PHILOSOPHY / Drawing from The Triple Life of Antigone by Slavoj Žižek, this film reflects on today’s environmental and political «chaos».
Director: Jani Sever
Producer: Nina Jeglič
Country: Slovenia

Rewriting Antigone, the classic tragedy by Sophocles, the celebrated philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Žižek sends a warning about the historic turning point we face today. Contemporary Antigone, the defendants of the just and ethical acts beyond the law, are those who oppose immigration and demand closure of European borders. The role of Creon the king and the defendant of the law is performed by the bureaucrats and heads of European institutions. Several things are wrong in contemporary Europe, but we must not forget that civil rights are respected here, while the cruelest version of contemporary capitalism is blossoming in the former communist regimes, warns Žižek. We live in a world where the president of the European central bank is worried about rising social inequalities.

Imaginary, symbolic, and the real

If you wanted to know better Slavoj Žižek and his psychoanalytic theory, this is the film for you. A group of authors who belong to his close circle of friends and acquaintances made it, meaning that the film is as close as it can be to his creation. It is based on the theatrical piece Slavoj Žižek: Trojno življenje Antigone, and will also appeal to all those who wonder what might the outcome of the present historic situation be. It helps us ask the right questions and this confirms the postulate of Žižek’s work, namely that psychoanalysis is a relevant tool not only to deal with psychological but also with larger social and political issues.

Unlike contemporary non-fiction films, where their authors and subjects intertwine and several perspectives are provided, Antigone – How dare we! only offers three views: one is Žižek talking to the camera, the other is excerpts from the historical and contemporary world news footage, and the third is the recorded performance of Žižek’s theatre play. It looks staged and distant. Instead of watching reality unfold in front of your eyes, all you see are performances. But performance is key to psychoanalysis. The psychic reality of patients is only accessible to the analyst through signs. It is the work of the analyst to read these signs. The very same approach can be used with social reality. In this, psychoanalysis is similar to documentary cinema, they both deal with reality and explore the ways to read and mediate it. Yet, according to psychoanalysis, the social world is not structured as an opposition between the false and the true, but along the distinction between imaginary, symbolic, and the real. Žižek himself once used chess to illustrate these categories: the way we imagine the figures (peasants, fortresses…) is the imaginary, the rules of the game are the symbolic and the draw at the beginning of the game (the unpredictable, the chance) functions as the real. The real, in short, manifests itself by chance and there is no need to search for it within depths. The real shows itself on the surface, through symptoms.

psychoanalysis is a relevant tool not only to deal with psychological but also with larger social and political issues.

Slavoj Žižek is not a practicing psychoanalyst and social reality is the focus of his work. He reached world fame by analysing films and his insightful interpretations (of individual works and of oeuvres, say of Alfred Hitchcock) demonstrated the validity of psychoanalytic concepts way beyond the Freudian couch. Antigone – How dare we! (screening as part of Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival «Between the Seas» programme) is one step further, first because he is interpreting the world, not the films, then because it is his theatrical piece that we see performed, and also because the found footage material functions very well in the role of symptom. His narration, functioning as a «voice of God» style voice-over interprets the other two parts of the film. He exposes the absurdity of our social reality, which is getting more incomprehensible and chaotic every day but simultaneously also introduces some order into it.

Antigone – How Dare We!, a film by Jani Sever

Mixture and bravery

Another hero of the film is the theatre troupe, the group of young actors who managed to present the text, written in a high brow theatre language, by successfully combining it with a street style way of bodily movement. They sew together theatre performance and the found footage material. This brings to light some of the most uncanny moments of contemporary world politics, for example, Jean-Claude Juncker, former President of the European Commission defending Karl Marx. These alone make the film worth watching. But what counts is the mix and bravery of the team – the actors and the director Jani Sever – who managed to seamlessly blend the performance with the documentary. The constant shifts between performance and spontaneity eventually change the performance into the rehearsal and show the performers directly engage with the filmmakers.

This is the turning point of the film. The motive of rehearsal and technological means of repetition together reverse the narration. The possibility to repeat and to rewind evokes the possibility to remake, that is, to improve. The hope starts to show. Antigone and Creon of today are both equally unsympathetic, but the remaining part of this triad can be a source of a solution – the chorus. Žižek, ironically faithful to the analytical distance, describes the chorus as «The stupidity of proverbs, which is the common wisdom.» But the stupidity does not liberate one from the responsibility for the common future. Antigone – How dare we! is one of the most sage and frank documentaries about the world of today.