Let’s start with the obvious: How do you pronounce this guy’s name? In one of this theory-stuffed documentary’s lighter scenes, Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek corrects a Canadian TV interviewer on the matter. The smiling idiot host tries a phonetic approach, and his amiably intellectual guest responds with something that sounds like a sneeze interrupted by a cough. But don’t worry about the mispronunciation, he says; it’d only make him paranoid if everyone knew how to say his name. Claiming to hate his status as a Marxist-Lacanian scholar burdened with a level of name-brand European coffeehouse recognition a few notches below Derrida, Žižek is a decidedly warmer presence than was the gnomic Frenchman. “I am a monster,” he insists, but he’s like one of those cartoon monsters drawn by Edward Koren—bearded and bearish and fuzzy and soft. At 57, he has a young son (we never meet his wife) at home in Ljubljana, but he’s also got energy enough to deliver SRO lectures around the world—with director Astra Taylor worshipfully tagging along and occasionally asking him to talk.
Not that he needs much encouragement, and even a mere 70 minutes of his discourse (in accented but clear English) can be wearying. For me, it was like an extended, unwelcome grad-school flashback, and Žižek’s many references to Stalin, fascism, and late-stage capitalism make the 20th century and its fossilized ideologies seem mustier by the minute. Of course, these are fresher, rawer concepts for Eastern European intellectuals, but rather than repeating his rhetoric (“Everything is to be interpreted. . . . The more you have, the more you want”), you wish Taylor would interrupt and push her subject to specifically interpret why he wants his precious cell phones, why he wants to buy DVDs for Being There, Ivan the Terrible, and The Fountainhead while shopping in New York, or why his son wants Finding Nemo toys from McDonald’s. A prolific writer and nonstop talker, Žižek keeps protesting that he’s a misanthrope, a radical, a revolutionary (he ran for president of his country in 1990) . . . anything, in short, but “a popular comedian or whatever.” But he’s so likable, and Taylor so evidently likes him, that she fails to overturn that image. (NR)
A panel of University of Washington professors will discuss the film following the 8 p.m. screening, Fri., Jan. 13.