Once more into the rabbit hole breach, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology tails Slavoj Žižek on another meta-tour of the popular cultural sub-terrain. Reuniting with director Sophie Fiennes, the two follow up 2006’s heady Lacanian inquiry into cinema, The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, with a wild hunt after ideology, tracing the hidden political messages enshrined in the popular imagination.
Žižek is not necessarily novel is his premise. Nazi and Soviet cinema were explicitly ideology works; Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin was an enormous achievement of cinematic and ideological expression. More recently, Pauline Kael dynamited Dirty Harry as a pernicious example of fascist filmmaking and conservative camps has long decried a liberal bias in Hollywood, lensing Wall-E and White House Down as veiled works concealing a malevolent message.
Žižek, however, is famously frenetic, and The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology ripples with his unflagging energy, ideas, intrusions, and insinuations as it interrogates Soviet cinema, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, Sound of Music, They Live, and even Kinder Eggs. The movie operates on a Twilight Zone logic, wadding in the middle space between surface and foundation. And like Rod Serling, the iconic narrator of the Twilight Zone, a visual (and symbolic) hallmark of the film is Žižek’s full-collapse into his quarry. Fiennes is his confederate, his minder, depositing our narrator charmingly and jarring into the midst of the being discussed. She draws up scenes from Žižek’s discussion, only to nonchalantly interpolate him, swapping places, for example, with Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle lying on a cot or with a nun in the Sound of Music, Žižek clad in a habit.
The object of all these concentric, multiplying episodes is a freewheeling critique of ideology’s pervasive and reinforcing presence in the everyday joys and pastimes of our lives. Sound of Music is not an innocent, toothless diversion, nor is Titanic. In James Cameron’s blockbuster tale of tragedy and love, Žižek unmasks a macabre subtext of high-born vampirism, the rich slumming with the poor for a temporary but electric, revitalizing fling. This merges quickly into a tangent on the Prague Spring, the common link being it was their destructions which paradoxically embalmed their dreams, preserving their stirred hopes for true love, for a communist state with a human face. (But what would really come of dear Jack and Rose, Žižek asks? Great sex for a few weeks, and then the inevitable breakdown. Jack’s death saved their love.) On and on the film rolls, and you merrily rolling with it, bewitched by Žižek wide and risible wisdom. Jaws, it turns out, is a favorite film of Fidel Castro; Christianity an excellent training course for atheism.
In this way, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology and Žižek are like your favorite professor from college, the one whose 3 hour lectures you’d dazzle at and joyfully record in your notes. But at a certain point, Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, like your professor, also feels like water skiing. It rips you up and pulls you along, the wind of wisdom whirling around. But at a certain point, you feel like letting go; the fun’s all gone and you’re checking the clock. Unfortunately, Pervert’s Guide to Ideology runs past its ideal point, but like college, you still remember it fondly, even if it went on a little too long or was a bit too expensive — you might even have plans to go back for your masters.
Pervert’s Guide to Ideology plays at the IFC Center (323 Avenue of the Americas, West Village, Manhattan) through November 21st and IndieScreen (289 Kent Ave, Williamsburg, Brooklyn) through the 13th; showings elsewhere nationally can be accessed online.