Saturday, April 28, 2012

thinking soylent green [1973]

a few weeks ago i caught this on tv.  i remember when i saw sg in the theater [it was probably the drive-ins, most probably the sac 6 drive-ins, but i really don't remember]  i recall my own reaction against this dystopian future by looking out among the leafy greens of sac [reputably one of the leafiest greeniest cities of the world and second only to paris in square acreage of urban forest] and nearly weeping in gratitude that the world was not quite so poorly off as it was for charlton heston, edward g robinson et al.

remember that was in the 1970s, an era of high inflation and energy crises, where there was an over arching sense of doom and that the u.s. had entered into an irreversible downward spiral.  the earth was -- is -- overabundant in people and scarce in her resources.  entropy was -- is -- thought to be as inevitable as death and processing the end of civilization, and/or our species, turned in some of the most thought-provoking, and pulpiest, of movies such as this flick.

what makes me think of this flick is this fascinating, pessimistic article about sg.  the author of the piece takes a very dim view of human beings and chafes at the notion that we should be horrified by the revelation made by charlton heston that the food product soylent green is made of people.  interestingly the movie despite its dated decor is rather prescient in its demands and worries of overpopulation and global warming.  even the photography is rough, grainy and depicts an over-heated city infested with people. 

not that i agree with the above referenced article.  i think even if our moral compass was busted we would still be horrified to learn that the only remaining food source was ourselves.  but then what after such knowledge?  many movies are being remade today, and for no good reason, i think, than to make a clutch of dough.  i believe sg would make a good candidate for revision.  i've not read harrison's source novel so i'm unsure of how faithful an adaptation the film is to the book. 

the revision would start near the end of the movie where the heston character learns the truth of the matter.  then there is the horror of reckoning.  i think that when heston is carried away in a stretcher after telling his boss that soylent green is people heston is never heard from again.  in other words, the soylent corporation and the government would make him disappeared and his boss would never tell, or even believe, such knowledge.  that's what i think happens after the film fades out and in to some bucolic images taken from the suicide center called HOME where edward g robinson checks out after learning the truth of the food stuff. 

but what if the truth were leaked.  what then.  if there is no more topsoil to grow crops and our oceans are dead would we flatten our response to the truth of the food and eat it anyway.  or would we choose starvation instead.  would there be mass suicides.  would there be willful ignorance.  would there be a spike in messianic religiosity.  the mind reels at the possibilities. 

it seems every 20 to 30 years dystopian fictions become mainstream again.  especially in times of political temerity and economic instability.  literature -- and cinema, especially popular movies, are literature -- does not reflect who we are or think we are.  literature is indeed who we are -- our hopes, dreams, terrors and loves.  we are as a species continuously discovering and remaking ourselves.  words, sounds and images are not outside of us but are intertwined within the marrow of our bones and synapses of our brains.  we are now at an age where dystopian visions are beginning to populate our imaginations again.  it would be fascinating to take our contemporary worries and fears and channel them into remaking sg where the narrative is driven not out of ignorance toward truth but that the truth is the start of a new kind of horror. 


At 9:21 AM, Blogger Erich Kuersten said...

Right on, my brother!

I like what you said about literature isn't a reflection of, but IS, ourselves.

I didn't mean to be unduly pessimistic in my piece on SG, I did mean to imply that our squeamishness on matters of death, i.e. right to die, long-term coma patients, anti-abortion fanatacism, and the idea that we should eliminate death altogether while never bothering to check the population growth--has directly led to our current misery... and when the world population doubles in 30 years or so to 14 billion people, (as it has doubled since I was born in 1967) no solar panel solution will save us -- only offworld colonization.

I agree it would be a great horror film to have SG 2, where we all know the truth and are left with the choice of eating other people or dying and being eaten by others, and having to admit the truth that we brought it on ourselves by jamming up the spokes of the wheel of life.


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