Soylent Green (1973) is a science fiction film directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Charlton Heston and, in his final film, Edward G. Robinson. Set in 2022, it is a dystopian fantasy that uses the murder of a businessman to portray a modern society coming to an end, subsisting for the meantime on a diet of mysterious processed food called ‘soylent green’. The film is based on Harry Harrison’s 1966 novel Make Room! Make Room! which is more strongly focussed on the problem of unchecked population growth and the need for sustainable development.
Anthony Burgess wrote a number of books that had dystopian fantasy elements himself, including The End Of The World News (1982), which includes a storyline about a rogue meteor approaching Earth; 1985 (1978), which imagined Britain overwhelmed by evil trade unionists, and A Clockwork Orange (1962), with a delinquent youth culture and a totalitarian state. He also wrote a number of articles on apocalytic themes, including ‘End Time’, an article about the dystopian fiction of the 1970s, reviews of Aldous Huxley, and of Diana and Meir Gillon’s novel The Unsleep (1961).
Burgess’s novel that relates directly to Soylent Green is The Wanting Seed (1962), which shares its concerns about overpopulation and its trope of cannibalism. Burgess claims in his autobiography that ‘Harry Harrison, on his own confession during the downing of a bottle of Scotch in my New York flat, stole the ending for the film of his novel No Room! No Room!, called Soylent Green’. Burgess may have misremembered this: as the writer Ramsey Campbell has noted, Harry Harrison was deliberately excluded from the production of Soylent Green by the film-makers, and Burgess gets the name of his novel wrong in the anecdote too. However, several key themes and ideas are shared between The Wanting Seed and Soylent Green, and the film features as part of an Anthony Burgess film season at Cornerhouse cinema in June 2012. Booking and further information is here.