Born in Amsterdam in 1938, some of director Paul Verhoeven's earliest memories are of Nazi and Allied planes falling from the sky into nearby fields. Verhoeven as a child let his curiosity lead him to visit the dead pilots, potentially molding his psyche to allow for the possibility that war holds more ambiguity than right versus wrong. Verhoeven's work is considered by many violent and misogynistic, but in looking at his films, there is a clear sense not of hatred, but of yearning for a missing piece -- of love, passion, memory, or fulfillment -- that touches all his creations. His films may not have the warm-fuzzy images that make them easy to digest. He freely admits his films are violent, not for the sake of violence, but, he says, because "...it is my sincere opinion film only reflects the violence of society." Verhoeven is what film buffs want most in a filmmaker, someone who is complicated, an enigma who brings his complexities to the screen.
Verhoeven earned his Ph.D. in mathematics and physics from the prestigious University of Leiden and soon joined the Royal Dutch Navy, making documentaries and short films for the military. In 1969, Verhoeven moved into fictional filmmaking with a popular Dutch TV series (Floris), in which he first cast an unknown Rutger Hauer, before making his first theatrical feature, Business Is Business (1971). Turkish Delight (1973), which paired him with cinematographer and frequent collaborator Jan de Bont, was his first international success; in 1999, it garnered the prestigious Netherlands Golden Calf as the Best Dutch Film of the Century. It shows Verhoeven's first real leanings toward a reoccurring theme of erotic obsession. He followed that with Cathy Tippel (1975), a story of a young girl forced into prostitution because of her family's poverty. In 1979 he made Soldier of Orange, a grim coming-of-age story set during World War II, which became a staple of the more esoteric movie houses when it was released in the U.S. and later enjoyed a resurgence amongst film aficionados on VHS and DVD. With his now-favorite actor Rutger Hauer, Verhoeven furthered his reputation with erotic, violence-laden adolescent fantasy Spetters (1980), about three motorcycle racers obsessed over a young woman who sells hot dogs in a concession where they race. Verhoeven spiced his suspense levels with the psycho-sexual thriller The Fourth Man (1983) about a bisexual writer, overwhelmed by his attraction to a beautiful hairdresser. The director's first English-language film was Flesh + Blood (1985), a 16th century adventure film re-titled The Sword and the Rose in re-release; it involves kidnapping and revenge, with a little plague thrown in for fun. Verhoeven moved to international attention with Robocop (1986), the story of a cop brought back to life by technology and haunted by memories of his past. Sharon Stone, a supporting actress in his 1990 release Total Recall, starred in Verhoeven's most notorious film, Basic Instinct (1992). Utilizing much of the premise of his earlier The Fourth Man, Verhoeven managed to combine many of his past sub themes -- political duplicity, urban decay, sexual ambiguity, appalling violence, and abnormality lurking within normality, to his highest commercial and critical acclaim. Verhoeven's 1995 film Showgirls, about Vegas showgirls trying to overcome difficult life choices, was equally controversial and almost universally panned by critics and the public. In 1997, he returned to the sci-fi action/adventure mode with Starship Troopers. Though a critical flop, Troopers was lauded for its groundbreaking special effects, showcasing amazing gigantic bugs and their battle scenes with human soldiers sent to obliterate them. Verhoeven delved further into the sci-fi jumbo-effects genre with his next film, Hollow Man. Kevin Bacon starred in the remake of the H.G. Wells classic of moral deterioration that occurs after experimenting with human invisibility. He would continue to direct in the years to come, helming films like Black Book.