In The Film:
Now, here's where we have to make something completely clear: the whole point of Starship Troopers is that the humans may not be the good guys. Earth's government has clearly been taken over by Fascism, and the propaganda is clearly meant to be a satirical mockery of wartime culture in the same way that Verhoeven's Robocop was meant to be a mockery of the greed and violence of the Reagan 80s. When we say that Verhoeven accidentally made a War on Terror parody with Starship Troopers, we're not saying that that post-9/11 America was just as bad as the Nazi uniform-wearing protagonists of that movie. It'd be like saying the Reagan administration literally turned us all into murderous psychopaths and cyborgs.
So in the film, events are broken up by propaganda newsreels which give an insight into the human society depicted in Starship Troopers, and which drop several heavy hints that these aren't actually the good guys that we're rooting for here. One of these hints comes in the form of casual prisoner abuse. Check it out at 0:50:
Yeah, that's Doogie Howser showing you how to wound and properly kill an Arachnid soldier. An enemy combatant that they have captured, and keep in a cage, and mutilate and execute live on camera. Then, look at what they do to this brain bug they catch at the end:
"After tireless research, our top scientists have discovered that the bugs hate this."
That thing outwitted the humans earlier in the movie, it's capable of planning and reasoning...
It even has a face! That or it walks everywhere backwards.
And there they are, shoving huge sharp things into its mouth(?) and broadcasting the footage with evident glee. It's only shown briefly, but these scenes of bug torture are there to tweak the audience. We're supposed to feel a twinge there -- even though this is the enemy, the good guys are still torturing their captives, without a second thought.
In Real Life:
Remember the Abu Ghraib scandal? Sure you do: that was when those photos surfaced of American soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners pretty horribly. It was a dark time for us, and the photos are pretty grim, so rather than show them here, we will instead show you these spoofs from the sitcom Arrested Development:
Of course, unlike the folks in Starship Troopers, we, the public, were horrified by this, (because we're real people, and have never been and will never be directed by Paul Verhoeven to do anything).
This is where our assertion that Paul Verhoeven is a time traveler starts to look pretty good. If you were doing a movie about war in general, or doing a satire of any previous war, why would you include a bit about how the supposed Good Guys treat their prisoners at all? There's so much more prominent stuff you can cover. But if you're satirizing the War on Terror? You'd need to bring up the prisoner thing at some point. Which is weird because, again, we're talking about a movie that came out four years before the War on Terror and one which was directed by the guy who made Showgirls.
By the way, it's a minor point, but as we said, the whole latter part of Starship Troopers revolves around the humans trying to locate and capture the elusive brain bug. It became a major objective for the whole war effort. And they eventually do find it, hiding in a cave. A hole, you might say. With a bunch of critters that look like spiders. A... spider hole?
#2. The Propaganda
In The Film:
The universe of Starship Troopers is saturated with propaganda, mainly dispensed by the newsreels, of which there are six in the movie, (here, here, here, here, here, and here). All of Verhoeven's most insultingly heavy-handed satire happens in these newsreels. They're all aggressively patriotic, so patriotic that it almost borders on strongly encouraged racism.
"The only good bug is a dead bug!"- Actual line from movie.
In Real Life:
Of course, we don't have a Fascist government, and if the American government did release cheerleading newsreels, people would just point and laugh. No, in the real world, effective propaganda has to come from someplace other than the government.
Sure, we could point out the Fox News cheerleading of the war effort, and the anchors saying the US military was simply trying to "spread love" to the Middle East:
But that's not as openly goofy and stupid as the propaganda in Starship Troopers. No, to find that, we have to go to the world of country music. Or, to quote Charlie Daniels, "This ain't no rag, it's a flag, and we don't wear it on our heads." Enjoy:
Or, we could go with the even less subtle Tobey Keith tune, "Courtesy of the Red White and Blue." Sample lyrics:
And the eagle will fly and it's gonna be hell,
When you hear Mother Freedom start ringing her bell.
And it'll feel like the whole wide world is raining down on you.
Ah, brought to you, courtesy of the red, white and blue.
Oh, justice will be served and the battle will rage:
This big dog will fight when you rattle his cage.
An' you'll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A.
'Cos we'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way.
Now compare those videos to the newsreels from Starship Troopers. Holy shit, they make the fictional propaganda look even-handed and intelligent.
"My only regret is that I could not fit more flags on my stage."
#1. The End
In The Film:
The film does not end with the end of the war. It doesn't end with a peace treaty, or the bugs surrendering.
No, the film ends with Neil Patrick Harris explaining to the main character that, now that they have a brain bug, they'll soon be able to understand how the Arachnids think, and confidently predicting that this is the turning point of the war. This is followed by a final recruitment ad that ends the movie.
But not before that guard from The Shawshank Redemption saves the day.
They may say they're winning, but the final message is the government desperately begging for soldiers, with key phrases like "we need soldiers!" and the slightly desperate-sounding reminder that "Service guarantees citizenship!"
In other words, the truth is that either the humans are fighting a losing battle against the Arachnids, or they're stuck in an unpleasant stalemate: the humans too technologically advanced to be beaten back, the Arachnids too entrenched and determined to give up. The optimism of the main characters at the end of the movie amounts to nothing more than a premature, presumptuous, and ultimately false declaration of victory.
In Real Life:
Seriously now, is it just us? The events of the movie match up beat for beat, exactly the way an anti-war satirist would draw it up. But even weirder, we can't find another war that matches up as well (that is, one a non-time traveling Paul Verhoeven could have had in mind). Vietnam? That war didn't kick off with a sudden attack on a civilian target. World War II? That didn't turn into an unexpected quagmire. Neither did the first gulf war (ie Operation Desert Storm). Nothing else matches up.
See, that's the thing about Starship Troopers -- to this day, lots of people don't realize it's a satire. They think it's just a really shitty action movie that does a bad job of building sympathy for the protagonists. The reason so many people don't get the satire is because at the time it wasn't clear what war it was satirizing ("A quagmire in the desert, triggered by an attack on the homeland? Shit, when has that happened?") and that's because the war it was satirizing hadn't happened yet.
Because Paul Verhoeven is a time traveler.
Note: We are told the Onion AV Club made this point last year. We promise we didn't steal it, and take it as sign of a growing consensus that Paul Verhoeven is in fact a time traveler.
For more articles in which we give too much thought to movies, check out 5 Reasons The Greatest Movie Villain Ever is the 'Good' Witch from the Wizard of Oz and 8 Classic Movies That Got Away With Gaping Plot Holes.