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Heston's Characters Glimpsed America's Future

Actor Charlton Heston died over the weekend in Beverly Hills, Calif., at the age of 84. He did more than star in epic films like Midway and Ben-Hur. Some of his characters glimpsed our future — and our collective nightmares.

In Omega Man, Heston is among the last survivors of a war waged with biological weapons. In Planet of the Apes, he plays an astronaut returning to a world from which human civilization has vanished.

Maybe the creepiest Heston movie is Soylent Green. In the 1973 film, the world population has exploded. New York has 40 million people, sleeping in tiny rooms or on stairwells. People have poisoned the environment, changed the climate and diminished their own sources of food.

Most survive on synthetic food from a giant corporation. Its products include "Soylent Green," which Heston reveals in a famous last line, is made out of people: "You tell everybody. Listen to me, Hatcher, you gotta tell 'em — Soylent Green is people!"

Whatever led Heston to choose such roles, there's a reason we remember them. They play on the flip side to America's great success, and to our optimism. It's our equally American tendency to brood about harder times ahead.

Though Soylent Green explores what seem like a liberal's nightmares — a giant corporation that eats up the little guy — it's not surprising that its star ended up as president of the conservative National Rifle Association.

Heston's eeriest movies imply a world in which you never know when you might need a gun.

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