Derrida (2002)

“Let me think…”

French philosopher Jacques Derrida died in Oct 2004, but a few years before his death filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman made Derrida the focus of this documentary film. Ultimately, as one would expect, Derrida is a slippery, complicated subject, but the filmmakers doggedly pursue their goal and film Derrida at several locations–including: his home, in New York, and in South Africa. This meditative film intersperses quotes from Derrida’s work with formal interviews, and casual moments of his daily life.

While Derrida good-naturedly suffers the film crew stuffed inside his home, he seems to become a little exasperated at some of the questions. When asked about the subject of love, at first, Derrida impatiently replies that he has “an empty head” on the subject, but he soon warms up to the task and provides some interesting insights. Derrida also discusses being tossed out of school for being Jewish–an experience that affected him profoundly. At one point, he’s interviewed for television, and the interviewer tries to get Derrida to relate Seinfield to Deconstruction. There’s a hopeless mismatch between the interviewer and her subject here, and this merely underscores that idea that most people are going to be hopelessly out of their depth with Derrida, and again, this makes him a tough subject to capture on film.

Derrida’s constant awareness of the process of self-examination works overtime in several scenes when he criticizes the format of the interview, and he argues that there’s an essential problem with biography. Biographies are, he notes, “often written by people in respected positions,” and then the book version of events becomes the accepted “truth.” Derrida quotes Heidegger on the subject of Aristotle: “He was born. He thought and he died. All the rest is anecdote.” Ultimately, Derrida is full of anecdote about its subject. The filmmakers do not attempt to present a Derrida-in-a-nutshell film, so don’t look here for a thorough analysis of his philosophy. Instead, we are left with elusive impressions of a complex mind.

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