Accidentally stumbling upon a huge conspiracy and suffering the consequences of his curiosity, Charlton Heston’s portrayal of Robert Thorn is a fascinating one. Soylent Green and its delicious miracle food that feeds overpopulation is certainly something to be suspicious of. Thorn wasn’t, but in this futuristic world of overpopulated, inaccessible lifestyles, his curiosity is one of the few aspects of his character that has survived this new, erratic world. But that is the world those of the 1970s feared, and it is, presumably, a massive fear even now. There are too many people swanning around the place, and Richard Fleischer knows it. We should take heed and listen to what the man is saying because when the roads are clogged with cars and society collapses around us, he’ll mock us.
Or at least, he would do had he not passed about a decade ago. His legacy as a filmmaker still lives on, and it is, in part, thanks to the well-realised world that can be found within Soylent Green. Depressed men and women are struggling to survive. The lack of food is a rife issue, which is why the miracle that is its eponymous, canned product is so often purchased. Meat and real vegetables are a luxury that none too many are allowed. Everyone is convincingly terrified and glum about these inevitabilities. The high life and low, workers quarters are drawn up, but they both suffer the same, fundamental issues.
That disparity between lifestyles, yet similarity in struggle, is helmed rather well by Fleischer and leading lad Charlton Heston. His performance as Thorn provides a profession that demands quality and respect, but the breakdown of the world around him sees a deflated man bumbling through life with as few scratches as possible. He is in over his head, but the perseverance his character displays is the admirable quality we often seek when searching for a hero we can tag along with. Soylent Green provides that well, with strong supporting characters that surround Thorn. Edward G. Robinson as Sol Roth, in particular, strikes as a thoroughly great supporting character. His humdrum attitude with the world wears him down, yet he is still a nice character to learn of and be around.
A hard task indeed to make such characters, Soylent Green is full of them. Their world-weary attitude is not just expected, but understandable. They resign themselves to their overcrowded apartments, shuffling through what little of the street remains after environmental disasters have rendered them futile to use. Cars bumper to bumper, not because there is a rush for work, but because they are locked to the ground with rust. Fleischer presents a world that is not maddened but resigned to living in a glum state of disrepair. It is a well-realised endeavour, one that makes sure to tell its audience how these people are living, or perhaps the better word is surviving. Their battery-powering bicycles seem like a sick joke of the modern era, to compare them to guinea pigs running in a wheel to power a flashlight, but Soylent Green replaces the humour with a bitter, moving sting.