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Soylent Green: A Movie Review

Updated on December 13, 2018
wingedcentaur profile image

The first step is to know what you do not know. The second step is to ask the right questions. I reserve the right to lean on my ignorance.

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One again, this program warns me that the image I have selected, with great difficulty, may be too small. But, friends, this film simply does not deserve better. It is a shockingly boring, meandering, and purposeless film.

Spoiler alert: "Soylent Green is people!"

This line does not have nearly the impact of: "'To Serve Man,' it's a cook book!"

The latter line comes from an episode of Rod Serling's "Twilight Zone," a surrealist television anthology show of the early 1960s. There is an episode called "To Serve Man," which concerns representatives from an alien race, who come to Earth and offer their technical assistance to make our planet a paradise free of want and war.

They eventually worm their way into the good graces of all the world's governments and their people. The Earthlings quickly get used to zipping back and forth from Earth to Mars and back again --- these visits couched as diplomatic cultural exchange, or some such.

It seems that one of the alien representatives had left behind a book, earlier when he had been in conference with Earth's representatives, at the United Nations. After a lot of time and effort, the code breakers for the U.S. Army, or whatever military branch, manage to translate the title: To Serve Man.

Everybody assumes and hopes that (To Serve Man) is about how to cater to the needs and wants of our species, how to help us make our fondest, purest dreams come true and all that. You know, blah, blah, blah!

Now, after some time of everybody thinking that everything is just fine, further work is done on the contents of the alien book titled, "To Serve Man." It turns out that (To Serve Man) is not about helping humanity achieve our fondest, purest dreams and so forth. It's about serving mankind: as in baked, broiled, roasted, or fried.

When the linguist yells out to her colleague, who is going aboard one of the alien ships, allegedly for a trip of diplomatic cultural exchange, that (To Serve Man) is a cook book --- the line is very effective.

In other words, conspiracy-uncovering shows, with conspiracy-uncovering lines, work best when they offer a different interpretation to something everybody can see going on.

Does that make sense?

The "To Serve Man" Dramatic Apex

Allow me to slow down and back up a bit.

The Twilight Zone episode, I'm talking about, ends when one of the linguists is about to board on of the alien ships, ostensibly on a pleasant excursion of diplomatic cultural exchange --- as are thousands or millions of other people, in the moment.

His partner races out and shouts at him: "To Serve Man." It's a cook book!" As he hears this, he is, quite naturally, severely startled. He, understandably, attempts to get off the ship; however, he is overpowered by one of the eight-foot-tall, Lurch-from-the Addams Family-looking aliens, and forced onto the ship, to be taken away, to become a meal for the aliens.

Let me be clear here...

The Twilight Zone episode, "To Serve Man," is what I will call a conspiracy-uncovering television show.

The movie, under review here, "Soylent Green," is supposed to be a conspiracy-uncovering big screen film.

When the line ("To Serve Man." It's a cook book!) is hollered, it is extremely effective dramatically.

When Mr. Heston yells ("Soylent Green is people!"), there is no dramatic impact, in my opinion. It falls quite flat and comes off as the rambling gibberish of a madman. This is at the heart of the film's problems.

Why the difference?

Well, imagine that you, your family, all your friends, and all your relatives are sitting in a church, eating watermelon.

Now imagine that I run into the church, and breathlessly shout that the so-called watermelon is REALLY RAT'S INTESTINES!!!!

Such an announcement is going to be rather impactful, is it not?

This is because I am offering a radically different (not to mention disgusting) interpretation of something all of your are doing right now, in the moment. At that, one is likely to see a huge spray of red stuff flying out of the mouths of most of the people, in the church, eating watermelon.

Let me slow this down even more.

What I am saying is that "Soylent Green" does not achieve the (To Serve Man Dramatic Apex); and that this is what accounts for the film's boring, meandering, and ultimately purposeless nature.

John Carpenter's 1988 film, They Live, is another conspiracy-uncovering movie, which achieves the (To Serve Man) Dramatic Apex. The hero, former pro wrestler-turned-actor, Roddy Rowdy Piper and company eventually get control of the communications installation; and in this way they are able to show the public, in real time, the exact depth and nature of the alien infiltration.

A better ending to the film, "Soylent Green," would have been something like this: Charleton Heston (and company), somehow, manage to gain control of the communications installation, wait until, say, breakfast time; and then broadcast to all the citizens, over "radio" and "television," the fact that: "Soylent Green is people!"

This would obviously be the most effective way to offer a radically different (and disgusting) interpretation to something that the mass of citizens are partaking in, in real time, in the moment --- a dramatically effective way to attempt to undermine the status quo.

However, the problem is that, in the dystopian future setting of "Soylent Green," the vast majority of citizens no longer have televisions or radios or, indeed, any means of learning about the outside world at all.

What I am saying is this:

The script writers appear to have written themselves into something of a corner. By overdoing the sense of mass deprivation in this dystopian future, the story has undermined its ability to effectively deliver a "To Serve Man Dramatic Apex."

Accumulated Dramatic Friction is another coined term we might use. Soylent Green's ending does not provide accumulated dramatic friction. All of the film's accumulated scenes do not amount to anything at all; and so, from beginning to end, Soylent Green is a film that does not know where it is going or what it is doing.

Finally...

Charleton Heston plays some kind of cop. Edward G. Robinson is supposed to be something like his research tech assistant. The two big screen legends have absolutely no on-screen buddy-type chemistry.

And, if I didn't make this clear earlier, "Soylent" (Green) is a kind of amorphous, biological nutrient that largely replaces most meals in this resource-lacking dystopian future.

Thank you for reading.

Postscript

Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code (2003) is what I would call a conspiracy-uncovering novel. I am halfway through it, but I suspect it has the same problem that the film, Soylent Green, does: How to take its central idea and use it to effectively deliver the "To Serve Man Dramatic Apex."

How will this novel achieve Accumulated Dramatic Friction?

I am not sure that the abstract nature of the issue at hand --- within the confines of Christianity (one religion in a world of thousands, after all) --- lends itself to the manifestation of an accumulated dramatic friction.

But we shall see. I will do a review of the novel, when I have finished reading it --- eventually.

And with that, I take my leave!

Comments

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    • wingedcentaur profile imageAUTHOR

      William Thomas 

      10 months ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

      Thank you for commenting, Don Bobbitt!

      Let me make myself clear, here, by saying that my issue with the film is that it does not deliver its message (if it can indeed be said to have one) in a dramatically effective way.

      Your observation that "with the increases in genetic manipulations of our foods and the chemical crutches used to guarantee high yields," may lead to "more and more crop problems," is fair enough. However, to ascribe that or any other deep message to this film, gives it far too much credit.

      The question is this: What are we actually seeing on the screen?!

      Thanks again.

    • Don Bobbitt profile image

      Don Bobbitt 

      10 months ago from Ruskin Florida

      A FANTASTIC Movie! I saw it first when I was very young and it, to me, has a very important message to the American public. In my opinion, the extremes of the movie are not on our nation's horizon, but with the increases in genetic manipulations of our foods and the chemical crutches used to guarantee high yields I feel we will see more and more crop problems.

      DON

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