Ever since I saw the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune last July, director Alejandro Jodorowsky has been a curiosity of mine. I hadn’t seen any of his previous work, and I understand that he has a somewhat cult following, so I’ve wanted to get around to seeing what all the fuss was about. And lo and behold, the very next month, Jodorowsky’s newest film, his first in 23 years, was to be released on Blu-ray. The release date came, and I searched everywhere for a rentable copy of the film. Alas, nowhere was it available short of an internet purchase, and it is not my policy to spend money on buying a film I haven’t seen yet. I gave up on my search, filled the gap in my review schedule, and moved on to other things, though Jodorowsky still hovered in the back of my mind, beckoning me to him. And now, nearly two months later, I have found a copy of The Dance of Reality. And it is good.
To summarize the plot of The Dance of Reality is challenging; if you’re looking for a traditional three act structure or a coherent narrative, this isn’t really the film for you. This is an autobiographical take on Jodorowsky’s childhood in Chile, approximately in the late 1930s and early 1940s. There are elements of his struggles to be accepted by his peers because of his Jewish heritage, but the primary conflict comes from his father, who may actually be the closest thing this film gets to a protagonist. Jodorowsky’s father is a strict man, doing everything he can to toughen his son up against the cruel world that looks down on outcasts and the disabled. He wants his son to be a beacon of masculine strength and fears the perception that his son will be mistaken for a homosexual. What at first seems cruel, though, is revealed to be part of a belief system centered on survival, for discrimination against Jews is becoming just as rampant as against other so-called undesirables. The second half of the film abandons young Jodorowsky’s point of view to follow his father’s journey of self-discovery, and it becomes hard to tell just whose coming-of-age story this really is.
The cult appeal to Jodorowsky’s work is quite readily evident, for he has a very distinct style that I don’t recall seeing replicated too often, and not nearly with such success. He has a penchant for replacing what could be straight-forward scenes with thematically-driven set-pieces, relying on overt symbolism to propel a scene rather than character interactions or any significant plot developments. Jodorowsky has a lot to say about the nature of religion, capitalism, his own family, the disabled, and heteronormativity, but he’ll be damned if he’s going to come right out and say it. The film revels in putting up its barriers to passive comprehension, and the coordinated psychedelic grace that emerges feels like something Wes Anderson would make if high on acid.
Now, this is definitely not going to be a film for everyone, and it’s not perfect. I found the film slightly overlong with its lingering on Jodorowsky’s father for a relatively simplistic climactic payoff. However, Jodorowsky has impressed me, and if this is the kind of work that he’s putting out at age 85, he’s definitely perked my interest to see his past works. The Dance of Reality is a truly unique film that capitalizes on its director’s strange quirks to wonderful effect. If you’re looking for a little bit of the surreal and strange, give this one a go.
Anyone have any thoughts on Jodorowsky’s previous films, such as El Topo and The Holy Mountain? Tell me about them in the comments below.