The earth is often characterized as a dystopian future in many books and films. Themes of protagonists struggling against man and nature are commonplace. Perhaps the cause was a nuclear holocaust, or otherwise unknown environmental disaster. Is this the sort of future we can expect for our descendants, or will there be some unknown cause we cannot account for that will plague the future humans of our planet? Maybe a happy future is boring in terms of entertainment, or perhaps these negative feelings towards the future are sort of an expectation, given the state of events in our modern time. Pessimism is easy to feel after seeing each report or news story that things seem to be worse than expected, or are exceeding worst-case predictions of just a few years ago.
These stories may be stuff of imagination. Showing the earth, or comparable world, as a dusty wasteland may add intrigue to stories. They may also create interesting settings, where humans cannot afford the luxuries of normalcy, as we do today. Basic things such as living spaces, or obtaining food and water are now monumental struggles. While watching the movie Soylent Green a while back, I found myself thinking about the nature of things, and where we are going as a planet and people.
The movie was decent enough. The basic premise is that humans are living in harsh conditions after an environmental collapse. People are living in overpopulated cities on an ever warming climate. Civil unrest is quite common as people are fighting for limited resources. Limited food sources have created a condition where many people have grown up never having known what it is like to have fresh fruits, vegetables, or meats. One scene in particulars shows the rarity of a jar of jelly, or the feasting over a small piece of meat. For a film that was made in 1973, it seems to have been prophetic in nature, as many of the common themes can be tied into climate research and findings today.
The one scene that, in my opinion, is the most thought provoking is the euthanasia of Sol (played by Edward Robinson, who was suffering from terminal cancer at the time of filming, making it more impactful as he died only two weeks after the filming of it). Sol, the older friend of Thorn (played by Charlton Heston) often speaks on how things were back before the problems began. His descriptions of real food, better living conditions, and ample resources are things Thorn cannot fully grasp. Try telling someone of my generation how it was to live under food and resource rationing during World War II. After his research shows that the plankton in the oceans have long since died out, Sol figures out what Soylent Green, the new protein infused food supplement feeding the masses, is made of. This revelation causes him to completely lose interest in continuing with his life, and he decides to end it at the government facility providing this service.
After Sol drinks a solution that will end his life, the attendants leave him in a room to die. This room contains a large cinematic screen that plays visuals of common earth scenes. The movie implies this is a common end for many people who would rather not go on, given the state of existence. While the classic music plays, Sol is able to view peaceful scenes of flora, wildlife, and other scenes from the earth as it used to be. As the scene unfolds, Thorn learns of Sol’s intentions and tries to intervene, but it is too late. Thorn is overcome with emotion during the final moments of his friend’s life, but also seeing the earth as it was before his time. He grew up in this desolate environment, never having seen the earth in its beauty. Never has he witnessed flowing rivers, the rolling waves of the ocean, or seeing wildlife graze in the fields. As Sol passes along his findings to Thorn and dies, and the final climax of the movie is now set up.
This scene may be a little over dramatic or over the top, but the impact, to me, is profound. From the standpoint of the characters, the common scenes appear to be something out of the past. Something completely foreign. The loss of the wildlife, flora, and resources is vivid to them. Having never seen or witnessed this, the sense of loss is magnified. The loss of the beauty of the earth is heartbreaking. As we go through our lives, we see these things all the time. On the way to work just the other day, a small deer was grazing along the road. Birds often visit our birdfeeders, flying back and forth. Many mornings as on the way to work, I can see beautiful sunrises over the trees. These are small experiences of beauty that are often ignored because they are quite common. For the characters in the movie, the emotional and spiritual impact would be immense.
Soylent Green may be considered an older movie now, but it was very much ahead of its time. It deals with issues such as euthanasia, global warming, or even corporate power to take advantage of the people. Today, many of these issues are very much relevant.
Are we in a position where we could have taken action, but chose not to? Will our descents be like the people in the film? Will they be fighting for scraps? Will they be living in squalor? Will they look at us with disdain because we sat around and debated while the world crumbled? I know I want to leave a lasting legacy that will make the world better for those following us. I am not a gambler, and do not want throw money away. Many others I’m sure feel the same way. So why are we gambling on the earth? The stakes are astronomically higher than a part of my paycheck. I firmly believe in science and data. There is enough out there where we should all step back and play it safe. Decisions should be made now that will minimize impacts of our way of life, and also to preserve what we have for future generations. If we do not change, or continue as we currently are, it amounts to gambling in my book. The individual who would gamble everything at the slot machine or on the poker table seems to be extremely rare. So why is it a good idea to gamble now?
I would encourage everyone to watch this scene and while it is only a movie and part speculation, there is truth to it. If our decedents suffer the same fate as the unfortunate characters in this film, we will have done them a grave disservice. I can only hope and pray that they will be able to experience the earth is its beauty as we are able to. Being a religious person, I tend to view the earth as a gift from God. If we neglect it, or if we degrade it for our own purposes, that seems rather insulting. For those who are not overly religious, simply taking care of our home on its flight through the universe makes the most sense to me.
Don’t eat Soylent Green. It’s people!