Zizek!(Zeitgeist Video, 7.25.2006)
Astra Taylor's debut documentary lovingly captures Slavoj Zizek as academia's very own Rain Man, a self-absorbed genius who talks constantly, yet makes others wonder if they really need to be in the room with him as he speaks. Zizek's best conversations are obviously with himself, yet unlike Dustin Hoffman's Raymond Babbett, when Zizek makes eye contact with those around him, sparks of recognition actually fly. Zizek simply chooses to keep talking and bulldoze others with his ideas, regardless of whether his company seems engaged by him or not. However, one thing that Zizek, a hater of capitalism in all its contradictory forms, would definitely agree with his fictional, autistic doppelganger about: K-Mart sucks.
The miracle of Taylor's film, and of Zizek himself, is that none of these traits make Zizek come off badly. In fact, Zizek's extreme self-absorption is highly endearing, right down to the contrast between him seeming like a little kid full of pesky and confusing ideas trapped awkwardly inside an adult body, to his voice sounding like Sesame Street's The Count, lisp and all, being channeled through a sweaty, hairy Paul Bunyon soma.
Zizek! doesn't have much of a narrative structure. Taylor is content to follow her subject to one speaking engagement after another (Zizek's status as a professorial superstar makes him a very hot property on the university speech circuit) with the occasional stopover in his Slovenian apartment. At one point, Zizek mentions that, while he's technically employed as a researcher in the University of Ljublijana's Institute of Sociology, he never goes into his office because earning one's money through hard work is an outdated American idea, which he neither understands nor endorses. Zizek gladly accepts paychecks from the University, he just never sets foot in the joint. As we learn, Zizek makes additional money writing his bestselling cultural theory books, a task he doesn't consider to be work.
Taylor's filmmaking approach at first seems extremely hands-off, but it's actually a deft and well-thought out plan of attack for capturing her subject on film. Rather than use Zizek's highly complex theoretical work on Lacanian psychoanalysis, Marxism, and postmodernism to drive the film into a somber tone and allow Zizek to get way above the filmmakers' and audiences' head, Taylor disarms Zizek by laughing playfully at his neuroses, yet never acts threatened no matter how intricate the theoretical concepts he brings up. Taylor is constantly amused by Zizek as a person and as a scholar, often cracking up offscreen as he speaks, while still arguing individual points and going toe-to-toe with him for clarification in several instances. By being simultaneously unafraid of and amused by Zizek, Taylor disarms his traumatized cobweb of a personality, gently inviting him to unwind, if only slightly, for his big screen debut.
Zizek repeatedly claims that his entire persona is a conscious construction and that he intentionally acts ridiculous and outlandish to filter out the hangers-on and general public he claims to hate so much (he calls most people "eediots," sounding exactly like Ren and Stimpy when doing so). I could buy Zizek's explanation for his own clownish public persona, if not for one detail: Zizek appears to be genuinely suffering most of the time, constantly nervous and frightened, as opposed to calm when he chooses to be and "on" whenever his adoring public calls out for him. Ironically, if Zizek could approach his own life with the same laid back, aloof joy that Taylor recognizes in the scholar's eccentric, jetsetting existence, Zizek's salespitch of self-awareness might actually work.
Instead, Zizek reminds me of a sort of anti-meditator. His mind is never at peace and his mouth is always in motion because, as he admits at one point in the film, if he ever stopped thinking or talking he'd be allowing others to see that his existence really is made up of nothing. But, whereas meditation presumably welcomes nothingness -- or at least endorses a faith that inner silence can sustain a worthwhile state to ponder and surf around in -- Zizek isn't interested in even giving mental calmness a chance.
Fittingly, Zizek buys Hal Ashby's classic personality study Being There during an amazing scene in which he visits New York's legendary Kim's Video. In another classic scene, Zizek enthuses over his son's toy collection, especially a table full of action figures. Zizek explains that his son already understands the need to distribute power socially and that his son is both pro-feminist and sensitive to lesbianiasm because two of the highest ranking action figures in the collection are a pair of female "friends." I should mention that Zizek's son is around 3-years-old.
The extras on this disc include a series of deleted scenes that could have easily found their way into the movie, mostly consisting of Zizek walking around his native Slovenia commenting on his surroundings. Excerpts of lectures and interviews are also included, as is a text reprinting of Zizek's Guilty Pleasures article for Film Comment, in which he lists, you guessed it, his favorite guilty pleasure films. Most entertaining of all is a complete video interview from Boston's late night talk show Nitebeat, in which host Barry Nolan introduces Zizek as his guest then gamely smiles as Zizek talks, non-stop, until the segment time is up and the show has to end. -- Jason Woloski