Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek teams up with director Sophie Fiennes for their second collaboration, A Pervert’s Guide to Ideology. Now playing at the Documentary Film Festival (DOXA), Ideology follows the same structure as its prequel (A Pervert’s Guide to Cinema). Žižek introduces short segments from a variety of well-known films, such as The Sound of Music and Titanic as well as some maybe lesser known films, such as They (1988), and provides commentary on how the messages conveyed in these films help influence and reinforce “what we believe and how we behave”.
Žižek has an infamous, almost cult-like fan base and it is simple to see why. His odd vocal inflections and almost compulsive touching of his nose and eyes whilst speaking is oddly intriguing. These strange gestures make you more interested in what he has to say… and Žižek has a lot to say. From how the romantic relationship between Jack and Rose in Titanic would have been doomed regardless of the ship sinking to a long drawn out discussion regarding Christianity (in reference to the film The Last Temptation of Christ) which to be quite honest, became confusing and difficult to follow. Although Žižek is beyond interesting and has creative insight into, let’s face it, many, many, many things the majority of us do not (or even want to) critically examine in our society, the ideas are presented in a somewhat fragmented way. That is not to suggest that the ideas behind his analysis can be presented to the viewer in a linear fashion but as the film progresses it feels more and more disjointed. At one point, I actually became slightly irritated that the narrative had not moved on because it felt as though he had made his point and was just rambling.
While I enjoyed the film and think Žižek is engaging and intriguing, there were moments that made me feel like I was being preached at. I would compare to that moment when a friend suddenly discovers a new diet (e.g. strictly organic foods) and begins to actively police every food choice you make. You feel somewhat belittled or guilty for not completely understanding that particular perspective. Specifically, I felt that A Pervert’s Guide to Ideology really wants the viewer to see what they were seeing and are getting frustrated that the viewer is not quite on the same page so, instead of breaking it to them gently, they keep belabouring the point. At the two hour mark, I was not as absorbed in what the Fiennes and Žižek had to say and was actually feeling a little exhausted by the whole thing.
I would still recommend seeing the film as it questions the way we function and behave as a society in an entertaining and amusing way but its weakness is that it asks the viewer to examine too much in such a short period of time. Documentaries are wonderful because they allow us to expand our understanding and awareness … but they should not make the viewer feel like they are sitting in a lecture hall.