Philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek has done more than anyone to disseminate psychoanalytic concepts as cinematic content. As in Sophie Fiennes’s earlier The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology features Žižek “lecturing” on recreated sets of emblematic films that serve as tangible examples for otherwise extremely opaque abstract concepts. Much can be said about the man’s slightly manic manner of speaking, the way his ideas travel from his brain to his mouth with such tremendous force that he can barely control his bodily movements, and about the film’s brilliantly authorial editing, which works like a prosthetic extension to his analysis. But what’s most significant about the film is the way Žižek manages to explain some of Lacanian psychoanalysis’s most inscrutable notions with disarming clarity and infectious urgency.
America has been largely resistant, for reasons that can be quite obvious, to a theory largely predicated on the idea that man isn’t the master of his own home—and one that has been reduced to a couple of bumper-sticker Freudianisms. Žižek is thus a refreshing intervention in what has become an American cliché—that is, to “retire” psychoanalysis as outdated, sexist, white-centric, excessively dense, or sex-obsessed. Here he deploys psychoanalysis not as a complicated method, but as a language. He unmasks the happy surfaces of commodity objects such as Coca-Cola, the Kinder surprise egg, Starbucks coffee, and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” the unofficial anthem of the European Union, with the dexterity of an intellectual samurai. Even if we’re unable to automatically understand what he means when he says ideology isn’t just meaning, but “an empty container, open to all possible meanings,” his filmic examples (from The Triumph of the Will to They Live) make his points so graspable, turning the impenetrability of his speech into a kind of poetry.
Žižek makes several provocations in the film, which include linking Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik to Taxi Driver, former British Prime Minister John Major’s obsession with single mothers to Jaws, and claiming that appeasing consumer guilt is included in the price of a Starbucks cappuccino (the coffee chain donates 1% of their profit to Guatemalan children or “some sub-Saharan farmers,” as Žižek puts it). His most provocative argument is in his considerations on the Nazi aesthetics of the German band Rammstein’s performances of the song “Reise, Reise.” For Žižek, the theatrics of fascism don’t incite fascist thinking necessarily; instead, it makes a mockery out of it, allowing us to “enjoy” Nazi elements in their pre-ideological state, doing away with its politics. The way his voice symbiotically interweaves with images from a Rammstein concert, just at the right time and with the right tone (at once mad and rigorous), emblematizes the ways in which The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology discovers the cinematic in the philosophical.