Starship troopers or the origin of inequality

There are many ways of making a political film. One extreme is exemplified by 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle, or Hora de los hornos, incorporating both an explicitly political content and a radical methodological form. The other extreme is those “progressive” films of the classical Hollywood period that manifest a tendency to revise the dominant ideology while in a large extent keep this intention buried under its apparently harmless cinematic language and gross entertaining value. The vast area between these two poles is then filled by political documentaries, comedies of social satire orientation and all sorts of constructions featuring a delicate balance of compromises and divergences.

Genre thus becomes a useful concept not so much as its embodiment of a fixed set of rules, but to which extent it can be subverted while still maintain its recognizability. In this sense, to classify Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers under sci-fi is no less problematic than to put Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life under the category of melodrama.

A lot has been said about the film’s sometimes overtly explicit analogies to the Third Reich. It indeed blurs the seemingly distinct boundary between democratic and fascist regime and implies that their apparent differences could be only false fabrications. But what strikes me the most is its depiction of the “origin of inequality”. Johnny Rico is bad at math. So when he joins the army, he becomes a private in the mobile infantry, where you have to run hard in front of the killing bugs and prepare to lose up to four limbs any time. His high school girl friend Carmen fares better, so she gets the job of a pilot, which consists of manipulating control stick, designing optimal cruising route and, is equipped with more impressive (darker) uniform. But the brightest among them, Carl, leads a prestigious career in the military intelligence, where he quickly emerges as colonel, stays away from the front (he arrives only when the battle is finished), and wears an all black Gestapo uniform. How is he able to do this? The clue is given quite early in the film, where Rico and Carl are seen doing something very strange. Carl is trying to show Rico how to “visualize” the hidden poker in his mind and match it with the other. Obviously, Carl has a “super intelligence” which allows him to see what a normal guy like Rico can not. This ability later also enables him to tell what the bug queen feels by simply touching it.

If the society is inevitably divided into hierarchies, as the film shows, what keeps the lower class from going crazy out of endless envies? The remedy proposed here is the heroism—the only way of feeling better without any substantial compensation. The bonus that goes with heroism is called brotherhood which, in the film, is illustrated in a very, very peculiar way: men and women bath together. Of course, the host of such heroism does have an advantage over the higher ranking officers: he directly commands his squad and is able to shout at them: there is only one rule here, everyone fights and nobody quits! Pilots, on the other hand, never really raise their voices. As for the most invisible and most prestigious career, that of army scientist, apart from a brief TV appearance, we don’t really know what Carl is doing everyday.

The lack of resentment is nevertheless inconceivable, notwithstanding all above considerations. It should be painful, at least for Rico, to realize that in the real world a man’s values are no longer the same as those in high school. Being able to play football is definitely a good thing, but it will go only that far. Simple-minded individuals are maybe still necessary in today’s war, but it is hard to imagine why, in the future, they should not be replaced by robots—even more simple-minded thus even more effective killing machines.


No comments:

Popular Posts

Blog Archive