Viking Night: Soylent Green
By Bruce Hall
July 21, 2015
Obviously, there wasn’t much of a budget for Soylent Green.
I didn’t even need to Google it. I can tell, because the movie crams about 30 years of back story into a slightly too long montage of still photographs meant to depict the collapse of human civilization. Pollution, depletion of natural resources, and massive overpopulation have gradually deprived the earth of its ability to sustain human life. Since there wasn't enough cash on hand to actually film any of this, you kind of have to just imagine society collapsing into war, riots, starvation and chaos. And you'll have to imagine it accompanied by a weird, jaunty soundtrack better suited to a Benny Hill sketch than an introduction to the Apocalypse. Sure, it gets the point across. But it's only the first of many compromises that gut this would-be blockbuster of substance from the moment it starts.
So for the record, it's the year 2022, and things are so bad that according to the opening scene card, 40 million people are crammed into New York City. That sounds like a lot, but I suspect a lot of them commute, making that a gross exaggeration. Still, it's enough that people sleep in stairwells, live out of dumpsters, and wander the streets looking for work. Unfortunately the best jobs available are sleeping in stairwells and living out of dumpsters. And since nobody has any money, they pay you in sadness and hunger. The government still functions, mainly in the form of a sprawling bureaucracy that assigns each citizen a number, and keeps careful track of them so they know how many people die every week. I guess it's nice to know that no matter how bad things get, the government will always have enough in the tank to tell you what to do, even when there's really nothing to do but wait to die.
There are bright spots, though. The Soylent Corporation has dominated the food industry for years, marketing imaginatively named soybean supplements to the starving masses like Soylent Red and Soylent Blue. No doubt that equals big cost savings to the Marketing team. When a third of your customers drop dead standing in line waiting for your product, you really can almost name it anything you want. So instead of pushing the envelope and going with something sexy like Soylent Pimento Loaf or Soylent Erection Lasting Longer Than Four Hours, they decide to name their new product Soylent Green. They don't even try to hide the fact that it's made from seaweed – an admittedly nutritious food that most people outside of Japan still wouldn't accept if the only other option was eating a bowl of their own hair.
Soylent Green is in short supply, though, so it's only available on Tuesdays - except when it's not. This often leads to riots, which really isn't as bad as it sounds, because riots create jobs! The “police brutality” and “collecting the dead” industries are both experiencing rapid expansion, which is good news for guys who are into heavy machinery. When people die, their bodies are literally chucked into the nack of ordinary municipal garbage trucks and shipped off to waste collection plants, because funerals are so 20th Century. And riot police (wearing what are obviously just slightly modified football helmets) get to drive dump trucks tricked out with bulldozer attachments that literally scoop dissenters off the street a dozen at a time and toss them in the back, where there doesn't seem to be anything stopping them from climbing back out again, except they never do.