Who's your messiah now? Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson star in Soylent Green.
The Hemlock Society's monthly “Right to Die Film Series'' isn't going to let a pandemic keep it down. The group’s next meeting will be held virtually on December 20 with SOD (Suicide on Demand) as the topic up for discussion. Few films better illustrate the argument for assisted suicide, and with more thrills, than Richard Fleischer’s apocalyptic crime thriller Soylent Green.
The action takes place one year from tomorrow. (It may be 2022, but the set decoration looks like something straight out of Willie Dynamite. And what’s with Chuck Connors’ Maoist garb?) Say what you will about Chuck Heston, he did know how to pick scripts with knockout endings. The big reveal of the Statue of Liberty that caps Planet of the Apes still sets viewer’s heads spinning, as do the four words that close Soylent Green — not to be revealed here, in case you’ve been living under a rock since 1973 and have yet to see the movie. While on the subject of boffo endings, remember The Ten Commandments? Call it a mini-reunion when former dueling Israelites Moses (Heston) and Dathan (Edward G. Robinson) convene as roommates fighting on the same team.
Heston stars as Thorne, a detective assigned to investigate the murder of William R. Simonson (Joseph Cotten), an unwitting trustee of Soylent Enterprises who, when his assassin arrived, didn’t put up much of a struggle. Simonson was one of the fortunate few wealthy enough to reside in furnished apartments while the poor sleep in stairwells stacked head-to-toe. And by “furnished” I mean outfitted with “furniture,” the official government handle for the kept women who come with the pad.
The film was released in 1973, and it’s amazing what a prescient piece of storytelling it is. We open with a concise montage of the kind of progress that left the planet in a shambles. Rolling blackouts, the greenhouse effect, curfews, millions out of work, and, of course, recycling are all part of the prognostications. (This was to be Robinson’s 101st and final performance. His death in a single-screen theatre, watching a projected reminder of the life he once had, is almost too much to bear.) The third act, in which Thorne follows Sol from the clinic to the Exchange, plays out without nary a word of dialogue. In a career spanning four decades and just about every conceivable genre, Richard Fleischer’s direction has never been sharper.
As always, the discussion will be led by the inimitable Faye Girsh. Those interested in participating are asked to watch the movie in advance of the discussion, which takes place on December 20 from 1:30-3:00. Visit their website at hemlocksocietysandiego.org for more information. As Faye put it, “This isn’t as good as sitting together in the Mission Valley library but it can be done while munching popcorn and in pajamas.” No Jeffrey Toobin-ing allowed!