The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema – An Entertaining Dissertation for Cinephiles
For a movie lover, there is some pleasure in looking at a critic dissecting the hidden meaning within a film. Although some of their theories may seem preposterous, it’s fascinating to see how each of us grasps a cinema in different ways. We rarely get to study the way our popular movies reflect and exploit our own subconscious desires. Sophie Fiennes’ “The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema” (2006) provides that rare, immersive lecture on the psychological underpinnings of some of the critically acclaimed and famous films. The psychoanalytic theories behind the films are narrated by Slovenian maverick psychoanalyst and philosopher, Mr. Slavoj Zizek. Though Zizek speaks with a lisp and weaves a abstract, academic analysis on popular films, his ideas perfectly punctuated with clever intros and provocative ideas.
The documentary’s title may be slightly misleading. Although Zizek talks about the underlying sexual conflicts in movies, he doesn’t use sexual images to exploit. The approach here is to educate the viewers rather than titillate. The documentary is divided into three parts and all conjoin to explain Zizek’s idea of ‘how cinema is a perverted art’ (Zizkek says, “Cinema doesn’t give you what you desire; it tells you how to desire”). Within the running time of 150 minutes, Zizkek slowly walks us through the Freudian psychoanalysis inside the chunks of David Lynch (“Blue Velvet”, “Lost Highway”, and Wild at Heart”) and Alfred Hitchcock films (“Psycho”, “Vertigo”, “Birds”). Freud’s division of the psyche – id, the ego, and super ego – is explained through three story house of Norman Bates and three Marx Brothers.
Director Sophie Fiennes (sister of actors Ralph and Joseph Fiennes), with the help of topnotch technical staffs, has supplemented the ideological lecture scenes by filming it on key authentic locations. Zizek sits in the grim black-and-white basement of Bates’ house; he sits in the corner bedroom, where Linda Blair writhed in “Exorcist”, explaining the action that took place; He is inside the same rooms of a San Francisco hotel, deconstructing the toilet scene in Coppola’s “The Conversation”; and waters a garden that nominally matches the opening suburbia scene in “Blue Velvet”.
My most favorite of the reconstruction and lecture scene is when Zizek sits on Neo’s (of “The Matrix) leather chair, explaining the conflict faced by the character in choosing the right pill. Morpheus asks Neo to choose a pill that keeps him either in an illusory reality or takes him to a realm that looks beyond all the illusions. Zizek asks for a third pill: a choice which might open our eyes & minds to the assumptions on which each of the choices rests. Zizek then goes on to explain how cinema and its thrilling images offer us glimpse into human’s inner nature that’s more penetrating than the occurrences in our daily normal lives.
Zizek fascinatingly deconstructs the male psychology in “Vertigo”, which seems to say: “the only good woman is a dead woman”. Although we might have already read or heard the final scene analysis of Chaplin’s “City Lights”, Zizek’s account still comes off as poignant. He also makes some odd references to very popular block-busters like “Star Wars: Revenge of the sith”, “Alien”, and “The Ten Commandments” (1956). Zizek’s argument that such popular block-busters has deep, hidden meanings doesn’t seem likely (especially when you see it next to the Tarkovsky or Bergman’s works), but we sometimes have to overlook such odd choices to get at the other, really meaningful lectures. Eventually, Zizek isn’t explaining Hitchcock, Lynch or Bergman’s approach to cinema; he is just explaining how he sees those great works of cinema (remember, Zizek argued “300” is an anti-Iraq war parable).
“The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema” (2006) is a must watch documentary for movie lovers, who are interested in the cinematic subtext. It comprises of engrossing direction, an enthusiastic lecturer, and captivating ideas.