Set in the late 1920s and throughout the next decade in rural Chile, director/writer Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Dance of Reality immediately sparks memories of Federico Fellini’s coming-of-age phantasmagorical Amarcord. But Jodorowsky, despite sharing many of the same symbolic and emotional interests as Fellini, has always been his own artist, uncaring of trends or societal political correctness. Jodorowsky made his name with the midnight movie cult hit El Topo back in 1970, a groundbreaking cross-genre spaghetti western grotesquerie that flipped the lids off a generation and in its strange way influenced countless cinematic provocateurs afterwards, including Nicolas Winding Refn, who acknowledged Jodorowsky as a stylistic influence in his 2013 movie, Only God Forgives.
Jodorowsky is now 85 years old and no longer the cutting edge of surrealist confrontation. But what’s refreshing and surprising is that he is still charging forward. This is a visionary artist still working at the top of his craft. There’s a common belief that as artists, particularly filmmakers, grow older, they also lose steam, though Kurosawa, Bunuel, Ford, Kubrick, Fukasaku, Dreyer and many others have foiled that theory. But filmmaking in general is a young person’s game. It takes youthful energy, drive, focus and creative blood.
It’s been 24 years since Jodorowsky has directed a movie, but if you’re familiar with his previous works—El Topo, The Holy Mountain, Santa Sangre—you’d never think any time has passed. The Dance of Reality looks back at the young Jodorowsky’s childhood, growing up in a harsh environment, the only child of two shopkeepers. His father, a Jewish emigre (Brontis Jodorowsky, the director’s son) is tyrannical; his mother (Pamela Flores) is all lush flesh and contradictory motives, singing all of her lines in soaring soprano vocals. She is the Earth Mother incarnated. And this is where Jodorowsky flourishes. He is invested and committed to confronting and alienating the audience with bold images and scenes that on the surface are shocking but are always infused with humanity and even tenderness. The Dance of Reality is haunting in its beauty, humorous in its insights (however broad) and oddly moving.
Jodorowsky is a surrealist. He’s provoking us to think, to be aware and to be open-minded to the idea that movies can be more than just angry white men in leotards punching the hell out of other costumed weirdos. The movie is a contradiction. On one level, it’s simplistic; it’s simply a director looking back at his life. On another plane, however, The Dance of Reality is a mythic cinematic journey—thoroughly original, profound and unforgettable.
Like what you just read? Support Flagpole by making a donation today. Every dollar you give helps fund our ongoing mission to provide Athens with quality, independent journalism.