Philosopher Slavoj Zizek and filmmaker Sophie Fiennes use their interpretation of moving pictures to present a compelling cinematic journey into the heart of ideology – the dreams that shape our collective beliefs and practices.

Philosopher Slavoj Zizek and filmmaker Sophie Fiennes

A philosopher located in a montage of set designs collected from film history might sound like an unlikely concept – he is explaining abstract concepts in a documentary where he plays himself. When it comes to the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, though, it is a perfect medium for his theatrically driven way of thinking. As all readers acquainted with him know, he draws heavily upon film history when he writes. He also, notoriously, moves with exemplary ease within all areas of culture with the credo that nothing is forbidden: Kant, hardcore pornography, Wagner, The Matrix and caffeine-free coffee – to give some recurring examples – mixed up in his style of philosophy. The backdrop as usual is a blend of Lacanian psychoanalysis, Hegel, dirty jokes and anecdotes (often from old communist Yugoslavia) and a number of Hitchcock films (most often Vertigo). Žižek’s thought doesn’t operate in an abstracted, theoretical space, where the thinker himself is blotted out. It is the other way around: he is the conceptual persona giving face, bodily presence and temperature to his texts, frenetically jumping from one stage to another. The series of Zizekian gestures is fundamentally essayistic as it never adds up to any given insight, where his philosophy attains equilibrium, but travels along a horizontal topography making up his theatre of thought.


Žižek’s philosophy continually refers to sequences in films, books and current events with which most people are familiar. Like Fight club, Christopher Nolan’s Batman films and Michael Crichton’s thrillers. While he sometimes might be hard to follow conceptually, at least when it comes to Hegel, the material which fuels his positions and the comedy involved always relieve the pressure. The referenced scenes also expose, dramatize, and drive home Žižek’s points. They are the flesh and blood – the rhythm – of his style. This was already clear in his groundbreaking book Sublime object of ideology, which mixed Marx and psychoanalysis as no one had done before, but it is even more evident in Sophie Fiennes’ film essays starring the Slovenian philosopher in the only main role.

Žižek explains thoroughly the crucial link between human desire, fantasy and fiction

Fiennes’ first cooperation with Žižek was in the brilliant Pervert’s guide to cinema (2006). Here Žižek explains thoroughly the crucial link between human desire, fantasy and fiction. Cinema doesn’t just show us what we desire, he muses, but “tells us how to desire”. Fictions are not something added to reality, but the structure of reality itself. Love, for instance, needs narrative structures to work, to be functional. A structure is delivered by cinema, the philosopher claims. The great stories of love – e.g. In Vertigo, by Hitchcock, or Persona by Ingmar Bergman – provide us with narrative arrangements that shape our amorous reality, reshaping the chaotic whirls of animal desire into grand stories of eternal love. In fact, stories like these always already structure our amorous realities – without them, love would not even exist. But films like these also have a cognitive surplus: while they give meaning to desire, they also function, reflectively, as analytical tools for the very same structures. It is here, as a thinker – making use of cinema from within –  Žižek excels in Fiennes’ films. He becomes, like Gilles Deleuze in his books on film, a philosopher who thinks conceptually from within the cinematic imagery itself.

Slavoj Zizek

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