Paul Verhoeven is accustomed to pushing moviegoers out of their comfort zones. The Netherlands-born director has crafted some of Hollywood’s most provocative blockbusters, from RoboCop to Starship Troopers. And he’s still generating intense reactions with his latest film, Elle, which stars acclaimed French actress Isabelle Huppert as a video game executive who pursues a unique revenge plan to find the man who brutally attacked her. Since premiering at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, Elle has received rave reviews as well as more measured reactions for its depiction of a woman who doesn’t exactly follow traditional societal norms. “The character takes a road few people would take,” Verhoeven told Yahoo Movies. “But because it’s Isabelle Huppert, you follow her and believe her.” Watch our Director’s Reel interview with the director above and read on for highlights of his reflections on some of his past controversial classics.
The metallic clothes make the cop in Verhoeven’s still-timely action movie/media satire, with F/X supervisor Rob Bottin crafting one of the signature movie costumes of the 1980s. But as cool as RoboCop’s outfit looked on screen, it was a chore for actor Peter Weller. “When the costume arrived on set, he found he could nearly not walk in it! It was a crisis — he felt frustrated, and nearly refused to [wear] the costume.” (Watch this clip to hear how the actor adapted to this challenge.)
Total Recall (1990)
Verhoeven’s first and only collaboration with Arnold Schwarzenegger inspired a debate that rages to this day: Does Douglas Quaid really go on his Martian adventure, or is it all a false memory implanted by Rekall? Verhoeven settles the matter once and for all…kind of. “There are two realities, and they are both true,” he says, pointing to one key piece of evidence supporting the “It’s all a dream” argument. “In the last shot of the movie, we don’t fade to black, we fade to white. If it’s a dream, we’re saying, ‘Okay, it’s true — he’s been lobotomized.”
Upon its initial release, critics and audiences soundly rejected Verhoeven’s behind-the-pole tour of the Las Vegas strip-club scene. These days, though, the NC-17 rated movie has become a genuine camp classic, which bemuses the director. “I don’t think I went out of my way to make a camp movie. I was trying to make a movie that was completely hyperbolic just as Vegas is a place where everything is over the top. I’m not so sure that was a good idea!”
Starship Troopers (1997)
Verhoeven’s cutting satire of war movie jingoism was almost willfully misunderstood by reviewers, some of whom accused the director—who spent part of his childhood in The Hague during the final years of World War II — of making a fascist film. “People didn’t expect a movie called Starship Troopers to have a political level,” he says now. “Yes, these people are your heroes, but realize they are living and accepting a fascist utopia.”
Paul Verhoeven’s ‘Elle’: Watch a trailer: