Surfing the TV last night I came across an old B-grade classic, Soylent Green. If you don’t know it it’s a movie set in some dystopian future starring Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson. There’s no real food left, it’s always hot, and if you’re not one of the entitled you live in communal misery.
This is a movie I catch up with every 7-8 years. It’s an enjoyable and well made movie. Watching it last night though it was the first time I think I realised how prescient it is as a piece of story-telling.
The movie was made in the early seventies, based on a book written some time before that. It was probably the product of a vivid imagination, but it’s odd to realise how some 40 years later how relevant it might be. I guess that’s often the case with good sci-fi.
Climate change is a very real thing in the movie. It’s always baking hot, with people speaking wistfully of winter how it used to be. There’s very little produce anymore, with farmlands either overworked or parched dry and unproductive by the constant heat. People live off something called soylent green, a ubiquitous product supposedly made of plankton. This is the crux of the story.
People live everywhere, sleeping in foyers and stairwells, or in the abandoned cars that litter the streets. They line up weekly for their ration of soylent, and riot when it falls short. The kind of food we take for granted, a piece of beef, a wilted stick of celery, is almost unknown, and reserved for only the richest.
I don’t want to spoil the movie for you – you should seek it out yourself. It will be familiar to you, right down to the revelation that the oceans have been over-fished. That’s the scary thing. We’re a long way from the world portrayed in the movie, but a lot closer to it now than we were 40 years ago.