Tuesday, February 2

Guest Post: Soylent Green - Energy from a Forbidden Source

I would all like you to give another warm welcome to my guest here at CRR's! 

Maria is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy. 

Soylent Green - Energy from a Forbidden Source

Soylent Green is a film both highly integrated into pop culture and entirely opaque to many regarding its deeper implications, especially when it comes to energy crisis and environmentalism. While most people are aware that Soylent Green is made of people, they don't know why that's so horrifying nor in what context it came about. That being said, this film from the 1970s still remains relevant in its themes and motifs to this very day. In fact, it may be even more so.

The story of Soylent Green is a murder mystery set in New York of 2022. The population of the city has risen to an unsustainable 40 million people who live in cramped quarters and line up for water and Soylent Green - a high-protein food source supposedly made out of plankton. When a top level executive in the Soylent Corporation is murdered, Charlton Heston's Detective Thorn is called in to solve the case, a twisting caper that leads him to the famous and terrible conclusion that Soylent Green, the primary food source for the city, is not made of plankton but rather of people: dissidents and undesirables that are processed and fed to the rest of the population.

Part of what remains valuable about this story is that it works both as social commentary and pure science fiction. Harry Harrison's novel Make Room, Make Room! is expertly translated to the screen by director Richard Fleischer in potentially his greatest work. The stark direction that presents a New York that has been neglected more than anything else is complemented by powerful performances from Heston and Edward G. Robinson as Sol Roth - a man who still remembers the days before this dystopian nightmare became reality. Even Paula Kelly in a somewhat smaller role stands out for her believability and the sympathy we can assign to her.

But while this is a cinematic titan, it also speaks to problems that concerned people in the 70s and still should concern people today. According to NASA, global temperatures have continued to rise over the course of the last century with a direct correlation between the increase in temperature and an increase in carbon emissions from less than 1000 parts per million at the beginning of the 20th century to nearly 10,000 parts per million today. A big portion of those emissions is likely from agriculture, forestry, and other land use related to unsustainable practices that might one day make standard food production methods unfeasible or even impossible. While it is less likely that corporations would turn to cannibalism as a solution to this problem, rationing and the limiting of food varieties are both possibilities that humanity might have to contend with, especially considering our out-of-control population growth.

Soylent Green joins a number of eco-horror films in the cinematic canon. From Godzilla to The Day After Tomorrow, there are a number of movies that discuss how human activity leads to our inevitable downfall, but most present an outside force that comes to punish us for our indiscretions. Part of what makes Soylent Green stand out is that the villains are humans who have abandoned humanity. There are no aliens or monsters or weather patterns causing the central problem: the finger is pointed right at people who contributed to the squalor of New York and have chosen to feed the population to itself, literally, rather than find a humane solution.

It's somewhat disappointing to know that so many people know of Soylent Green but do not understand the deeper implications of the film. More than just a melodramatic declaration about the contents of Soylent Green, the film addresses serious environmental concerns that still threaten us all.


Blodeuedd said...

Never seen it

Carole Rae said...

Thank you Maria!

Anachronist said...

I've seen Soilent Green and I think that scenario (cannibalism) is completely viable. I know it might be a bit too dark but look what's happening in e.g. big pharmaceutical companies.