As the title would suggest, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (dir. Sophie Fiennes, 2012) presents a most perverse study of film, explained to us in the wild articulations of philosopher and academic Slavoj Žižek. The film begins in another film, They Live (dir. John Carpenter, 1988). In an empty alleway, a bloodied man threatens another visibly disgruntled man: “I’m giving you a choice: either put on these glasses or start eating that trash can.” Slavoj Žižek suddenly materializes, at the very location of said scene and answers to this threat: “I already am eating from the trash can all the time. The name of this trash can is ideology.” Gesticulating, eyes staring straight at us, Žižek speaks in what becomes in the two hour runtime, a familiar urgent tone. Each word is uttered with firmness, his pauses filled in with a nervous energy rendered physical in a variety of tics: lip-licking, nose-touching, etc. Žižek’s relentless flow of jargon does drag, but moments of absurdity––like his opening statement––offer, at times, perspicacious revelations.
Žižek studies a wide array of films, from Hollywood Western classic The Searchers (dir. John Ford, 1956) to Nazi propaganda film The Eternal Jew (dir. Fritz Hippler, 1940). He also draws on non-film videos, like a Coca-Cola commercial and a performance video of German hard rock band Rammstein. Through a psychoanalytic lens, these images reveal layers of meaning, showing us how we willingly and unknowingly consume ideology, and how political acts of violence can be understood by these very circumstances. Ideology is what the sunglasses in They Live remove from sight; when worn, their lenses strip the world of its distorted ideological facade. A billboard message advertises a Caribbean holiday, a bikini-clad model on the beach as the main-attraction. With the sunglasses on, the colorful messaging disappears, replaced by a black-and-white message: “MARRY AND REPRODUCE.” This shows us, as
explained by Žižek, that ideology is “our spontaneous relationship to our social world, how we perceive each meaning and so on and so on. We in a way, enjoy our ideology. To step out of ideology, it hurts, it’s a painful experience. You must force yourself to do it…Freedom hurts.”
Žižek’s intellectual spiel does spiral into complex ambiguity, some theoretical arguments sidestepping into ungraspable flows of consciousness. Everyday fare becomes theoretical treasure for him, which is precisely where the flaws of psychoanalysis sneak out; jargon-heavy moments float in a distant abstract space. The film could certainly do with an intermission, as presented in its current, the sheer weight of the intellectual vernacular employed by Žižek exhausts quickly. Sophie Fiennes’ keen recreations of movie sets does supply some comic relief: Žižek appears to us in attire and place of the very films he analyzes, which gives his lecturing a ridiculous meta-quality.
Where The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology excels, is in more grounded moments, particularly those with ties to historical and present reality. Take the London Riots of August 2011, which has striking similarity to the recent unrest in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. The 2011 protests began in response to the police murder of Mark Duggan which lasted almost a week of looting, arson and violence. Žižek provides a theoretical framework for these events, which in the present, works in even more resounding tone:
“The conservative solution is we need more police. We need courts, which pass severe judgements. I think this solution is too simple…[The “rioting”] is the reaction of people who are totally caught into the predominant ideology, but have no ways to realize what this ideology demands of them.”
Turning later to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008), Žižek shows precisely how ideological functions pervasively through media to maintain the public’s trust in our legal systems. The truth, embodied by the Joker (Heath Ledger), becomes a distraction or even disintegration of “social order,” presenting society as functional only if based on lies.
The film ends with a call to revolution, one which carries much relevance in the current push towards social change:
“Perhaps the time has come to set our possibilities straight and to become realists, by way of demanding what appears as impossible in the economic domain. The surprising explosion of Occupy Wall Street protests, the mass mobilization in Greece, the crowds on Tahrir Square: they all bear witness to the hidden potential for a different future. There is no guarantee that this future will arrive… It depends on us. On our will….”
* The Pervert’s Guide To Ideology is available to stream on MUBI or Amazon Prime.
Bradshaw, Peter. “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology – review.” The Guardian, 3 October 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/oct/03/perverts-guide-to-ideology-review. Accessed 10 November 2020.
Cheshire, Godfrey. “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology.” Roger Ebert, 1 November 2013, https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-perverts-guide-to-ideology-2013. Accessed 10 November 2020.
Fazio, Giovanni. “’The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology’: Philosophy outside the ivory tower.” The Japan Times, 21 September 2016, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2016/09/21/films/film-reviews/perverts-guide-ideology-philosophy-outside-ivory-tower/. Accessed 10 November 2020.
Rapold, Nicolas. “The Hidden Meaning of Films, Take 2.” The New York Times, 31 October 2013, https://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/01/movies/the-perverts-guide-to-ideology.html. Accessed 10 November 2020.