MARRAKECH, MOROCCO: Between receiving his first-ever tribute, here in Marrakech, and holding a Masterclass, Paul Verhoeven, the director of such modern-day cult classics as “Basic Instinct,” “Robocop” and “Showgirls,” discussed both the comedy of being gifted Sharon Stone‘s knickers, and the tragedy of rape in his latest film, “Elle.”
Born in the Netherlands, Verhoeven actually studied math and physics, but he soon found his way into the film world, courtesy of the Navy, where he made documentaries, before jumping into TV. He soon started to make features and enjoy success with films like the sexually-charged “Turkish Delight,” which was followed by “Soldier Of Orange.” He then graduated to working in the States, with the film “Flesh+Blood” (1985). His U.S. features, “RoboCop” and “Total Recall” established him as one of the notable film directors of the late 1980s and early ’90s.
Verhoeven is not just a filmmaker, but also a scholar, authoring the book “Jesus of Nazareth” which was published in 2011. Much in demand, he will serve as president of the Jury at the Berlinale in February.
Is this your first tribute?
There were retrospectives, and stuff like that, which is nice — in Paris at the Cinematheque, and in New York at the Lincoln Center. So, they showed the films, and they talk about your films. Prizes, yes, but a tribute, no.
Can you tell us about the book you have written about Jesus?
You can read a lot about Jesus in the New Testament. The book is about a man… but is not about God. It is not theology. It is history, as far as you can decipher history from what is written down, at that time, which is not that much. The question is what the Gospels point out. They are written thirty or forty years later. Based on fake information, and perhaps some eye witnesses, far in the distance. My view on Jesus is that it could not be anything else than a man. It is not possible what the Catholic Church taught us, that he is fully man and fully God. That was the dogma, which is not possible. Unless you say that every person is God himself, which is Old Testament thinking, in fact.
I concentrated on Jesus, as a man, in the politics of his time, in an occupied country. It’s like Israel and Palestine, it’s something like that. He was occupied by the Romans. I grew up in Holland, which was occupied by the Germans, when I was young. So, I know what occupation is. And I think that has been lost. Of course not lost, there are enough theologians that have pointed it out, but, in general, you don’t think about Jesus being, let’s say, in the resistance. In his way, he was in the resistance.
Do you find Jesus in your films?
“RoboCop” has a metaphor of Jesus. The reason I did it was because, for me, there were two metaphors. One is really Paradise Lost, which is when he comes to his house. He is already “RoboCop.” He doesn’t know who he is. He goes to his house and gets flashes of something wonderful that was there. His wife and his child, and the love of them. That’s lost paradise. He cannot touch, it but it was there. When I made it, this was important to me. It was the decision moment to me. I see this metaphor of Paradise Lost and standing at the Gates of Eden. The other metaphor, is that there is a resurrection. That is why he gets killed in an even more brutal way, because I felt that was a metaphor of crucifixion. Murphy gets killed and resurrects. He is dead and resurrected with another brain.
It is very interesting if you read in the Gospels about Jesus being resurrected. He doesn’t say anything anymore. It is monosyllabic. But he, after resurrection, expresses himself monosyllabic with phrases of five or ten words. If you look at “Robocop,” that’s what he does. If you look at his eyes, you slowly start to see what he sees. Most things he says is, put down your weapon or whatever. At the end of the movie, because I was living in the United States, the metaphor is that he’s walking on water. In the front of the water there are the walls of an abandoned steel factory, where we shot. You can see the walls like the walls of Troy or Jerusalem. I put grit under the water so he could walk on water. To make him into an American Jesus, he turns to the bad guy and says, “I’m not going to arrest you anymore. I’m going to kill you.” That for me was the American Jesus.
Is “Basic Instinct” a parable?
That was not a parable. These were two shots. One a bit further in. There was not so much to talk about. When we shot that, it was not in the script, but when I was young, a student, in our circle there was a five, six-years-older-woman, who came to parties without underwear, and she would be doing that. My friend, who was more audacious than I, went up to her and said, do you realize we can see your vagina? She said, “Of course, that’s why I’m doing this.” That story I told to Sharon Stone when we had dinner, I said, “This happened to me. It’s true. I didn’t invent it. It is real.” I have described this devilish light in her eyes before. She said, “Yes, let’s do that.” Later, then she was horrified. We sent everyone away. The male actors were all gone. It was me, the AD and the script girl. We shot with no one there. There was video. She could see them, she looked at them. She said great. Later she said, “I did not know he was doing that,” but you cannot do it without her knowing. Then, before shooting, she gave me her panties as a present, but she always forgets that. It is a funny story.
I think it was more that the people around her, managers and agents and all that stuff, when they saw the movie and realized how good she was, she did a fantastic job, and would think, “Well, this could be Golden Globe,” or something like that, but that one shot will present that, they turned to her and said make sure it is taken out. She said that I want it out, but, in fact, it marked her career, didn’t it? But let’s be sure she did a wonderful job, but this was the moment that made it special. Now it is 30 years ago.