Philosopher Slavoj Zizek Interprets Hitchcock’s Vertigo in The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (2006)

Philoso­pher and psy­cho­an­a­lyst Slavoj Zizek is a polar­iz­ing fig­ure, in and out of the Acad­e­my. He has been accused of misog­y­ny and oppor­tunism, and a Guardian colum­nist once won­dered if he is “the Borat of phi­los­o­phy.” The lat­ter epi­thet might be as much a ref­er­ence to his occa­sion­al boor­ish­ness as to his Sloven­ian-accent­ed Eng­lish. Despite (or because of) these qual­i­ties, Zizek has become a fas­ci­nat­ing pub­lic intel­lec­tu­al, in part because all of his work is shot through with pop cul­ture ref­er­ences as dif­fuse as the most stud­ied of fan­boys. And even though Zizek, a stu­dent of the Freudi­an the­o­rist Jacques Lacan, can get deeply obscure with the best of his peers, his enthu­si­asm and rapid-fire free-asso­ci­a­tions mark him as a true fan of every­thing he sur­veys.

The Zizek I just described is ful­ly in evi­dence in the short clip above from the three-part doc­u­men­tary The Pervert’s Guide to Cin­e­ma. Direct­ed by Sophie Fiennes (sis­ter of Joseph and Ralph), The Pervert’s Guide places Zizek in orig­i­nal loca­tions and repli­ca sets of sev­er­al clas­sic films—David Lynch’s Blue Vel­vet, Stan­ley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, and Hitchcock’s Ver­ti­go, to name just a few. Zizek’s scenes of com­men­tary are edit­ed with scenes from the films to give the impres­sion that he is speak­ing from with­in the films them­selves. It’s a nov­el approach and works par­tic­u­lar­ly well in the video above, where Zizek gives us his take on Ver­ti­go. As he says of Hitchcock’s film—which could apply to the one he is in as well—“often things begin as a fake, inau­then­tic, arti­fi­cial, but you get caught in your own game.” View­ers of The Pervert’s Guide get caught in Zizek’s inter­pre­tive game; it’s a fas­ci­nat­ing, ridicu­lous, and unset­tling one.

In the clip, through a series of close analy­ses of plot points and cam­era angles, Zizek con­cludes that Ver­ti­go is the real­iza­tion of a male fan­ta­sy, which nec­es­sar­i­ly involves vio­lence and night­mar­ish trans­for­ma­tions. In the “male libid­i­nal econ­o­my,” he says, in the jargon‑y psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic speak of his trade, women must be “mor­ti­fied” before they are accept­able sex­u­al part­ners. Slip­ping out of aca­d­e­m­ic argot, he clar­i­fies: “to para­phrase an old say­ing, the only good woman is a dead woman.” It’s this kind of blunt and utter­ly unsen­ti­men­tal way of speak­ing that rais­es the hack­les of some of Zizek’s crit­ics. But I’m not here to defend him. Watch­ing (and read­ing) him for me is a game of edge-of-your seat “what out­ra­geous or incom­pre­hen­si­ble thing is he going to say next?” and I’ll admit, I enjoy it. So I’ll leave you with a final Zizek-ism. Per­haps it will scare you off for good, or per­haps you’re game for a few more rounds of “per­ver­sion” with this ency­clo­pe­dic crit­ic of the self, the social, and the sex­u­al:

“A sub­ject,” says Zizek, “is a par­tial some­thing, a face, some­thing we see. Behind it, there is a void, a noth­ing­ness. And of course, we spon­ta­neous­ly tend to fill in that noth­ing­ness with our fan­tasies about the wealth of human per­son­al­i­ty and so on, and so on. To see what is lack­ing in real­i­ty, to see it as that, there you see sub­jec­tiv­i­ty. To con­front sub­jec­tiv­i­ty means to con­front fem­i­nin­i­ty. Woman is the sub­ject. Mas­culin­i­ty is a fake.”

You can watch the film in its entire­ty here.

via Bib­liok­lept

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Žižek!: 2005 Doc­u­men­tary Reveals the “Aca­d­e­m­ic Rock Star” and “Mon­ster” of a Man

Good Cap­i­tal­ist Kar­ma: Zizek Ani­mat­ed

Slavoj Žižek: How the Marx Broth­ers Embody Freud’s Id, Ego & Super-Ego

Josh Jones is a doc­tor­al can­di­date in Eng­lish at Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty and a co-founder and for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of Guer­ni­ca / A Mag­a­zine of Arts and Pol­i­tics.

by | Permalink | Comments (4) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (4)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Carolyn says:

    I tried to watch this movie a while ago but nev­er made it to the Ver­ti­go part, or at least I don’t remem­ber it, because it was too trau­ma­tized by his expla­na­tion of Blue Vel­vet. Blue Vel­vet is a great movie but fea­tures a very dis­turb­ing rapist, Frank, who forces his vic­tim, Dorothy, to sub­mit to him by kid­nap­ping her hus­band and child.

    From Zizek: “What if the cen­tral, as it were, prob­lem, of this entire scene is Dorothy’s pas­siv­i­ty? So what if what Frank is doing is a kind of a des­per­ate, ridicu­lous, but nonethe­less effec­tive attempt of try­ing to help Dorothy, to awak­en her out of her lethar­gy, to bring her into life? So if Frank is anybody’s fan­ta­sy, maybe he is Dorothy’s fan­ta­sy. There is kind of a strange, mutu­al inter­lock­ing of fan­tasies.”

    Ew. Ew. Ew. No. This is a hor­ri­ble, bru­tal, dis­turb­ing on many lev­els, rape scene. It is not Dorothy’s fan­ta­sy, and I don’t think that rape vic­tims in gen­er­al would appre­ci­ate the sug­ges­tion that their rapist did them a favor by “wak­ing them out of their lethar­gy.” Ew.

  • walker chimes says:

    @ car­olyn:
    zizek is just stir­ing the pot, don’t you think? i’m not sure we can say he is advo­cat­ing rape.
    don’t take his analy­sis too lit­er­al­ly.

  • John says:

    @CarolynnIf you con­nect his inter­pre­ta­tion of Dorothy’s fan­ta­sy with his state­ment from Ver­ti­go, “night­mare is fan­ta­sy real­ized,” then you arrive at a rad­i­cal­ly stronger pro-fem­i­nist posi­tion. That despite the vic­tim hav­ing such fan­tasies, the psy­cho­log­i­cal trau­ma is ful­ly ground­ed on exact­ly the real­iza­tion of fan­ta­sy into real­i­ty. There­fore, those argu­ments of “it was her fault, she cant deny want­i­ng it at a lev­el” lose all weight, that it is one thing to have sex­u­al incli­na­tions ‑for what­ev­er rea­son and that is fine- but anoth­er to con­strue this as a sign of con­sent. Zizek also devel­ops this idea again his analy­sis of lynch’s Wild At Heart, which might be in his oth­er doc­u­men­tary.

  • Johannes says:


    To be fair, he does open that quote with the fol­low­ing lines: (from the tran­script)

    Many fem­i­nists, of course, empha­sise the bru­tal­i­ty against women in this scene, the abuse, how the Dorothy char­ac­ter is abused. There is obvi­ous­ly this dimen­sion in it. But I think one should risk a more shock­ing and obverse inter­pre­ta­tion.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.