Soylent Green Predicted 2022, Including Impossible Meat Substitutes

Heston, who saw man as merely a superior monkeys’ uncle in 1968’s Planet of the Apes, and the earth go zombie in The Omega Man in 1971, had real concerns about overpopulation when he commissioned the script for Soylent Green. During the 1970s, fears of a “population bomb” were rampant, and warnings came from such disparate sources as Public Broadcasting System specials and songs like Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath.” It was a common belief humanity was breeding too much for the natural world’s ability to sustain it.

While Soylent Green underestimated the overall world population of today, it did inflate some of its numbers. In the beginning of the film, we learn that New York City’s population is 40,000,000. Manhattan island might sink under the extra weight before this could happen. But the nightmare was also averted in the interim as fertility rates plummeted on a global scale, and China issued its national one-child policy to counter the growing birth rates which the world found so frightening at the time. Some of the eastern hemisphere is currently facing an aging population crisis because of the efforts to curb youthful sexual enthusiasm.

Soylent Green was one of the first mainstream films to bring climate change into public consciousness. Heston’s character, NYPD detective Thorn, explains how a year-long heatwave created by the greenhouse effect poisoned the water, polluted the soil, decimated plant and animal life, and burned everything up. Only the wealthy can get their hands on real food, especially produce. It is, however, available on the black market.  A jar of strawberry jam costs $150. In one very effective scene, Thorn and Sol savor a thin steak, an apple to the core, and a leaf of lettuce.

The food shortage prediction is actually true, depending on economic and geographic factors. Mass production means we make enough foodstuff to feed the entire world population, with a surplus. Yet some people starve and others suffer from obesity. The one-percenters don’t shoot themselves off into the stratosphere in the film’s 2022; they isolate themselves in luxury penthouses.

In the film, Det. Thorn is investigating the murder of Soylent Corporation executive William R. Simonson. The dead man’s safe place includes not only the most deliciously decadent edibles, but it has the latest in post-post-modern “furniture.” That’s what sex slaves to the wealthy are called in the film; and the ever-dazed, tarot card-reading Shirl, played by Leigh Taylor-Young, could service parties in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (or the most insane conspiracy theories of QAnon followers today).

Soylent is one giant corporation which has the power to exacerbate global hunger. It is like Amazon, Wal-Mart and probably Tyson Chicken combined, and the top earners live in protective custodial-ship to the starving masses. Half of New York City is unemployed and living in poverty, and when they take to the streets, it is only slightly more frightening than the militaristic police response to protestors we’ve seen in the past few years. The reason it is more frightening is artistic. It is because the scenario looks so commonplace. The cops don’t mount tanks and urban assault vehicles in Soylent Green. They don’t scoot activists into unmarked minivans. They come in with dump trucks and bulldozers and ship them off in “scoops.”