Love him or hate him, you have to at least credit Slovenian philosopher and critical theorist Slavoj Zizek for trying.
In an age where philosophy, like poetry, has largely retreated to the ivory tower, Zizek insists on inserting it into the cultural conversation, seeking to engage and provoke the widest audience possible. He takes dense, complex concepts from Lacan, Engels, Freud and Marx, and applies them to pop cultural examples, a process that can be alternately illuminating and frivolous.
“The Pervert’s Guide To Ideology,” directed by Sophie Fiennes (sister of Ralph), is Zizek’s fourth film, a remarkable goal for any university professor, let alone a scold who insists — as Zizek once told The Telegraph — that “the first duty of philosophy is making you understand what deep s—- you are in!”
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||138 mins|
This latest film is more or less a sequel to 2006’s “The Pervert’s Guide To Cinema,” where Zizek dissected layers of meaning contained in dozens of (mostly Hollywood) films. Fiennes repeats her trick of using look-alike set design to make it seem like Zizek is speaking to us from inside the movies he’s analyzing; thus, a discourse on “Taxi Driver” has the bearded philosopher lying on the same bed we see in Travis Bickle’s ratty New York flat, and a rant on “Full Metal Jacket” is delivered from the same toilet seat where Private Pyle blows his head off.
“The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema” had the attraction of staying on topic and focused, but “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology” is a bit of a dog’s breakfast. “Fantasies are the central stuff our ideologies are made of,” insists Zizek, but although the film is mostly concerned with deconstructing movies, it seems to digress at every possible opportunity, into everything from Kinder Surprise chocolate eggs to the Book of Job.
What Zizek does is perhaps most akin to stand-up comedy: Turn on the mic, and he starts riffing, waving his arms, tugging at his nose, while literally shaking with fifth-espresso energy. Just about any topic will do — “The Sound of Music,” Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” a Starbucks cappuccino, the 2011 London riots or capitalism’s aestheticized re-incorporation of transgression — and when it starts to run out of steam he segues deftly into the next one, so smoothly that you might not even notice the disconnect.
Coherency is not one of the film’s strengths, although on a point-by-point basis, it’s provocative and even amusing. Zizek champions John Carpenter’s cheesy 1988 alien invasion film “They Live” for showing how ideology lurks under the surface of everyday life (dollar bills are revealed to contain the message “this is your God”), while “The Dark Knight” is chastised, rightly, for suggesting that lies are a necessary evil — a clip from the film shows Batman assuming the blame for public servant Harvey Dent’s crimes, so that people won’t lose trust in the system.
“Sometimes”, says the Caped Crusader, “truth isn’t enough,” a statement that Zizek links to Donald Rumsfeld speaking about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. (And somewhere, I hear the IMDB fanboys having a collective aneurysm.)
Zizek’s on shakier ground when it comes to “Full Metal Jacket” and “M*A*S*H,” which he perversely insists are not anti-war movies, but reinforce the ideology of obedience. Also, bringing up Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” only serves to show how the best critique of ideology slips past as entertainment, and requires no academic jargon.
When it comes to Stephen Spielberg’s “Jaws,” Zizek starts off by asking, “What does the shark stand for?” Yet by the time he gets through “Triumph of the Will,” the ideological use of the “big other,” former U.K. Prime Minister John Major and unemployed mothers, Bob Fosse’s “Cabaret,” and the German metal band Rammstein, the question remains.
Sometimes a shark is just a shark.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.