Sunday, October 21, 2007

Soylent Green (1973)

I saw Soylent Green tonight – odd that I've never seen it before. I thought I had; it may just be that everyone references it so often (and shouts the last lines so often) that it's become part of the culture. However, it's worth actually watching rather than just assuming , as I did, that you have watched it. The Pastorale scene [1] is quite as moving as critics said it was and a good half of the forecasts seem to have come true. (Possibly this is due to Harry Harrison, the writer of the seed idea for the film, a story called Make Room, Make Room, rather than the Hollywood script writers).

In the miss column, we have to admit that the future has not been full of Eames furniture, Eero Saarinen chairs and acrylic hangings. Pity, because they are quite nice. The strange and venemous-looking foxtail-based ten-legged furry spidery decoration never came to pass either, for which I am truly thankful. Young women provided as part of the furniture of a furnished luxury apartment – well, I think that's close enough to true to count.

The oddest thing in the 'hit' column is hearing the characters come out with a brief buzzword-bingo explanation of Global Warming, and why it's a Bad Thing. It's odd because the film was released in 1973 and if you read conservative columns written in 2006 and 2007 attempting to refute Al Gore's various scenarios, there's one thing they always say. They always say, "We're not falling for this Global Warming crap. Why, in the seventies, so-called climate scientists were predicting a New Ice Age. The idiots knew nothing then and know nothing now. Ha ha ha." Actually, they sound more stilted and hysterical than that, but that's roughly what they say.

If you read a column in the future that says scientists in the seventies predicted an Ice Age, kidnap the columnist and force them to watch Soylent Green, with their eyes propped open like in A Clockwork Orange, so that they can see what people really thought in 1973.

Edited to Add: My lawyer says I can't advocate kidnapping people even if they are stupid, so don't. Instead, when some idiot tells you that scientists in the seventies predicted an Ice Age, not Global Warming, send them this article. It's called, "Was an imminent Ice Age predicted in the '70's? No." I think that title about covers it. You can send them a copy of Soylent Green as well if you like.

But watch Soylent Green anyway. Even if you don't like the message, you'll probably like the chairs.

[1] Google tells me that the scenes of the world before overpopulation are accompanied by extracts from Tchaikovsky's Pathetique and Edvard Greig's Peer Gynt suite as well as extracts from Beethoven's Pastorale.


Batocchio said...

You're right that the "Pastorale" scene is pretty moving, and very well done. I never enjoyed the film as a whole as much, though, or at least thought it was overhyped, because when I was a kid seeing it on TV I guessed the twist pretty early in. Actually, a few years back I saw a "behind the scenes" piece the studio had aired to promote the release, and they hint at their secret so hard it'd be hard to miss. (The SNL spoof about sequels is pretty damn funny, too.)

But I could use to see it again. It's pretty iconic and it's always fun to see/read sci-fi of past years. I especially like it when it says something like, "Los Angeles, 2007." Sci-fi lit has often tackled environmental issues... Many sci-fi films do too, although it's more often a background element, especially in future dystopias (Blade Runner, The Matrix). The 1970 film No Blade of Grass focuses on an environmental disaster, but I know it didn't do as well as Soylet Green. Brit sci-fi authors have written a great deal of fiction on overpopulation specifically, perhaps due to living on an island. (Oh, but hell, I see you're a sci-fi buff and probably know all that and much more!)

Speaking of clothing and furniture, besides Soylent Green, the outfits in Logan's Run always cracked me up.

As to the global warming deniers — well, they'll lie, deny and stall no matter what, but the debunks you provide are most welcome.

Anyway, thanks for a good piece.

Anonymous said...

If you like "Soylent Green" and "Make Room, Make Room", you should check out John Brunner's books "Stand on Zanzibar" (1968) and "The Sheep Look Up" (1972) which could just as easily be said to be inspiration for Soylent. (even if they weren't). They are both great (and tragic), and very prescient- and certainly something else to add weight to the Ice-Age predictions myth.

Peromyscus said...

Batocchio, I think you're right that the twist is pretty easy to guess, which is why it's probably better to see it for the first time at this late stage, when you know the twist going in.

Thanks for the comment

I have read a lot of British 'cosy disaster' science fiction - I was born in England, so it was readily available. My favorites are the Ballards, which have nothing to do with climate change but have _those_ titles - The Drought, The Wind From Nowhere, The Drowned World and The Crystal World.

Oddly enough, both Brunners are on my shelves but I haven't read either of them. I must remedy that.

Gagliardi said...

Hey Lyle, ran across your post while I was trying to track down when the Global Warming hype began. I was around when Soylent Green came out, I own it on DVD, and I've forced my children to watch it! Anyway, I'd peg you at 20-something, because if you were older you'd remember that in the late 70s to early 80s scientists were in fact warning us of the coming Ice Age. We went from vague warnings of Global Warming to imminent warnings of an Ice Age back to stern warnings of Global Warming. So you can understand why I'm a bit jaded by the scientific community's flip flops on this issue. But hey, Soylent Green doesn't take place until 2022, so of course no one (except maybe Sol) remembers the Ice Age warnings! Wait a minute. Oh no! I'm Sol!

Peromyscus said...

Hi Gagliardi - or Sol! Thanks for the comment.

I'm 49. I remember clearly what scientists were saying in the late 70s as I was at college studying a science at the time. The link in the blog post for the article "Was an imminent Ice Age predicted in the '70's? No." covers the debate you're interested in comprehensively so I hope you get chance to read that too.

Anonymous said...

Your article seems to credit the right-wing notion that Global Warming and an Ice Age are mutually exclusive possibilities (one's hot and one's cold; thus, associating them with one another is contradictory - so say the righties).

In fact, if 1970s scientists were associating the two phenomena with one another, they would have been correct to do so (see link).


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