Part of why people turn to movie reviews and essays on films is because the reader trusts that the critic is someone who can expose what lies beneath a movie. Film critics spend years reading film, reading books about film, and studying related texts to understand film. A film critic is someone who pays attention to subjects like philosophy, sociology, politics, and cultural relativism when viewing a movie, and uses what they know to inform audiences that there is more to what’s on screen than what the viewer initially assumes.The 2012 documentary The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology is a film devoted entirely to how one man searches for ideology in cinema. This man, Slovene philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek, spends an entire documentary looking at clips from selected films, as well as commercials, pieces of propaganda, and news footage, to explain what ideology is to how societies use ideology to further goals. In the film, Žižek finds films from different cultures and eras that use similar forms of ideology, and how the presence of these ideologies can shape and influence society.This is not an easy movie to watch, but it’s fascinating because of how important it is to find ideology in film. Žižek begins the film by looking at John Carpenter’s They Live, a film in which the protagonist discovers a pair of glasses that let him see the subliminal messages in everything, including the aliens disguised as humans. As Žižek puts it, ideology is like glasses “which distort our view. The critique of ideology should be the opposite; you take off the glasses to see things as they really are.” Because of this, Žižek asks the viewer to be open to looking into what films are discussed and how the ideologies present may or may not apply to the viewer.
Because of this, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology shows a very colorful range of films to discuss. After discussing They Live, Žižek looks to The Sound of Music to discuss religious ideology, while The Searchers and Taxi Driver are used to compare the notions of victimhood and violence as a solution. Even a movie like Titanic is used to discuss ideas of the ruling class needing the working class to re-energize themselves.Probably what makes this movie really hold together is Žižek himself. Žižek is such a strange figure to hold the attention for a movie over two hours long. He’s got a thick accent and often flails a bit when he’s discussing ideology and the films. However, director Sophie Fiennes’ chooses to make sure that whenever Žižek is on screen, he’s presented in an interesting way.Whenever the documentary is focusing on a particular film, Žižek appears green screened into a location of the film. In the Taxi Driver sequence, he’s lying on Travis Bickle’s bed. ForBrief Encounter, he’s shot in black and white in a train car. They even have Žižek change his outfit depending on some locations. For the Soviet propaganda film The Fall of Berlin, Žižek appears dressed like Joseph Stalin in an airplane. The Full Metal Jacket sequence even sees Žižek in a white undershirt and sitting on a toilet.Because of this, Žižek becomes a part of the films and the ideologies present within them. When a person watches a film, they are allowing themselves to become casual observers in the film’s environment. They become witnesses to the philosophies and ideas that are presented, and they can become critics and commentators on the subject. By putting himself in the clothing and recreations of the settings in these movies, Žižek is able to be more in tune with the subjects he is discussing, even if it’s on the superficial level of just dressing like the characters.Because of this, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology is more than just a documentary and more than just a film school lecture. Žižek uses the documentary to discuss a variety of topics in cinema, and uses it to show where cinema has been and where it’s going. The youngest film he discusses is The Dark Knight, and it really shows that there’s always ideology to be found in film. All that is required is looking hard enough and finding the meaning behind the ideology presented on screen. If you are successful, then you’ve found a new way to look at a film.