Derrida (2002)
Directed by Kirby Dick & Amy Ziering Kofman

During a lecture documented in Derrida, the famed philosopher relates Martin Heidegger's opinion about the relevance to a great thinker's personal life to his work, concluding that Aristotle's biography should simply read: "He was born, he thought, and he died." Though Jacques Derrida claims to disagree with this assessment, he spends most of his time before the cameras dodging questions about his life, escaping into the comfortable and painless space of his gigantic brain.

Derrida wisely chooses not to attempt any kind of reduction of Derrida's thought, instead simply showing us the man … great thinker he may be, but he still has to get his hair cut, and have breakfast, and stack his books. It's a sneaky little film, because for a long while it seems like an unassuming, pretty badly shot little video arguing for Derrida's stature among 20th Century philosophers, but gradually circles closer and closer until it's apparent that the directors simply want him to talk about himself as what he would call "an empirical being" (and what everyone else would call "a dude").

The most revealing scene occurs late in the film, when they ask Derrida what he would like to see in a documentary about any of his favorite philosophers, and he coyly replies "Their sex lives" – that is, he wants to see exactly what the philosophers would never talk about. And that's what you want of Derrida, but the man refuses to deliver. He's cagey, smug, and lost in his world of abstraction, incapable of even saying something general about love. He's afraid of saying something on camera for fear of being archived saying something clichéd, dopey, or contradictory to his official party line. If we want to know Derrida, we need to read him.

Yet I've never been less inspired to take up Derrida. The film reminded me far too much of why I gave up the Philosophy half of my initial undergraduate double-major – the works are enlightening and challenging, certainly, but the people are pricks, so far out of touch with their hearts that all the intellectualization starts coming across as so much farting designed to keep everyone at a distance.

Such is the fundamental problem with philosophy: I suppose someone needs to quantify the human intellect, but these folks are just so not fun to talk to. Each question posed to Derrida is met with either a condescending declination or a bundle of big words that serve only to obscure the point. When asked what he thinks of the deconstructionist qualities of "Seinfeld," Derrida reflexively closes off the conversation upon being told that the show is an American sitcom. Instead of answering the question or considering the possibilities, he rather unpleasantly asserts that people should just read instead.

What a jag-off. If only the great thinker Derrida could deconstruct his tightly-wound emotional prison, he might be a great person, too.

Review by La Fée