By Wayne William Cipriano
Soylent Green, the motion picture, was on television last night. It’s one of the pictures that I really like but do now own, so I taped it and watched it this morning. That way I can run past the commercials and preserve at least somewhat the rhythm that the filmmaker intended and worked so hard to give to me. Not only do commercials spoil the movie by interruptions, but in order to make room for them during the two hours always assigned to movies on television, parts are removed – usually that best parts – you know: violence, sex, colorful language. Yeah, I get it, there would be no movies at all on TV were it not for commercials, but Geez, Louise, there ought to be a limit to how much damage is allowed to be perpetrated on an innocent movie like, say, Soylent Green.
Anyway, each time I see the film I notice something different, which is true about all of them, right? You might think it’s cheesy, and I can’t disagree in some parts, but the message is very powerful, even more so today than when I first saw it. The overcrowding, food shortages, breakdown of institutions, inhumanity, two-segment society (very rich, the rest) all ring uncomfortably true today, maybe not in our country but in many others. I have heard the end-line of the picture used in all seriousness during environmental rallies. If you’ve seen the picture you know what I mean. If you haven’t you’ll just have to wait until you do.
What I like most of Soylent Green is Edward G. Robinson’s part. It’s not a lead but a great supporting role. It was, I believe, his last picture and I am ready to argue that it was his best role, ever. He even makes Charlton Heston’s inability to run or deliver a line without sounding like Moses, fade into the background. Mr. Robinson’s shuffle to that shining building at the end of the picture, his attention to the questions asked of him within, even his reticence as he walks to his decision are all great – even better than his wonderful teardrops over steak earlier in the film. But his facial expressions at the end of his last scene when he sees what you and I take for granted each and every day we are alive are simply masterful.
Soylant Green is dated and occasionally over the top, but it is also valuable, prophetic, poignant, a film Heston should be proud to have been a part of, and Edward G Robinson’s finest.