My post last week on Starship Troopers’ fascism generated a lot of good debate in the comments. This site thrives on intelligent comments – as well as generous donations, hint hint – so we knew we’d hit on a rich lode of pop culture. And like every mining company, we exploited that lode for all it had.
The debate around Starship Troopers hinged on a few key questions:
- Was Starship Troopers a good movie or a bad movie?
- Re: question #1, was that Verhoeven’s intention or no?
- Re: question #2, was that because Verhoeven was satirizing fascism or wallowing in it?
- Re: question #3, was that because Verhoeven was true to the source (Heinlein’s novel) or deviated from it?
As you can see, this isn’t just a checklist of criticism. Each answer hinges on the one prior to it. The possibilities unfold like a space-time origami crane. How could each of the distinct viewpoints interact with each other and come to a consensus?
Fortunately, loyal commenter donn hit on a solution:
It seems like it’s almost time for a chart here…
Ladies and Gentlemen, loyal Overthinkers, I present to you the Four-Dimensional Matrix of Starship Troopers Criticism!
Here’s how to use the Four-Dimensional Matrix of Starship Troopers Criticism. Simply complete the following sentence:
Starship Troopers was , and that was  on Verhoeven’s part, because his  is 
 = “Awesome” or “Terrible”
 = “Intentional” or “Accidental”
 = “Satire of Fascism” or “Wallowing in Fascism”
 = “True to the Source” or “Deviates from the Source.”
For instance, it is Overthinking It’s position that Starship Troopers was Awesome, and that was Intentional on Verhoeven’s part, because his Satire of Fascism is True to the Source. He took the militarism in Heinlein’s novel just a nudge farther in order to turn it into painfully hilarious insight.
Roger Ebert would agree with me that Verhoeven intended a Satire of Fascism and that it was True to the Source. He cites Heinlein’s novel in his review. However, Ebert believes that Starship Troopers is Terrible, and that that was an Accident on Verhoeven’s part.
So Ebert’s views and mine are co-planar on the third and fourth dimension, but divergent on the first and second.
Verhoeven himself, meanwhile, would probably say that he made a deliberately Terrible movie. So Verhoeven and Overthinking It converge on the second, third and fourth planes but share no common points on the first.
Each of these 16 distinct viewpoints can be mapped to a vertex on a hypercube – a four-dimensional cube. Humans cannot naturally perceive four dimensional objects. Our ancestral needs and evolutionary pressures limited us to three: length, width and depth. We can see three-dimensional cubes with ease, whereas a two-dimensional creature – a Flatlander – could not.
But a two-dimensional creature could see a three-dimensional cube if we unfolded it and laid it flat. We recognize these images from standardized tests, like the SATs in America or le bac in France.
So what if we unfold a four-dimensional cube so that we three-dimensioners could perceive it? Why, it might look a little something like this:
The four-dimensional cube, also called a hypercube or tesseract, has 16 different vertices (or “corners”). If we could smoosh this cube flat, the 16 vertices would unfold into a beautiful floral arrangement. Coincidentally, the Four-Dimensional Matrix of Starship Troopers Criticism hosts 16 possible viewpoints. Each of those viewpoints can be mapped to a vertex on the tesseract.
So whether or not Starship Troopers is good, bad, deliberate, accidental, satirical, exploitative, true to its source or false, it is at least proof that humanity’s ability to conceive higher dimensions has a use. Flatlanders couldn’t even begin to appreciate this movie.
But wait! There’s more!
Could other Verhoeven films be critiqued using the Four-Dimensional Matrix of Starship Troopers Criticism? Of course! Replace the “Fascism” with “Sexism” in . Change the options in  to read “Empowering Women” or “Demeaning Women.” And there you have it – a Four-Dimensional Matrix of Showgirls Criticism!
In fact, Stokes’ whole analysis of Showgirls and Good/Bad Movies fails! It fails, sir, because you’re not thinking fourth-dimensionally! The points on this chart exist not independently of each other, but in an interrelated four-dimensional nexus of quality, intentionality, sincerity and integrity! The possibilities explode beyond the conventional limits of our Euclidean world! You LOSE! Good DAY, sir!
Of course, it takes no more than four dimensions to evaluate a Paul Verhoeven film. Or any film at all, really. Let’s be reasonable. If you added a fifth dimension to the matrix, then you’d have … you’d have something like …