What Soylent Green Was Telling Us about the Future (Much of It Has Come True)
Human creativity often has the stunning attribute of depicting what is to come. In examining the literary works of visionary author Jules Verne, we see many of the technological inventions being discussed which were not mainstream (or even explored) at Verne’s time. But in the decades following his works, many of the inventions highlighted throughout his work became prominent contraptions used by society.
Similarly, the 1973 futuristic sci-fi film Soylent Green managed to depict countless happenings and trends in society which we see becoming mainstream today or could become popularized in the near future. It stars Charlton Heston, and, though its cinematography and storytelling are not as epic or grand as that of his earlier films (such as Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, etc.), Soylent Green attempts to send its audience an important message.
It depicts the dangers of mainstream dependence on government support which, when food is rationed or even held back, does physical harm to the people as well as harm to the government’s reputation. In addition to this, we see an extensive corruption of the government elsewhere, including the so-called “law enforcement” practiced in 2022 in what once was called the land of the free.
All people are suffering, and vices of all kinds are rampant throughout society. Many women have become the victims of a severe and widely-accepted ideology of sexual objectification — so much so that the women owned by certain male figures are officially labeled “furniture.” That is what they have been reduced to! It is as if humanity had reverted to its perverse and pagan practices of times long ago such as the ownership of women chiefly as pleasurable “things” or any other form of slavery.
Accordingly, women’s clothing in Soylent Green’s futuristic portrayal is scanty or missing at times, this only lending itself toward the perpetuated image of women as sexual objects as if sexuality was the end-all-be-all of a human being’s merit. They way women are frequently treated in Soylent Green’s fictional society goes to show that when sexuality is being honored above all other attributes there is no dignity in it. Some of these aspects depicted in the film are nothing new and are seen in numerous countries throughout history. Yet, we see so many of these vices very much alive in our modern day. We don’t seem to have learned from the past.
However, other elements shown in the movie are not found frequently throughout history. Soylent Green is one of a small number of Hollywood films showing the dangers of global warming, one of the prime causes of which is greenhouse gas emissions which, even by 2022 (in the film), continue to be belched out of humanity’s environmental detrimental factories and contraptions. Poverty is widespread. Sustenance is scarcer, and it is a pathetic substitute for genuine meals.
Euthanasia, or the act of assisted suicide (murder), is a common practice in several countries today. The notion of doing away with unwanted people by “ending their misery” seems to be a commonly upheld one. Not only is this a gravely horrible practice in and of itself (it is mortally sinful), but it can lead to fully well-bodied people ending their lives unjustly. They play God with the ultimate cry of “My body, my life, my choice.”
They might think that it is their right to end their life exactly when they want. Yet, they never had this power over their own creation. They did not get to decide when they were born into time, and yet they feel they get to decide when they leave it. This is exactly what happens in Soylent Green. The main character’s best friend learns some dark, heart-wrenching news and in a moment of despair walks himself into pretty much a euthanasia clinic. This character dies, depicting the immense sorrow and loss this act brings into the world.
But as far as the screenplay of the film is concerned, even this most heinous crime against human dignity is not the last straw. It isn’t the chief horror of Soylent Green’s take on the 21st century. This reserved for an association with a staple needed for man’s survival: food. The food is peculiar, bland at best. At the climax of the film, the main character, along with the audience, discovers Soylent Green, a food brand, is made from the corpses of human beings.
The atrocity highlighted in the film is that of human beings degrading themselves or certain people degrading their peers such as the large number of women being treated as mere objects or the euthanizing of hundreds, if not thousands.
But the degradation manifests itself most significantly in the mind of the lead character when he discovers that practically the only food available to humanity is humanity. Humanity has degraded into a society of cannibals, somewhat similar to the Morlocks of H.G. Wells’ Time Machine tale.
The primary message which can be taken away from Soylent Green is that people need to be appreciative of their fellow human beings and the world around them. People need to first watch out for their own and then for the environment they call home. This film depicts the consequences if this type of caring protection is not upheld.