Soylent Green is made of people! OK there, I said it. Are you happy now? Richard Fleischer directs this bleak portrayal of an overpopulated and degraded world, where the dead are not buried but processed for consumption.
Charlton Heston chews through his scenes with testosterone fueled aplomb, a tough cop in a lawless world, a man who isn’t above stealing from the dead but can still be destroyed by this cannibalistic secret. Edward G. Robinson is wonderful as his aging partner, a research assistant who still remembers the vibrant and lush past before it was burned away by the greenhouse effect. His reaction to eating real lettuce or an apple is truly joyful, creating the heightened sensation of a world subsisting on tasteless crackers.
The film’s structure is a clichéd police procedural as Heston investigates a murder that proves to be an assassination, threatened by superiors who wish to cover it up. The illusion of a city of 40,000,000 people is not very believable as we often see busy city streets, or stairways full of bodies but never get a feel for such crowded conditions. Where is the stink of the sewer, the filth, the dead bodies that would clog the gutters every day? And the litter strewn streets echo lonely at night when this would be the time of activity in a hellish world, an inferno of trapped carbon dioxide. Fleischer uses a green filter on some of the daylight scenes to create a smog-like effect. There is a shortage of paper so another interesting detail are the writing tablets like carbon paper, used over and over again.
As Sol sets a final time he revisits a world he once knew; a verdant landscape of his childhood. He whispers his burden to Thorn who now knows the truth but must discover the evidence to make it public. His bloody hand is like an exclamation point, shouting truth to the heart of the world. But the human race has run...and lost.
Final Grade: (C)