The Third Pill: Triangulating Reality in A Pervert’s Guide to Cinema

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In this thought-provoking, innovative, and at times bizarre documentary, philosopher Slavoj Zizek explores the ways in which cinema is the “ultimate pervert art,” citing various examples from classic films. One such film is the popular science fiction staple, the Wachowski’s The Matrix, which Zizek uses as a framework to discuss the relationship between illusion and so-called reality. In the film, Neo is offered a blue pill that will cause him to awake to “reality” or a red pill that will submerge him into the fantasy forever. The film suggests that there is a distinct dichotomy between reality and fantasy. Moreover, it suggests that there is a reality to wake up to at all. The film is attempting to construct a reality in which binary codes of understanding exist, yet this is not the case. Zizek proposes a third pill, one that “enables me to perceive not the reality behind the illusion, but the reality in illusion itself.”

We can best understand Zizek’s assertion in terms of Lacan’s mirror stage theory. In short, the theory suggests that the “I” is created through an identification when a child recognizes oneself in the mirror. This is the first moment of “reality” because it is the first construction of a symbolic structure in which an individual must operate and “resolve as I his discordance with his own reality,” (page 503.) This discordance is borne from the discrepancy between self and the “Ideal I,” a fiction that is just as illusory as reality itself. This is further developed once language is introduced, creating a mandated, equivocal infliction of signifiers that attempt to define an undefinable world.

Zizek’s third pill suggests that once you take away the symbolic structures of reality that regulate it, reality ceases to exist. The third pill opens the possibility of recognizing reality as an illusion. The binary framework of the red and blue pill is one of the child and [m]other, one without symbolic constraints. The introduction of the third pill forces us to confront the triangular force of the father, and therefore language and law, that create disorder and cause “reality” to disintegrate.