Astra Taylor’s 2005 documentary Zizek! offered an easy-to-grasp introduction to the life and theories of eminent social philosopher and Lacanian psychoanalyst Slavoj Zizek, but those who crave a more immersive Zizek experience should try The Pervert’s Guide To Cinema 1, 2, 3, a 150-minute lecture on the psychological underpinnings of some of the world’s most famous films. Zizek and director Sophie Fiennes either visit or recreate the locations for movies like The Conversation, Psycho, The Birds, and Blue Velvet, and from those spaces, Zizek pontificates: first on how movies reflect, feed, and exploit our subconscious desires; then on how sexual fantasies in movies illustrate the ongoing communication issues between men and women; and finally on how cinematic artifice calls attention to itself in order to prompt us to question our own perceptions of reality. The guiding concept between all three parts is the notion that we shape our belief systems and personalities around shared cultural experiences, which makes cinema a perverted art because “It doesn’t give you what you desire; it tells you how to desire.”
Individual viewers’ appreciation for The Pervert’s Guide will depend largely on their tolerance for highly abstract, academic analysis of popular culture—as well as their tolerance for Zizek, who delivers this lecture rapidly and unceasingly, in a heavily accented voice. Though loaded with film clips and clever intros, this cine-essay’s ideas are free-flowing and tough to follow at times, because they aren’t always logically ordered or properly punctuated. But when Zizek really gets on a roll, he unpacks aspects of the films of David Lynch and Alfred Hitchcock that are fascinating to contemplate. Why did Hitchcock so often reveal overhead shots as his villains’ point of view? Do the three stories of the Bates house in Psycho—or the three Marx brothers, for that matter—represent the id, ego, and superego? Are the Alien and Matrix series elaborate metaphors for how our souls animate our frequently rebellious bodies? And most importantly: Are the messages Zizek finds really implicit in the work he’s analyzing? Even Zizek would probably say that intentionality doesn’t matter. Ultimately, he isn’t really explaining how Hitchcock, Lynch, and the Marx Brothers see the world, but rather how he sees the world. And he sees a lot.
Key features: None that can be perceived.