Film Retrospective

Paul Verhoeven’s Best Movie Is the One You Haven’t Seen


This piece contains spoilers for TURKISH DELIGHT, now celebrating its 50 year anniversary. Unfortunately, Paul Verhoeven’s Dutch films are plainly inaccessible in the United States, but your local indie video store or online archive is likely to have them for you. They’re great! Don’t be fooled into believing that a film’s lack of proper distribution is a signifier of its quality! Here’s Kevin Cookman and Katarina Docalovich telling you so!

Kevin Cookman: Kat, Kat, Kat… We are here for reasons that have been dictated by the stars themselves.

Katarina Docalovich: And Letterboxd.

KC: The cosmos somehow aligned on the night of April 12th, 2023, when, on disparate coasts—with zero coordination—we watched Paul Verhoeven’s legendary and completely forgotten Dutch classic, TURKISH DELIGHT. I have my reasons for why I watched this, but why did you watch it?

KD: My first Verhoeven was a screening of ELLE at the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville in the year 2016. I was 18 and thought “What the fuck is this movie?” I did not like it, I did not understand it, I just kept thinking “Oh this is so French, all this French feminism, it’s so disgusting and so bad for women.” I had a very strong reaction, which meant I was probably going to end up liking it. I still haven’t revisited it, but I wanted to get into his earlier Dutch period because, obviously, I’m now obsessed with ROBOCOP, SHOWGIRLS, STARSHIP TROOPERS, HOLLOW MAN—all that delicious Hollywood stuff—and here were all these early Dutch movies. I couldn’t find them, and I wondered why I couldn’t find them, so I just said “fuck it” and spent $18 on eBay dot com to buy a DVD of TURKISH DELIGHT.

KC: He has a reputation of being a Problematic King and you see the purest DNA of how free-wheeling he is in his beliefs of the sadistic and loving limits of human free will, but also ethically. You’re never quite sure how ironic his fascism is, a la STARSHIP TROOPERS and ROBOCOP. It’s his fun little fetish to make you consider that, yes, the Dutch were occupied by the Nazis and made valiant efforts to retaliate, but how much did they specifically influence me, Paul Verhoeven, viewer? You’ll never know! And he hasn’t relented: you’d think an older auteur would be tamer in his twilight, but then there’s BENEDETTA where he films a joint shitting scene like a finger-fucking meet-cute.

KD: BENEDETTA was a very cute moment for him, he was just so old, and he still had these lil cute protestors showing up to screenings. SPETTERS was definitely protested the most in his career, but you still had feminists showing up to TURKISH DELIGHT showings in opposition of the film’s portrayal of Olga as a prop for Eric’s journey. Do you think she’s a one-dimensional figure?

KC: This is a trademark of not just Verhoeven, but a lot of sleazeball auteurs who make movies about the greasiest men alive doing the worst things imaginable. You think that the female co-star is a tacked-on carnal addendum to his quest when, in practice, the films are defying the traditional communication of character backstory. You are being pushed out of how you’re conditioned to learn about your onscreen protagonist. The very freedom that TURKISH DELIGHT, as an enterprise, allows Olga in turn gives Monique van der Wen the freedom to go full Pacino, and you get a far richer character as a result. If we want to call out Verhoeven’s most openly problematic movie, it’s probably BASIC INSTINCT, which, though badass, is openly biphobic and maybe has a problem with women.


KC: SHOWGIRLS is just callous. Eszterhas doesn’t give a fuck, and neither does Verhoeven, who’s single-mindedly keen on making an exorbitant rags-to-riches story about monkeys rampaging in Vegas dressing rooms where he literally makes monkeys rampage in a dressing room. BASIC INSTINCT delves into the darkest constructs of noir, and in that deconstruction ends up subconsciously revealing its directors intrinsic views on the role of women in cinema. And the roles of men! It’s more ideologically rigid than the rest. But also fucking HOLLOW MAN has a POV rape scene.

KD: Right, and also, on the topic of considering the use of women and men in cinema on a material level, it’s worth taking Sharon Stone’s allegations into account where she apparently didn’t know that her pussy was going to be in that shot.

Turkish Delight Movie Screenshot

KC: Could you pitch the dear reader at home, who has opened this piece because they love TOTAL RECALL, on TURKISH DELIGHT? What is it, why are we talking about Olga, who the fuck is Eric, and what is “Holland”?

KD: Rob van Scheers’ biography describes the movie as “the Dutch ROMEO & JULIET,” which kind of applies to these star-crossed lovers. Eric’s a sculptor, Olga’s a daughter of the bourgeoise, and they immediately fuck when he hitches a ride with her (he afterwards, of course, snags his dick in his zipper, requiring a desperate drive to a farmer’s house for some pliers). From there, it’s years and years of their love going well, and going bad, and going well, and going bad again. It’s a romance!

KC: It’s shockingly classical. 

KD: It’s the genesis of so much of what gravitates us to the popular stuff. It’s sexy, it’s violent, it’s funny, and it’s a little cynical, but this has so much heart. It ends tragically, but no matter the factors that stripped them of a “happily ever after,” the film doesn’t question the validity of their love.

KC: In so many of his other films, he’s consumed with crafting a thesis on the genre he’s playing in or on the country he’s working in that character relationships exist as a means to an end. It’s what makes TURKISH DELIGHT so familiar, but so bold in his own catalog: it’s actually focused on character! Everything in this movie is in service of these freaks’ heartaches and their intense attraction. Surely you could crack this movie open as a treatise on post-occupation liberty in contemporary Dutch youth culture, but that’s not its most active function.

KD: There’s so much politically-driven material in the original book, which I’m sure imprinted on Verhoeven, but so little of it is present in the adaptation.

KC: So much of the movie is focused on biology. It’s profoundly fucking gross. The yucks of sharing a bed with someone and sweating on the same unwashed sheets, the way their hair and skin is shedding while they rest, how you can smell their farts when eating their ass: it’s borderline cartoonish. If you wanted to translate the in-world logic of LOONEY TUNES to real life, then you are basically exploiting the grossest bodily functions to score a “Gotcha!” on everyone around you. Rutger Hauer is directed to be so restless in any given situation that any semblance of control urges him to handcraft a bomb.

KD: It’s so early in Verhoeven’s career that all his explosive energy is focused into making a straightforward adaptation. No one here was expecting to create the most popular and beloved Dutch film of all time.

KC: This is a good time to bring up stats: TURKISH DELIGHT is regarded as the best Dutch film of all time, followed only by SOLDIER OF ORANGE, another early Verhoeven. By marker of ticket sales, it was seen by 25% of the country’s population. It was nominated for the Best International Film Oscar despite being banned from Cannes for being too explicit, but ended up losing out to the ultra schmaltzy Truffaut flick DAY FOR NIGHT, which is classic Oscars, baby.

KD: Not a Truffaut guy?

KC: Not a DAY FOR NIGHT guy.

KD: We *love* the cinema.

KC: We want to *fuck* the cinema. We want to *call* the cinema *mommy.* Uh, yeah, anyway, in its era, TURKISH DELIGHT lives in this confounding crossroads between MIDNIGHT COWBOY bursting through the glass ceiling of which taboos are acceptable in popular cinema while the threads of a more traditional era grasped on for dear life. It’s the early span of the 70s where THE GODFATHER wins Best Picture in between PATTON and THE STING, all the while THE EXORCIST breaks box office records over Christmas, end of story. Even the most successful international films exist in all levels of accepted vulgarity. AMARCORD also came out in 1973, and while Fellini has this reputation of being a connoisseur of Italian lust, you put that movie next to this one and it’s like putting a Pixar movie next to an issue of Playboy.

Turkish Delight Movie Screenshot

KD: On the question of “could this get made today?” the reaction in our weirdly puritanical times would somehow be similar to its original release. There were feminist pamphlets describing the women and girls as “thumbsuckers and bitches, that is why Eric is allowed to pester and humiliate them. Eric is allowed to fuck them all. He can be nice, but first he’d be very sick and die. It is the umpteenth film confirming the existing ideas about women: passive, powerless, thumbsucking things with no will of their own who can be used for anything.” That’s such a bad faith read of the movie: you have to want to read TURKISH DELIGHT that way. I mean, Olga does suck her thumb. That’s not all that she does in the movie! Yeah, her titties be showing, but it’s cool. Women do be acting crazy, and it’s more feminist to admit that they cheat and can have outbursts and can fight their partners back. Eric and her are equally crazy. It’s BPD ho on BPD ho violence. That doesn’t mean there isn’t love there. To write off the whole film because he treats women badly? Please.

KC: It’s also the most annoying bad faith reading that insinuates some Old Testament moral evaluation of the protagonist’s personal ideologies directly reflecting the film’s own goals. This juvenile idea of going into a movie and automatically believing “whatever the main character believes must be correct and I expect to guide myself on what they teach me!” It leaves no room for flaws.

KD: I don’t blame Olga or Eric for the downfall of their relationship. Every time I watch it, I think maybe they’ll end up together this time, and I was reading the book and hoping maybe they got together there. Obviously not, but there’s that beautiful scene in the rain that’s their final moment together and it’s this fever pitch of romance interrupted by her friend who you start blaming for ruining everything, until you start blaming the mom for ruining everything. I never got mad at either one of the young lovers. Maybe this speaks to my own mental illness.

KC: In classic Paulie V. fashion, the movie lives in that in-between of wanting to comment on the behavior it’s displaying while glamorizing it to its fullest extent. I see the validity in the complaints about Olga’s objectification, but primarily because the film brings those up itself. Monique van der Wen’s ogled, the camera loves her… Literally.

KD: Jan de Bont and her were in love!

KC: And married for over a decade!

KD: She’s also hot. What else are you supposed to do?

KC: Not be hot? That’s unfair.

KD: You also see Rutger Hauer’s private parts, you see his wee-wee in there.

KC: Well, now we know why you’ve watched this movie three times.

KD: I mean, how popular was full frontal male nudity in those times?

KC: Yeah, let me just pull up those global dick stats real quick…

KD: All I’m saying is that it’s equal opportunity across the board.

Turkish Delight Movie Screenshot

KC: It’s all in the scene when Olga is most upset with Eric. She’s completely fine with, and is in fact quite flattered by, how Eric objectifies, frames, and transforms her, but her line is when Eric begins selling that image to other men. You see her nearly fall out of love with him the second he sells some random stranger one of her nude portraits. TURKISH DELIGHT then becomes about the monetization of the sexual image and how that can affect the owners of the image’s sexuality. I mean, in the wash of TikTok puritanism, is this a movie you think could be made today? It’s interesting hearing what Verhoeven and van der Wen have to say, because it’s less of a Bill Maher “woke mind virus” type beat and more a lamenting of the creative freedom to throw your leads on a bicycle and have them weave through traffic without a permit.

KD: TURKISH DELIGHT today would be an HBO miniseries, the only platform left to show some titties, but it’d be so polished. Rutger Hauer talks a lot about how his fingernails were dirty and how this is the only movie where that was ever allowed. In Hollywood, even if you’re playing the most despicable character, one comment he’d always get is how his fingernails needed to be clean.

KC: The 2023 TURKISH DELIGHT doesn’t include the sweeping romantic gesture of reaching into the toilet and handpicking your girlfriend’s bloody shit so you can prove to her that it’s from last night’s beets and not stomach cancer.

KD: There’d be less pubic hair.

KC: Not to get totally on my Super Yaki beat, but I was really taken by that sequence in THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD with the party date where the two tiptoe on the line of infidelity by pissing in front of one another and exhaling smoke into each other’s mouths. It’s my favorite part of the movie for how much it riles up your senses without any physical interaction taking place, and TURKISH DELIGHT was two hours of that scene… But with intense physical interaction. That movie gave me so much hope that we can still make Paul Mazursky behavioral dramedies steeped in the full range of discomforts and thrills that generate from person-to-person interactions.

KD: This is based on a novel by Jan Wolkers that was also really, really popular in the Netherlands and it’s a solid adaptation that opts to communicate the story’s essence through cinematic language rather than direct translation—though it chooses great landmark points. Olga’s mother in the book is more involved as a scary figure that directly meddles in the romance by setting her daughter up with other men. The film positions her as a fuddy-duddy from afar, but the book sees her using Olga as a financial pawn to find a man who can take over the family business.

Turkish Delight Movie Screenshot

KC: Something I think we both don’t like is included in both the book and the film. There’s this bizarre, tragic, Nicholas Sparks type ending where Olga suddenly dies of a brain tumor. This whole movie, a nonlinear escalation of crude escapades, hard veers into a medical drama that takes up the entire finale. When the movie ends, it maybe inadvertently raises the question… Was Olga acting like a lil freak the whole movie because of this tumor? Is this free-wheeled feminist destruction of polite society’s inhibitions the result of having a lump in your brain? It’s a difficult question because any affirmatives start to fuck over her entire character.

KD: Let’s go, brain tumor theories. Did she always have it? Was she born with it? Was it developed in her American stay? Was it when she met Eric? There’s a lot of illness in her family… I’m not a doctor, I’m just going to start with that.

KC: You’re not?!

KD: Shocking. But her mom had cancer and her dad dies of… Illness?

KC: He dies of the Sweatsuit Cocktail gag from JACKASS 3D but with his own mattress, yeah, Preston Lacy syndrome.

KD: I don’t know if it’s hereditary, but if we are to take it metaphorically, it’s her mom’s poison. Something I’m not sure is possible, but… Can you get a brain tumor from a car crash? Can you get your brain jolted so hard that you get a tumor?

KC: Kat, that would be fucking insane if that’s how cancer worked.

KD: Yeah, that’s not how cancer works. Well, another metaphorical diagnosis could be how her thoughts and feelings in the book are described as being pushed away and balled up into a wall of your brain, and I figured, well, that could definitely give you a brain tumor. The most realistic explanation is that Olga is based on Jan Wolkers’ ex and so he was penning some revisionist history in terms of his own life. “I didn’t fuck up his relationship, it’s all because she had a brain tumor that made her crazy! I loved her the whole time though, and I was there when she died! Love never dies!”

KC: I wouldn’t be surprised if she had a tumor the whole film, because, as much as it fucks up her character, I can also see the sardonic angle for Paul Verhoeven—a master of threading the needle of great drama and greater irony—thinking it was really funny for the only woman Eric ever met who matched his energy and vision only did so because her brain was emulsifying.

KD: If she didn’t have the brain tumor, would he have loved her at all? It made her “her”! I mean why else would you pick up a strange hot man on the side of the road?

KC: I could give you a list.

KD: I would pick up Rutger Hauer from the side of the road. But, maybe I have a brain tumor.

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