all up on a Saturday night and took my brothers and me to the movies.

I’m a huge fan of dystopian fiction. I enjoy sci-fi. Looking into the future excites me. I like stories about people surviving by the seat of their pants. But mostly, the requisite worst-case scenario of dystopian stories appeals to me. I didn’t know it at the time, but Soylent Green was my entry point into dystopia.  Set in 2022 (yes, tomorrow), the world is ravaged by global warming and overpopulation. The primary foods for the masses are Soylent Red and Soylent Yellow—meal-in-a-wafer products made from soy beans and lentils. A new product, Soylent Green is added to the mix and is an immediate hit.

Because I was eleven, I can’t remember anything about the plot. I remember snippets of scenes: people charging their single light bulb by riding a stationary bike. A cop stealing a spoon from a crime scene because it is covered in jam. Homeless families living in every doorway. But I remember the movie’s climax well. Charlton Heston’s aging roommate heads off to a euthanasia center to go “home.” Heston follows his friend to the center, and later the trucks leaving the center He learns the grizzly secret… Soylent Green is made from recycled bodies.

The classic scene, really the whole point of the movie, comes in the last minute: Heston, shot, bleeding and dying screams out his iconic line: SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE.

God, my mother was pissed. She found the entire movie offensive. It wasn’t age appropriate. It was, well, gross. My brothers, possibly being truthful, possibly seeing me set me up as an easy target for her wrath, agreed wholeheartedly with her. “Thank God your father didn’t come along tonight! He would have walked out in the first ten minutes.”

I’ve seen a few of the movies on Judy’s list, but none of them had the massive impact on me that Soylent Green did. Possibly no other movie ever has. Because the rest of my family hated it, it was mine. Something that belonged only to me. Those dystopian scenes that remain in my consciousness forty-seven years later gave me a taste of an endless list of movies and books I consume repeatedly to this day.

Maybe it’s time to rewatch Soylent Green.

22 thoughts on “Soylent Green is People

  1. I’ve never managed to catch Soylent Green. This is the first time I heard an explanation of Soylent as being a combination of soya beans and lentils. So, that’s new.

    I can’t say I’m a huge fan of dystopian settings, but I did like The Hunger Games, so I must fall closer to the spectrum than I previously would have admitted to. And, I recently managed to catch the first Zombieland (after having seen its sequel first.) I have to say, I think the sequel topped the franchise. Let’s hope they don’t wait as long for the third installment. Though who they have left to kill off, I can’t imagine. Perhaps it will envision what happens when everyone gets locked in their homes for months on ends and causes the fall of civilization in the form of catastrophic cannibal zombies on fire. We can only hope.

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    • Well, I don’t think I’d recommend watching Soylent Green now. The recommendation of an eleven year old from 1973 probably shouldn’t hold much weight. I;m frequently astonished to find movies that I loved as a young adult have grown stupid as I’ve matured. Amazing how we change over time.

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    • The soy beans and lentils bit I got from Wikipedia. So therefore, I don’t know if it’s true. On the radio, I’ve heard commercials for a protein product called soylent. I wonder if that is made from soy and lentils.

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  2. What an amusing story! I’ve never heard of Soylent Green and thankfully now I never have to watch it, haha. Thanks 10-yr old Jeff. Your post reminded me of an oldie we watched recently though – Children of Men. It was good but I can only handle stressful movies once in a while. It’s Disney films for me lately – rewatching Bedknobs and Broomsticks was a hoot.

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    • Ya know, a few months ago we got Disney plus as an add on to Hulu. I’ve watched a few Marvel movies on it, but no straight-up Disney cartoons. Maybe I should review the offerings. Some (like Bedknobs and Broomsticks) I missed completely.

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      • It’s a great one (and not animated). I don’t expect everyone to be excited about Disney cartoons, but I guess everyone copes in their own way. I’ve got a bit of Marvel-fatigue from the past few years so I haven’t hit any of those yet.

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  3. OMG. A friend of my brother’s was involved in a commercial product called Soylent a few years back, supposedly a vegan meal alternative. I’m so disturbed now! Poor Moses. What a horrid discovery.

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    • I heard Soylent mentioned on the radio a few times over the past several years. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to use that name given the connotations. Maybe they didn’t know?

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  4. I saw Soylent Green maybe 10 years ago. Worth a look for the idea of it.
    Bed knobs and Broomsticks. That’s bringing back good memories.
    Planet of the Apes too.
    Doctor Who. That used to give me nightmares. One episode where the robots kept following the Dr. Still remember that. I even remember it because We were staying with my grandparents.

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    • I’m a little scared to watch Soylent Green. I have generally fond memories of it. A few days ago, I rewatched Time Bandits after Malcolm Dixon died. It doesn’t seem as intelligent as it did 40 years ago.

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      • I know what you mean. Do you watch it analytically looking at the props, the acting, the camera angles, the clothing or do you just jump in with nostalgia alone…and let that carry the film…it does depend on how much you loved it at the time you first watched it.
        Some of the oldies when I watch now I cannot finish because of the obvious prejudices and discrimination that in today’s world would not be tolerated. And then I wonder why I liked it in the first place.
        We only had 2 channels back in the day and it started in the afternoon and finished at midnight. There was a ‘goodnight kiwi’ animation that played each night before it shut down. That animation is beloved here in NZ.
        We had little choice in what to watch then and that made whatever was broadcast popular. Today we have unlimited choices.
        Have you read The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz?

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  5. Hey, I remember Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure. I don’t remember if I saw Soylent Green or not. It doesn’t seem like my kind of movie, though. My kids all used the same tactic as your son. They were relentless when they had something they wanted to do.

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  6. Hi Jeff, I didn’t notice that your post until now, I think the list is much longer but couldn’t think of more but yes including the zombie films would be long enough for another list. I forgot to mention Pride and Prejudice with zombies, maybe I’ll create another list.

    I liked your summary of Soylent Green, I never saw it completely, just bits. I remember Charlton Heston the actor was shouting ”Soylent Green is people!” with a crazed look on his face. He had a lot of dramatic roles in dystopian films, Planet of the Apes, and he was in Omega Man too, which scared me when I saw it. I was a little kid that saw films that weren’t age appropriate.

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