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'The Pervert's Guide to Ideology' Review

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The Pervert's Guide to Ideology


At first glance, Slavoj Zizek looks more like a mad scientist than a pop cultural theorist. However, on closer examination, he is undeniably a genius. Once you get used to his thick Slovenian accent, his insights on the hidden meanings of some of the most iconic films in cinema, are fascinating. The title of the documentary, ‘The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology’ needs some clarification. The word “Pervert” is used to describe an altered meaning and not a sexually deviant individual. And Zizek’s use of “Ideology” throughout the film is not simply political “isms” but rather the underlying belief system that keeps a society running on all cylinders. English director Sophie Fiennes’ (her brother is actor Ralph Fiennes) documentary is essential viewing for hardcore cinephiles.

What makes ‘The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology’ so entertaining is the way Sophie Fiennes replicates the movie sets of films that Zizek is discussing in front of the camera. Zizek deconstructs popular movies and shows us how ideologies such as capitalism are reinforced in cinema. He starts off by using John Carpenter’s 1988 cult film, ‘They Live’ as a prime example. He calls the film a masterpiece and the way he presents his theories will make you want to rewatch this overlooked classic. In the film, the protagonist is a nameless drifter John Nada (pro-wrestler Roddy Piper) who finds a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses in an abandoned church. When he dons the magical shades and looks at billboard advertising, the glasses reveal the sublminal messages of “Obey.” Another billboard advertises a couple vacationing on a beach and the glasses filter the underlying message, “Marry and Reproduce.” Carpenter’s sci-fi movie perfectly illustrates Zizek’s theory that behind the surface of every movie lies deeper meaning that reflect the culture’s fundamental ideologies.

As Zizek talks about the military industrial complex in Stanley Kubrick’s film, ‘Full Metal Jacket,’ he dresses like Private Pyle in the famous latrine scene. As he talks about Travis Bickle’s alienation as an anti-hero in ‘Taxi Driver,’ Fiennes recreates the cot and dingy apartment to make Zizek’s words more dramatic and engaging. He effectively compares Martin Scorsese’s ‘Taxi Driver’ as an updated version to John Ford’s classic Western, ‘The Searchers.’ Zizek uses a long list of popular movies such as ‘The Sound of Music,’ ‘The Dark Knight,’ ‘Jaws,’ ‘Cabaret,’ ‘Westside Story’ and ‘Titanic,’ to demonstrate how filmmakers unconsciously are reinforcing ideologies of society. As he talks about the importance of Alex’s love for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony ‘Ode to Joy’ in ‘A Clockwork Orange,’ Zizek sits in an exact replica of the haunting Korova Milk Bar.

For those who go to the movies as an escape and don’t really want to think too deeply about a film’s underlying meaning, don’t worry. Zizek’s tongue-in-cheek deadpan humor is like being entertained by your favorite college professor on campus. His style is engaging and thought-provoking. He isn’t trying to alter your perception but rather spotlighting nuances in a film. If anything, it will make you want to revisit some of the classics he examines. Zizek also delves into Freudian psychoanalysis in a refreshing manner. Commercials are notorious for subliminal messages. He reveals the true meaning behind the slogan, “Enjoy Coke” and while holding a Starbucks coffee (he loves the brand), he takes a sip and proceeds to show how the company ingeniously donates some of their profits to third world countries to make consumers feel less remorseful over their guilty pleasure.

‘The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology’ is an insightful sequel to 2006’s ‘The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema.’ It’s a fascinating look at how pop culture inadvertently advances a society’s ideologies without even knowing it. Zizek reminds us that the paradox of cinema is that we all know it’s fake but we allow ourselves to be emotionally affected by it anyway. ‘The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology’ is now available on DVD at Zeitgeist Films Check out the officially trailer