Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Silliness in Sci Fi, Case #2,905: Casper van Dien gets flogged in Starship Troopers.

Starship Troopers is a 1997 sci fi film directed by Paul Verhooven (RoboCop) based on the novel by Robert Heinlein. Heinlein was a militarist (someone who believes the military should rule society). The novel and the film establish a society where "civilians" have few rights but all their needs are taken care of. "Citizens" are veterans, those who have served the military and thus have all the political rights. The military engages in constant war-fighting to justify its existence, but society is well-off (even utopian) and war occurs on distant planets.

The military system of justice is clear: Punishment is disproportionate to the crime. The military operates on a command-and-control system, where fear is the motivating factor.

After his squad leader loses his legs in a training exercise, Van Dien is appointed leader of the squad. He leads his team in a live-fire exercise (one where the troops are shot at with live ammunitiion, not blanks). The squad successfully navigates the exercise, but at the last minute relaxes to celebrate its victory. A trooper is then killed on-screen. (His head explodes.)

As punishment, van Dien is flogged on screen in front of the rest of the unit. Symbolic of his manliness, he does not scream while being whipped. The homoeroticism of the scene is blatant.

Supposedly, this is a pivotal moment for van Dien. He's kicked out of the military, his body is supposed to be severely injured, and he will not be a "citizen" now.

1) The whipping itself seems to have had no effect on van Dien whatsoever, either physically or emotionally. It seems nothing more than a spanking. He's up and around, walking, glad-handing, being hugged, being patted on the back as if nothing has happened. (See "Mutiny on the Bounty" [1962] for what a flogging does to a person.)

2) Van Dien is immediately allowed to re-enlist. The "Bugs" -- the insectoid aliens fighting off colonialist Earthmen -- attack Earth. (In the novel, the military purposefully loweers its defenses and allows the attack to whip up public support for the war) Millions die. Among the dead are van Dien's Brazilian family. (Yes, he looks Brazilian, doesn't he?) Although hundreds of thousands of Earthlings enlist in the war, and there seems no need for van Dien's help, he's still allowed to re-enlist. AND he is allowed to rejoin the very same unit he was drummed out of previously (albeit as a private).

3) The whipping itself is not shown. The audience merely sees van Dien's magnificent body, his handsome face, and that's all. His moans are more sexual than painful, and his body reacts as if he's having sex rather than being tortured. If the moment is supposed to evoke a reaction in the audience, that reaction is not the intended (?) effect of pain, shame, horror, or disgust. It's an erection.

4) There seems to be no change in van Dien's character after the whipping. His character, "Johnny Rico", is supposed to be a handsome, sexy, all-star athlete to whom everything comes easy: Sports, military life, even girls. He takes nothing in life seriously, which is why he begins celebrating too early during the training exercise. The whipping is supposed to change Rico's outlook, impressing on him (and others) the seriousness of military values, goals, and lifestyle. In fact, his character remains the same gung-ho, promiscuous, buddy-boy, joker he's always been.

Gratuitous Casper van Dien shot.

That's right.... take it like a man!

Something few would notice, but: van Dien shaved his body for the film. This is so that his muscles would show off better on film. No, that's not homoerotic at all.

Van Dien has done mostly B- and C-grade TV movies since Starship Troopers, although he had a co-starring turn in Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow in 1999. His films include Shark Attack, Python (not what you think it is), Christmas Twister, and Nightscream (not what you think it is). He reprised his role of Johnny Rico in the direct-to-DVD Starship Troopers 3 in 2008.

His most recent film? Sharktopus Versus Mermantula for the Sy Fy Channel. ***shudder***

Here he is in 2013.

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