Symbolic Power and Religious Impotence
in Paul Verhoeven's

by Richard S. Ascough
Department of Religious Studies
Queen's University, Kingston, Canada


1. Lawrence S. Cunningham and John Kelsay, The Sacred Quest: An Invitation to the Study of Religion (3rd edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002)107.

2. Cunningham and Kelsay, Sacred Quest, 107-08.

3. Cunningham and Kelsay, Sacred Quest, 108.

4. Cunningham and Kelsay, Sacred Quest, 107.

5. It is also the most commercially successful movie of all time in Holland.

6. For example, Michael Medved refers to Verhoeven's "warped and feverish fantasies" (Hollywood vs. America: Popular Culture and the War on Traditional Values [New York and Grand Rapids: HaperCollins and Zondervan, 1992] 255).

7. Rojola. "Paul Articles and Interviews Quotes," online, accessed Jan. 30, 2003.

8. Rob van Scheers, Paul Verhoeven (London and Boston: Farber and Farber, 1997) xi. This certainly proved to be the case for the twenty or so students in my Religion and Film class at Queen's University (Winter 2003) for whom this film was shocking but provocative. It became a touch point for many discussions throughout the semester.

9. Mike Lorefice, " Spetters" (June 30, 2001), online, accessed Jan. 30, 2003.

10. Van Scheers, Verhoeven, 129.

11. See van Scheers, Verhoeven, 135.

12. Van Scheers, Verhoeven, 136. The screenwriter of Spetters, Gerard Soeteman, describes the film as a "modern fairytale" in which "The hero does not get a kingdom but a chip shop and a girl with a (sexual) past. That does not mean to say she is not an acceptable match for a young man: it is real life" (van Scheers, Verhoeven, 128-29).

13. Van Scheers, Verhoeven, 128.

14. In the DVD director's cut of Spetters the rape scene is sexually graphic and brutal. This and other scenes were toned down for the American VHS release, with 8 minutes removed from the original. Verhoeven identified the cut to the opening of what would become the rape scene as the most interesting in the film in its move from light to dark. He intended to show the opening desire of Eef to extract money from the homosexual prostitute as "diabolical" (Paul Verhoeven, telephone interview with Richard Ascough, March 5, 2003).

15. In the original script Verhoeven had intended to include a scene where Eef takes boxing lessons in order to stand up to his father. However, this scene was not included in the production of the film. The character of Eef, like most of the characters in the film, are based on news reports and interviews with real people, and reflect their experiences, although the overall plot itself is fictional (Verhoeven, Interview). Verhoeven states, "in [my native] Holland, my work was very much about autobiography and biography" (Richard von Busack, "Sweet Jesus! Director Paul Verhoeven discusses the importance of Christ's life on film," Sonoma County Independent [February 26-March 4, 1998], online, accessed Jan. 30, 2003). See also Peter Cowie, Dutch Cinema. An Illustrated History (London: Tantivy Press, 1979) 101-04

16. The scenes with the Pentecostal preacher are drawn from Verhoeven's own experience of religious crisis in when he was 27 years old (van Scheers, Verhoeven, 129; confirmed in a telephone interview with Verhoeven, March 5, 2003).

17. In a tragic twist on the film, the actor that played Rien, Hans van Tongeren, took his own life two years after the film was released.

18. This description come from an article in the New York Times (Feb. 12, 1995) and is quoted in van Scheers, Verhoeven, 276.

19. Rojola, "" See also van Scheers, Verhoeven, 159-61. Explicitly Christian imagery is also used in Flesh + Blood (1985). Verhoeven views RoboCop (1987) as a "Christian fairytale" and deliberately included Christian imagery in the film (see van Scheers, Verhoeven, 195). Total Recall (1990) similarly employs Christian imagery, although more along the lines of apocalyptic themes (cf. Roland Boer, "Non-Sense: Total Recall, Paul, and the Possibility of Psychosis," in Screeing Scripture: Intertextual Connections Between Scripture and Film, ed. George Aichele and Richard Walsh [Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 2002] 120-54).

20. Andrew O'Hehir, "Paul Verhoeven," (August 01, 2000), online, accessed Jan. 30, 2003.

21. It will be interesting to see how Verhoven develops this in his widely anticipated film depicting the life of Christ based on his participation as a Fellow of the Jesus Seminar. For a discussion of this project see van Scheers, Verhoeven, 195-98, W. Barnes Tatum, Jesus at the Movies: A Guide to the First Hundred Years (Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press.1997) 200-03, and von Busack, "Sweet Jesus." As of 2003 Verhoeven was planning to write a book on the life of Christ before returning to the screenplay (Verhoeven, "Interview").

22. In an interview with Verhoeven (March 5, 2003) I asked whether he intended to show the impotence of the church through the sexual symbolism of the film Spetters. He claims not to have been fully conscious in doing so but agreed that such an interpretation may be legitimate, noting that often directors (and other artists) focus on their craft without being fully aware of the range of possible interpretations and implications of their work.

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