Can babies only survive with Soylent?


“What happened to Monday” just came into the cinemas, a science fiction film that is about a very radical variant of the one-child policy. Reason enough to ask yourself how the problem of overpopulation has otherwise been treated in science fiction. Beware of spoilers: there are hardly any happy endings.

The scientist in Jack Arnolds Tarantula (1955) explained for the reason of his research on gigantic animals that the world population has to be fed: “Today there are already two billion people in the world. In 1975 there are three billion. And the new millennium begins with three billion and 625 million. "

That sounded dramatic, but the good doctor misjudged it very much. At the turn of the millennium there were already six billion, today there are 7.5 billion people, and according to a forecast it will be more than eleven billion people in 2100. The problem of overpopulation - and the resulting problem of scarcity of resources - preoccupied cinematic science fiction especially in the 1970s. Arnold's giant spider film from the 1950s is an early outlier, but it also only uses the topic as a hook without dealing with it in particular.

The 1970s, however, were not only the decade of dystopian, but also of socially critical science fiction.

The best-known film here is certainly the year 2022 ... Those who want to survive (1973) with Charlton Heston, but the year before the British tried a similar material: Z.P.G - Zero Population Growth (1972).

No child was born

The near future: the world is overpopulated, the air can hardly be breathed without a gas mask, animals no longer exist and food is given in paste form. A radical solution is needed, which is why an edict is passed that prohibits having children for a period of 30 years. In order to be able to meet the longing for children, however, robot babies are offered. And if that is not enough: The penalty for violating this prohibition on reproduction is death.

However, a married couple does not want to bow to this and has a baby, from which the neighbor couple also learns why they are asked to share the child.

It comes, as it must. Conflicts break out, the child is discovered, and the couple and their offspring must flee while an angry mob searches for them.

The film impressively illustrates the fears of a world that has fallen victim to overexploitation, but also of a development that is heading towards the artificial. This is particularly noteworthy since it was the early 1970s that ready-made meals, but also plastic products, began their triumphant advance. One can understand the film as a reaction to it, as a longing for the good old days, when everything was still "real", while the present and the near future threaten to become less and less authentic in their effectiveness - and that up to one Robot child who is only a weak substitute for a real one.

Z.P.G - Zero Population Growth (German alternative titles are The earth is dying - ZPG and Births forbidden) also shows that such radical solutions are only possible within a totalitarian system that has been preceded by dehumanization, without which such a thing would not be possible.

The relatively obscure film is also fascinating in that it basically functions as something like a prequel to Escape into the 23rd Century (1976), even if the two substances are not connected. The baby at the end of Z.P.G. but could well become the Peter Ustinov character in the film adaptation of the novel by William F. Nolan. It is easy to imagine how the world of one film became that of the other.

In Escape to the 23rd century people live in a closed habitat. Overpopulation is therefore an inherent problem as space and resources are finite. The solution is therefore simple: if you turn 30 you have to die. A crystal in the palm of your hand, a kind of clock of life, lights up when the day has come. One then has to go to annihilation. If you flee, you will be chased by the so-called sandmen. But one of these hunters does not want to die at the age of 30 and flees.

The difference to Z.P.G. is obvious. The system here is not restrictive, life is basically beautiful, including a very special form of free love. But the price is voluntarily dying to make room for the next generation. The system works as long as people voluntarily follow it, but it would collapse if no one believed in the necessity of this procedure anymore. This is accompanied by a devotion to fate that is almost reminiscent of slaughter cattle. You live well until you stop doing it.

The fight for every inch

The great classic is Year 2022 ... who want to survive (1973), which like no other film impressively and depressingly shows how overpopulation can be. People are just everywhere, on the streets, in the house corridors, in the last little shelters. A particularly impressive scene is when Charlton Heston's character goes up a flight of stairs and has to climb over dozen of people who eke out their lives here.

Heston is Detective Thorn. He lives in a world that has been unhinged by the greenhouse effect, but also by overpopulation. Now he has to solve the murder of the CEO of a large company, but in the process comes across a plot, the discovery of which would not only shake the foundations of this society, but smash it.

The film also tells of a two-class society. The rich who live in luxurious apartments and houses and the poor who live shoulder to shoulder on the street. Somewhere in between is Heston, who is a little better off as a cop.

Given the immense overpopulation - 40 million people live in New York alone - nutrition is a problem. This is why Soylent Green was invented, but in the end it shows what the main ingredient of this food is: people. This is the big secret that Thorn reveals: "Soylent Green is human flesh."

So he screams when he realizes that they have all become cannibals. That the poor consume themselves so that the rich can get richer. It is a closed cycle that is fueled by the fact that there are suicide centers to which people can go, those of life who have become tired of this existence. Thorn's best friend Sol Roth also takes this way out.

The film shows arguably the most radical form of "problem solving", in which humans are made part of the food chain. There is something similar at Snowpiercer (2013), in which the last survivors of an ice age sit in a long train, the snow cruiser - the rich in front, the poor in the back. Overpopulation is a problem here too, but it is resolved by provoking riots among the poor, which can thin out the “herd”.

Forever 25 years old

Andrew Niccols In time (2011) tells of a near future in which people will no longer age from the age of 25, but have been genetically modified in such a way that they will only live one year if they do not buy additional life. This is reserved for the rich, who enjoy eternal youth with it. At the same time, it is ensured that the poor do not get too old, so that overpopulation cannot arise in the first place.

Here it is not a totalitarian system that is behind it, but a clear caste system that takes the idea of ​​one percent to extremes.

The topic is more topical than ever again, because Tommy Wirkolas is What happened to Monday? in the starting blocks. Here, too, overpopulation has reached a level that threatens all life on earth. That is why the government has issued a decree that each family can only have one child. If more are born, these children will be frozen in cryostasis chambers until they will be resurrected when the population has declined.

This is a problem for Terrence Settman because his daughter had sevenlings that he does not want to give up. He raises the seven identical sisters so that each of them can leave the house one day a week and live the life of Karen Settman. Accordingly, he names his daughters after the days of the week, but everything gets out of hand when Monday doesn't return.

What unfolds in the following is a thriller plot with all sorts of action elements and surprises, but the substructure of the film is more interesting, as the one-child policy is reminiscent of China, where it existed, in order to control the overpopulation become. As in Year 2022 ... who want to survive is also available at What happened to Monday? a surprise in the end. On the one hand with regard to Monday, but above all to the system in which people live.

If you don't want to know how the film ends, you should skip this paragraph. And no, the children will not become fodder for the rest of the masses. Rather, the cryostasis chambers are not what they claim to be. (If only because it would be impossible to build millions of such chambers, supply them with electricity and store them.) Instead, the system relies on economic efficiency. These chambers are blast furnaces that make people disappear without a trace. A radical solution that the politician played by Glenn Close also defends in the end, as this is the only way to ensure the survival of the species. But of course this is an inhumane step that is not supported by the population. The regime's amorality has not yet spread to the people, a system change is taking place. But the problem remains, so in the end the film's most interesting question remains open: what will the world look like in another 50 years?

That is the real question. One that the other dystopias are unwilling to answer either. This is what they have in common with reality, with the present, in which there are no solutions either. Little consolation is that at least no ideas like the ones shown in the films are hatched - as far as you know, and for the moment.