There was a time when even I was young and stupid. We will set the way-back machine to 1997, the year I graduated high school. Late that Summer, after returning from my little foray into the army (that is another story), this little film premiered called Starship Troopers. The first time I saw it I thought it was the best thing this side of Star Wars. So great did I think this movie was that immediately upon returning home from seeing it, I called my best friend (still is) and we walked to the theater and I watched it again. That little walk, by the way, was (and still is) probably about five miles. As I said, young and stupid. Interestingly, I recently saw an episode of Honest Trailers on YouTube that covered this film, and their assessment was basically that it got you pumped as a youth but when you see it as an adult you understand what it is going on better.
So Starship Troopers (though I did not recognize it at the time) is a thinly veiled metaphor for militaristic fascism. That thin veil is the setting, which is some undetermined point in the future when mankind has colonized space, but also done away with the hassles of democracy and instituted a brutally efficient planetary government. How so? Throughout the film there is a running propaganda reel that cleverly helps transition from scene to scene, but also fills in for the viewer the wider world. At one point we see a murderer that is caught one moment, tried and sentence a few hours later, and sentenced to death later that same day. The execution is said to be primetime viewing. That is not our main character, by the way, Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien). When we meet him, he is a simple high school senior showing off for his girlfriend, Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards) . . . in their fascism class? I do not know what else to call it, but their teacher, Jean Rasczak (Michael Ironside), seems pretty enthusiastic about how voting is force and only those who serve the government should be allowed this force. All of this seems to go in one ear and out the other for the lovestruck Johnny until Carmen tells him she is going to enlist in federal service to become a pilot. He is also encouraged to join by his best friend Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris), who is super intelligent and has psychic abilities. The three decide to join together (a bit gleefully), and Johnny does so over the objection of his parents. They each have quite different paths. Carl ends up in military intelligence, while Carmen lives out her giggly fantasy of zooming around the stars in spaceships. Johnny gets to be in the mobile infantry, where the brutality of the training (and the fact that Carmen dumps him in her first “letter” to him, literally a “Dear John”) causes him to nearly quit. What keeps him in is the destruction of his hometown of Buenos Aires by alien insects and (unsurprisingly) the Federation votes to go to war almost immediately. The conflict does not go as planned, though, and in the first battle troops of the mobile infantry die by the thousands by the merciless pincers of the bug swarms. Saving the Federation is the discovery that there is a brain directing the hive mind, and Rico and his men are tasked with capturing it. The film does not end with a resolution to the conflict, but it is suggested that this victory is a turning point and that everyone will keep fighting on to the end.
I suppose it is worth mentioning that Starship Troopers was directed by Paul Verhoeven. If you read my review of Total Recall (1990), you will remember that his trademark is hyper-violence and over-the-top . . . pretty much everything else. Actually, that is not too bad of a description of fascism. In his other films, you might ask yourself at some point why any of this is unnecessary. You can come to the same conclusion in Starship Troopers, though I would submit to you that there is a little more of a purpose to it in this one. There is a danger to society slipping into such militarism, and that could be the loss of humanity. In a sense, all the characters have to lose their humanity, become drones, in order to fight the enemy.
To drive home the loss of humanity in Starship Troopers is when the reporter for propaganda news (for lack of a better term) on the eve of the first invasion says there are some who say there should be a “live and let live” policy towards the bugs. That is when Johnny buts in and exclaims that he thinks they should kill them all! Stop me if you have heard that one before in light of recent global events. While Faith is not necessarily about a bland, let others do whatever they like, approach to life, but it is about seeing the dignity in all created things, not arbitrarily killing them.
The last thing to say about Starship Troopers is that there is a bit of nudity in it. When re-watching it recently, I had to leave the room during a couple moments, particularly the scene in the showers. Obviously, it is rated R. But if you want to see a movie that is a warning of how easily it can turn to a system that will subjugate rights over expediency, then here you go. I will stop short of making any comparisons to current times, and let you draw your own conclusions.