Z.P.G.: Zero Population Growth
In the 21st Century, the smog is so thick you can barely see the skyscrapers of the cities. Citizens wander the streets wearing clear plastic masks so they can breathe. An egg-shaped ship hovers over the city with a megaphone telling the people what their calorie allotment is for tomorrow. When Russ (Oliver Reed) and Carol (Geraldine Chaplin) go to a fancy restaurant, all their food arrives in toothpaste tubes.
Then the President appears on a TV screen on the side of a building to announce the Edict: The World Gov has decided in order to deal with overpopulation, no one is allowed to have children for the next 30 years. People with parental urges can adopt a lifelike baby doll that is programmed to eat, sleep, cry, and whatever else real babies do. Anyone breaking the law will be executed and any babies born as a result will be killed.
Russ and Carol wait in line for hours to get a baby doll but she can't do it, it's not real enough. She vid-screen calls her shrink to talk about her baby urges. After making love with Russ, Carol goes to the next room where there is an abortion machine and I'm not clear how it functions. Wouldn't it be easier to surgically sterilize the adults rather than give them an abortion machine and then hope they remember to use it after sex? But this movie hits you over the head so you have to see the woman forced to do it to herself, every time. It also gives her the opportunity to not press the button and remain pregnant, which Carol does.
Russ and Carol have a couple of nosy neighbors, George (Don Gordon) and Edna (Diane Cilento) whom at first seem to be swingers. They are talking about switching partners for the night and then we realize that their dinner conversation is actually part of a "life in the 1970s" exhibit at a museum so I guess they're all actors? This kind of blurs the lines with what actually happens later. I never knew if I was watching their lives or the performance. Other museum exhibits feature plants and animals that are now extinct. They also tell us that all rivers and lakes were filled and covered over during the great housing crisis.
So Carol gets pregnant, and she and Russ decide to have the child in secret. When George and Edna find out, they insist on raising the baby as co-parents or else they will rat out Russ and Carol. It's an unacceptable situation but they have to go along for now. Russ starts planning their escape from the city.
Interesting movie, reminds me of Soylent Green
in a way. Both deal with overpopulation and scarcity of resources. Z.P.G.
tells us the only food left is plankton, just like in Soylent Green
which came out a year later. One dealt more with the lack of food, and the other with birth control. Soylent Green
was based on the 1966 novel "Make Room! Make Room!" by Harry Harrison and Z.P.G.
was based on the 1968 non-fiction book "The Population Bomb" by Paul and Anne Ehrlich. Both books were apparently inspired by conversations the authors had with scientists in decades prior about the coming overpopulation problem. "The Population Bomb" was mostly written off as fear-mongering but in that book, they recommend solutions such as greater availability of contraception and sex education. They also talk about topics other than the birth rate, such as redistribution of wealth and availability of food. Not so much about mandated abortions or executions for breeding.
Actually while thinking of that comparison it reminded me of a pair of 80s/90s movies, The Running Man
(with Arnold Schwarzenegger) which starts out with food riots and Fortress
(with Christopher Lambert) in which the hero is thrown into a futuristic prison for having a second child in a "one couple, one child" America. Which makes me think I should do a Sci-Fi Cinema feature for the 80s & 90s Board.
Oliver Reed is somewhat restrained in the first half of the movie but he gets to show some hints of aggression later on. This is my first time seeing young Reed, I think the only movie I've actually seen him in is Gladiator
which was his final movie, I believe. This seems like too silly of a movie for him. Geraldine Chaplin does well as the woman whose maternal instincts have gone into overdrive.
The ending of the movie raises a couple of questions.
Lawbreakers have a dome lowered over them by an airplane which carries out the death sentence by suffocation which takes 12 hours. The dome is clear but as soon as it lands they cover it in red spray paint, which I suppose is so the onlookers don't have to watch the death throes. But it also gives Russ and Carol a chance to tunnel out through the dirt below to an escape tunnel that Russ prepared earlier because the death dome always lands in the same spot. So they go through an underground sewer and find themselves outside the city on a beach. The beach is covered with placards saying it is the burial site for a number of unused nuclear missles and there are radiation warnings everywhere. So did they really reach safety?
A novelization of Z.P.G.
called "The Edict" based on the screenplay was written by Max Ehrlich (no relation to the authors of "The Population Bomb" I guess) which came out in 1971, before the movie.