By Frank Forte
The popularity of “Mad Max Fury Road” opens up the discussion of post apocalyptic films that came before it. None may have the impact that “The Road Warrior” and “Mad Max” did on the Gen Xers who saw them in the 1980s, but “Soylent Green” is a film worth looking at. Largely forgotten, but still a Post Apoc gem.
“Soylent Green” is a 1973 American science fiction film directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young, and, in his final movie, Edward G. Robinson. The film combines the police procedural and science fiction genres, depicting the investigation into the murder of a wealthy businessman in a dystopian future suffering from pollution, overpopulation, depleted resources, poverty, dying oceans, and all year humidity due to the greenhouse effect. Much of the population survives on processed food rations, including “soylent green”.
The movie, which is loosely based upon the 1966 science fiction novel “Make Room! Make Room!” by Harry Harrison, won the Nebula Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film in 1973.
The 20th century’s industrialization has left the world permanently overcrowded, polluted and stagnant by the turn of the 21st century. In 2022, with 40 million people in New York City alone, housing is dilapidated and overcrowded; homeless people fill the streets; about half are unemployed, the few “lucky” ones with jobs are only barely scraping by themselves, and food and working technology is scarce. Most of the population survives on rations produced by the Soylent Corporation, whose newest product is Soylent Green, a green wafer advertised to contain “high-energy plankton” from the world’s oceans, more nutritious and palatable than its predecessors “Red” and “Yellow”, but in short supply.
New York City Police Department detective Frank Thorn (Charlton Heston) lives with his aged friend Solomon “Sol” Roth (Edward G. Robinson). Due to Roth’s advanced age, he remembers life before its current miserable state, and he routinely waxes nostalgic for his youth when the air was clean and the weather wasn’t perpetually summer. He was also well educated and has a small library of reference materials which he uses to help Det. Thorn solve crimes (consequently Roth is referred to as a police “book”). While investigating the murder of William R. Simonson (Joseph Cotten), obviously a member of the wealthy elite, Thorn questions Shirl (Leigh Taylor-Young), a concubine (referred to as “furniture”), and Tab Fielding (Chuck Connors), Simonson’s bodyguard, who, when the murder took place, was escorting Shirl to a store selling meat “under the counter” for Simonson. Thorn searches Simonson’s apartment for clues and enjoys Simonson’s luxurious lifestyle like air conditioning and hot running water, and he helps himself to Simonson’s real bourbon, fresh vegetables, and a flank steak that Shirl had purchased earlier as a special surprise for Simonson.
Thorn later gives Roth the classified Soylent Oceanographic Survey Report, 2015 to 2019 found in Simonson’s apartment. Roth’s research reveals that Simonson and the current state governor of New York, Joseph Santini (Whit Bissell), were partners in a well-known high-powered law firm, and that Simonson was also a member of the Board of Soylent.
At the police station, Thorn tells his lieutenant, Hatcher (Brock Peters), that he suspects an assassination: nothing was stolen from the apartment, its sophisticated alarm was not working for the first time in two years, and Simonson’s bodyguard was conveniently absent. Continuing his investigation, Thorn visits Fielding’s apartment and questions Fielding’s concubine, Martha (Paula Kelly), helping himself to a teaspoon of strawberry jam, later identified by Roth as too great a luxury for the concubine of a bodyguard to afford.
Under questioning, Shirl reveals that Simonson became troubled in the days before his death. Thorn questions a Catholic priest that Simonson had visited, but the priest at first fails to remember Simonson and is later unable to describe the confession. Fielding later murders the priest to silence him.
Meanwhile, Governor Santini orders the investigation closed, but Thorn disobeys and the Soylent Corporation dispatches Simonson’s murderer to kill Thorn. He tracks Thorn to a ration distribution center where police officers are providing security. When the Soylent Green there is exhausted, the crowd riots. The assassin tries to kill Thorn in the confusion, but is crushed by a “scoop” crowd-dispersion vehicle. Thorn then threatens both Fielding and Martha to scare Fielding out of following him and returns to Shirl, telling her that all cities are like theirs and the more valuable, unharmed countryside is guarded to protect the wealthier classes’ privileges of better food, water and shelter, leaving the majority of people trapped in the cities with no escape.
Roth takes Soylent’s oceanographic reports to a like-minded group of researchers known as the Exchange, who agree that the oceans no longer produce the plankton from which Soylent Green is reputedly made, and infer that it must be made from human remains, as this is the only conceivable supply of protein that matches the known production. Unable to live with this discovery, Roth seeks assisted suicide at a government clinic called “Home.”
Thorn rushes to stop him, but arrives too late, and is mesmerized by the euthanasia process’s visual and musical montage – a display of forests, wild animals, rivers, and ocean life, now extinct. Under the influence of a lethal drug, Roth tells Thorn his discovery and begs him to expose the truth. To this end, Thorn stows himself aboard a garbage truck to the disposal center, where he sees human corpses converted into Soylent Green. Returning to make his report, he is ambushed by Fielding and others.
He phones his precinct for backup but the precinct is engaged on a priority call. Thorn asks to be connected with Shirl, and to be “cut in” when the precinct is free. Thorn tells Shirl to stay with her apartment’s new owner, and Shirl tells Thorn she wants to live with him, but the line is “cut in” and Thorn is connected to Hatcher. Thorn retreats into a cathedral filled with homeless people. In the ensuing fight, he kills Fielding but is seriously injured. When the police arrive, Thorn urges Hatcher to spread the word that “Soylent Green is people!”
Frank Forte Bio
Frank Forte is an accomplished designer, storyboard artist and comic book artist. He has worked in animation for feature films, TV and gaming. Some of the shows Frank has worked on include: Bob’s Burgers, Despicable Me 2, Lego Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Out, The Super Hero Squad Show, Marvel Heroes 4D, Lego Hero Factory, Lego Bionicle: The Legend Reborn, Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi, Re-Animated Pilot (Out of Jimmy’s Head), The Mr. Men Show, Bionicle: The Legend Reborn (DVD-2009), Lego Clutch Powers 4D ride at Legoland and Lego Atlantis. He co-created The Cletus and Floyd Show with Gene McGuckin, a tribute to animation directors Tex Avery, Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones. Robert S. Rhine and Frank Forte created the pilot episode of Sickcom the Animated Series, which was sold to Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival Of Animation in 2003.
In Frank’s spare time he paints. Recent shows include Laluzapalooza 2015 and Laluzapalooza Jury Winners Group Show 2015 at La Luz De Jesus Gallery (Los Angeles, CA), Villains of Animation at Van Eaton Galleries (Sherman Oaks, CA). Past shows include the CATZ Group Show at LTD. Gallery in Seattle, WA and the 6×6 group Show at The Phone Booth Gallery in Long Beach, CA. His art has been exhibited at Cannibal Flower (Los Angeles) and the Animation Guild Gallery 839 (North Hollywood).
Frank is also the publisher at Asylum Press, a publishing company that produces premium comic books and graphic novels within the horror, science fiction, and action genres.