Alejandro Jodorowsky’s first feature film in 22 years is a masterwork of memory, surrealism, and self-reflection. It’s one of the best films of the year.
Alejandro Jodorowsky, cult film luminary and cinematic spiritual master, has returned with his first directorial effort in decades, and it’s one of the most moving, bizarre, daring, and wonderful films of the year. At 85, Jodorowsky has lost none of his propensity for surreal imagery, impish dirtiness, or desperate need to connect you, the audience, with the grander ineffable powers that run through us and through the universe.
What Jodorowsky has picked up is a somewhat melancholy need to reflect on his own life. The Dance of Reality is his autobiography, told through the filter of deliberately exaggerated childhood memory. As a child in a small town in Chile, Jodorowsky was raised by a stern, abusive father (Jodorowsky’s son Brontis) who would essentially beat manliness into him. The young lad (played by a soulful young actor named Jeremias Herskovits) would receive a more loving hand from his Fellini-sized mother (Pamela Flores) who sings every line of dialogue.
The boy’s world is partly reality, and partly a gorgeous swirling miasma of half-memories, jokes, and childhood regret. Also appearing in the film is Jodorowsky himself, who appears to embrace his own childhood, and offer some words of spiritual solace. Along the way, the young boy imagines some great memories and some horrible once, and even some downright gross ones (there are unsimulated scenes of genital torture and bizarre pseudo-sexual practices that might make you squirm a bit). The young lad eventually hears that his father is going to travel to Santiago to kill Ibáñez (Bastián Bodenhöfer), Chile’s president. The boy essentially projects an epic spiritual and philosophical journey onto his absent father, making him seem, through the valuable tool of imagination, a better man in retrospect. And that, of course, reflects on Jodorowsky himself, who has been folding that story onto his own son.
We may live in reality, but, Jodorowsky argues, we don’t necessarily live wholly inside of it, and are typically given to leaving it entirely. Our relationship with reality is a gentle dance, a gorgeous trip, and a constant reflection. There is a scene at the beginning of Ingmar Bergman’s 1983 masterpiece Fanny & Alexander wherein a young boy looks at a statue in his home, and the statue undeniably moves. How did that happen? I think we all have these bizarre childhood memories we cannot explain. The Dance of Reality takes a small magical moment like that, and expands it, explores it, celebrates it. Did Jodorowsky’s mother really strip nude and wander through the most dangerous bar in town to prove how invisible they both are? Probably not, but that’s the way it happened.
And while this film is a halcyon life reflection that can only be made by a master artist looking back over decades of life experience, don’t think that it’s a teary and sentimental downer. The Dance of Reality bursts with vibrancy and color and life. Heck, it’s even funny. The energy and devotion on display are no lesser than some of the director’s well-known masterworks. It is playful and expansive. This film is awesome in the old sense of the word. It is one of the best films of the year.