The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology: Toronto Review

Another dialectical thrill-ride from the infamous Slovenian thinker.

Slavoj Zizek and Sophie Fiennes team up for a second documentary where film, politics and philosophy cross paths.

TORONTO -- Intellectual rock star Slavoj Žižek dishes out another action-packed lesson in film history and Marxist dialectics with The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, a riveting and often hilarious demonstration of the Slovenian philosopher’s uncanny ability to turn movies inside out and accepted notions on their head.

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This second collaboration between Žižek and director Sophie Fiennes has the duo revisiting the m.o. of 2006’s The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, presenting excerpts from cinema’s greatest hits along with the famed academic’s nonstop commentary, which he recites from cleverly rendered recreations of the very movie scenes he’s dissecting. More expansive than Cinema in its tackling of 20th century history and recent contemporary events, Ideology should further Žižek’s renown (not that he needs it) with niche arthouse and fest showings following a world premiere in Toronto.

An opening clip from John Carpenter’s They Live sets the stage for the exhaustive (and sometimes exhausting) 2-hour-plus dialectical performance piece: After a scene of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper walking through a grimy L.A. alleyway, we cut to Žižek himself standing in the same location, his hand on a garbage bin. “We are always eating from the trash can of ideology,” he riffs, and then proceeds to offer up a lengthy analysis of the 1988 Carpenter cult classic, which he calls “one of the forgotten masterpieces of the Hollywood left.”

What follows is a free-form philosophical rant in which Žižek analyzes a slew of famous movies, ranging from Jaws to Full Metal Jacket to Taxi Driver (he calls it The Taxi Driver), using them to explore the deep-seated powers of ideologies and how they resurface in such seemingly unconnected elements as Nazi propaganda films, the London riots or Coke commercials from the 1980s.

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If you thought Titanic was a timeless tale where the love between a penniless artist and his deluxe muse triumphs over class differences and disaster, then think again. And if you thought Beethoven’s Ode to Joy was a hymn to humanity’s boundless quest for peace and love, then take a look at how the song has been co-opted by various dictatorships of the past century, not to mention the way Kubrick turns it into a “critique of ideology” in A Clockwork Orange.

While Žižek’s arguments—which he delivers with a juicy enough accent to rival Werner Herzog–are sometimes hard to follow and never develop into a consistent and solid treatise (“Ideology is an empty container open to all possible meanings,” is one of the ways he sums things up), they are altogether surprising and often extremely funny, especially when he deadpans them lying on Travis Bickle’s cot or decked out as a nun from The Sound of Music.

The editing by Fiennes’ regular collaborator Ethel Shepherd impressively melds together excerpts, recreations and news footage, alleviating the heaviness of Žižek’s discourse by suddenly cutting to him in another amusing set-up, as if he were the Lon Chaney of Lacanian film theory.

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Even when Žižek attempts to conclude with a call for ongoing revolution–sighting as evidence the events of the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street–a post-credits “cookie” offers up a final gag to show how much the philosopher revels in the joy of having the final word, rather than in the satisfaction of being right.

Production companies: British Film Institute, Film4

Cast: Slavoj Žižek

Director: Sophie Fiennes

Producers: James Wilson, Martin Rosenbaum, Katie Holly, Sophie Fiennes

Executive producers: Katherine Butler, Tabitha Jackson, Shani Hinton, Michael Sackler, Julia Godzinskaya

Director of photography: Remko Schnorr

Production designer: Lucy Yan Lonkhuysen

Music: Magnus Fiennes

Editor: Ethel Shepherd

Sales: Doc & Film International

No rating, 136 minutes