The terms fascist and fascism get thrown around a lot, but rarely with accuracy. The science fiction novel Starship Troopers (1959) by Robert A. Heinlein, and the 1997 movie of the same name, are alternatively accused of promoting or lampooning fascism. Starship Troopers isn’t my favorite film, but I think it’s entertaining and original enough to rewatch every now and then. I just watched it last week, when to my surprise, RedLetterMedia featured it over the weekend in an episode of “re:View.” Watch the full episode here.
In their review, Mike and Jay take the position that Starship Troopers is a satire of fascism, and that audiences largely missed the point when the movie was released in 1997. There’s some evidence for this. The director, Paul Verhoeven, definitely interpreted Heinlein’s novel in this way. At one point, characters are wearing uniforms obviously inspired by the Nazi Gestapo. Violence is shown as the only solution, and militarism and war are at the center of this futuristic society. Characters consider the alien arachnids to be ugly, mindless, and inferior to humans. They are confined to a “Quarantine Zone,” like the Nazi ghettos.
Mike and Jay argue Starship Troopers inverts a common character arch in which a character living in an oppressive society comes to rebel against that society. Instead, in Starship Troopers, characters who originally question the social order, or who are at least indifferent to it, end up embracing it. Characters become less human as the film progresses, until, at the end, they cheer when it’s revealed a captured arachnid feels fear, an emotion that typically elicits sympathy.
Verhoeven himself said his movie adaptation is “playing with fascism or fascist imagery to point out certain aspects of American society… of course, the movie is about ‘Let’s all go to war and let’s all die.'” He copied some propaganda scenes directly from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (1935).
But is the Terran Federation depicted in Starship Troopers a fascist society? Despite the fascist ascetic in the film, it just doesn’t measure up. Benito Mussolini defined fascism as a merger of corporations and the state. Fascism is more generally characterized by a cult of personality, extreme nationalism, veneration of past glory, militarism, racial superiority, and authoritarianism.
Well, Starship Troopers certainly portrays a militaristic society, but that is where the comparison ends.
Released in early September, Morgan (2016) was billed as a promising new sci-fi horror/mystery movie, but quickly falls flat. It stars Kate Mara as Lee Weathers, a “corporate consultant,” Anya Taylor-Joy as Morgan, and Rose Leslie as a behavior specialist. Paul Giamatti makes a notable appearance as the only character with emotional depth. Going into the film, I thought it was going to explore the ethical issue of genetic manipulation and cybernetic enhancement. I thought it would pose an interesting dilemma to the audience about whether research of this nature should be pursued, like Ex Machina (2015) did for artificial intelligence. Boy, was I disappointed.
First, the film was deceptively marketed. It’s not a mystery and it barely passes for horror. Its IMDB summery is, “A corporate risk-management consultant must decide whether or not to terminate an artificially created humanoid being,” but that’s not actually the plot. Spoiler alert: the end of the film reveals that the corporate consultant was actually a genetically-enhanced assassin, and the whole exercise was an excuse to see whether her version could defeat the newer version, Morgan. So, in the end, there’s never a question about whether Morgan should be terminated, and the protagonist never solves a mystery–she knew what Morgan was the whole time. The result was a boilerplate chase/assassin thriller.