Slavoj Žižek must make a tempting documentary subject; you have only to fire up the camera and let him do his thing. Or at least the Slovenian academic provocateur and intellectual performance artist, in films like The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, and Žižek!, has given the impression that he can effortlessly carry a film all by himself. The directors of those aforementioned movies did a bit more than sit Žižek down before a rolling camera, but Ben Wright, maker of The Reality of the Virtual, seems to have taken the man’s raw oratorical value as the very premise of his project. This 74-minute documentary — if even the word “documentary” suits such a radically simplified form — simply has Žižek sit at a table, in front of some bookshelves, and talk, ostensibly about “real effects produced by something which does not yet fully exist,” as he identifies them in the realms of psychoanalysis, politics, sociology, physics, and popular culture.
“Shot by Ben Wright over the course of a single day,” writes the New York Times’ Nathan Lee, “here is the apotheosis of the talking-head movie, made up entirely of seven long, static takes of Mr. Žižek,” animated only by his own “habitual repertory of twitches, spasms and uncontrolled perspiration, an alarming frenzy of exuberance that contributes to his reputation as a rock star of philosophy.” The theme at hand, which certainly has something to do with belief and truth, possibility and impossibility, the reality within the unreal and the unreal within reality, takes him through the widest possible range of associated subjects. Those who appreciate Žižek primarily as a master of focused digression — and I have to imagine his fan base contains many such people — will find no purer expression of that particular skill. Then again, to truly experience Žižek, maybe you have to take an actual class taught by him. If The Reality of the Virtual inspires you to do so, count yourself as braver than I.
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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.