Is the message behind THE DARK KNIGHT that the public have to be lied to because they can’t handle the truth? Is TITANIC really about how upper-class Rose parasitically leeches off working-class Jack? Is the shark in JAWS a code for American xenophobia? Slavoj Žižek thinks so. And he’d like to dress up as one of the nuns from THE SOUND OF MUSIC and tell you all about it.
Žižek is a bona fide academic rock star. That sounds like a contradiction in terms, until you hear the stories: how he was banned from teaching as a young professor in the former Yugoslavia; how he’s been described as ‘the most dangerous philosopher in the West’, but serves his house guests iced tea in Disney-themed cups; how he keeps his clothes in his kitchen cupboards; and how his stock reaction to criticism from academic peers is a cheerful ‘f*ck you’.
Since chucking ALIEN, psychoanalysis and a dash of Marxist cultural critique into a figurative blender to churn out his first English-language publication – 1989’s The Sublime Object of Ideology – Žižek has found that the movies offer handy reference points with which to illustrate his philosophical ideas. And the best vehicle for conveying those ideas? The movies themselves, of course.
To prove the point, he and director Sophie Fiennes have made THE PERVERT’S GUIDE TO IDEOLOGY. In a nutshell, it’s a documentary about how ideology is constructed and transmitted through cinema. But that’s a bit like describing Glastonbury as a place where lots of music happens.
Gleefully segueing from M*A*S*H to A CLOCKWORK ORANGE to I AM LEGEND, THE PERVERT’S GUIDE deftly channels the jukebox of information that is Žižek’s brain into a fantastically entertaining and persuasive dissection of Hollywood’s subtexts. Central to the film’s success is its ingenious production design, which mischievously inserts the man himself into scenes from the films he’s discussing. And so we see Žižek deconstructing TAXI DRIVER from Travis Bickle’s camp bed, discussing TRIUMPH OF THE WILL from aboard Hitler’s plane, and donning the aforesaid nun’s outfit for a discussion of Catholicism, consumerism and THE SOUND OF MUSIC.
The result is something like an episode of Family Guy crossed with the entire humanities section of your university library. Call it phi-lol-sophy. Or don’t. Either way, this autumn at your local Picturehouse, you are strongly advised to join the ranks of the perverted.