The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology

Philosopher Slavoj Žižek examines the cinema

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology

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Directed by Sophie Fiennes. Written by Slavoj Žižek.

Note: The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology is seeing an extremely limited release in Prague, with a few scattered screenings at some of the cities smaller art houses.

A brilliantly staged and edited master class lecture on ideology and cinema from Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Žižek, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology has me hooked from the opening frames until the closing credits. I could easily listen to Žižek speak about film for another two hours (and previously have, in 2006’s even-better The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema). 

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The concept behind both of these films is simple, as Žižek is let loose to analyze a few dozen classic films (and some lesser-known gems) in free-form, stream-of-consciousness fashion. We see familiar clips with Žižek’s commentary in rat-a-tat manner, soaking in all manner of wildly divergent ideas. 

Žižek’s analysis is sometimes revealing, sometimes perplexing; sometimes it makes too much sense and sometimes not enough; is he reading too much into this? You often wonder if the filmmakers really had that in mind when they were making the film. 

But Žižek is always fascinating, and the films never slow down long enough for you to obsess over any particular idea: we jump from film to film so fast you’re only choice is to soak it all in and ask questions later. His thick accent occasionally makes it difficult to understand, but I wonder if this has an unintended (positive) side effect: to comprehend the language, and thus the ideas, we’re forced to pay closer attention to what he’s saying than we might normally be. 

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The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology had me hooked from the very first scene: a look at John Carpenter’s under-seen 1988 classic They Live. In the film, the hero puts on a pair of sunglasses to see the underlying meaning of everything around him: some people are revealed to be alien monsters, advertisements are reduced to one-word commands. The sunglasses are the perfect metaphor for ideology, according to Žižek, representing not a specific idea, but the mechanism that colors our beliefs: the things that cause us to think the way we do. 

Unlike the previous film, which was a more free-form look at some of the hidden meanings in movies, Ideology has a more focused theme. It still unrolls in free-form fashion, jumping around from West Side Story to Jaws to The Dark Knight, but it’s all focused on the topic of ideology represented through a diverse array of films. 

Of course, political and propaganda films feature heavily due to the topic at hand. Not for the particular ideas they espouse, but for the methods they use to convey them. Films discussed include propaganda features such as the pro-Nazi Triumph of the Will and the pro-Stalin The Fall of Berlin, as well as Miloš Forman’s early Czech features Loves of a Blonde and The Fireman’s Ball, which, with their downplayed portrayal of authority figures, Žižek highlights as perfect subversive countermeasure against the oppressive Soviet regime.

On that topic, one of the more interesting ideas in Ideology is comparison of Prague Spring with James Cameron’s Titanic. In the film, Žižek cites the sinking of the Titanic as “saving” the romance between the Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio characters (what would have happened if the ship didn’t sink? Would they have stayed together, especially considering their backgrounds?) Similarly, the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia may have, unintentionally, forever preserved the artistic movement of Prague Spring.

The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema and The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (“Pervert’s Guide” because of their focus on cinema, which Žižek calls the “ultimate pervert art”) were directed by Sophie Fiennes (sister of actors Ralph and Joseph). Both ingeniously re-create the settings used in the classic films (sometimes being filmed on the actual locations themselves) whenever Žižek is on camera, which is interspersed with clips. The appeal of these features may be limited, but they’re an absolute delight for any cinephile; I eagerly await the next installment.

Also opening this week: 

  • Křídla Vánoc (showtimes), a Czech comedy-drama written and directed by Karin Babinská (Pusinky). Screening in Czech. 
  • Naked Harbour (showtimes | IMDb), a Finnish drama starring Sean Pertwee. In Finnish/English/Russian with Czech subtitles.


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