“The Dance of Reality” is the first movie Alejandro Jodorowsky has directed in 23 years, and it’s also the first movie of his that I have ever seen. He’s been making a comeback of sorts recently thanks to the documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune” which looks at one of the greatest science fiction movies never made, and the appreciation for his cult classics “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain” continues to grow. Like another visionary filmmaker Terrence Malick, he disappeared from movie making for a long period of time, but now he’s back and, like Malick, does not appear to have lost his touch to create a film that is unique in its design. Watching it was an amazing experience, and it pulled me in like few films do these days.
The movie is autobiographical (thank god the words “based on a true story” were used here) as it takes us back to the director’s childhood in Tocopilla, a coastal town on the edge of the Chilean desert. Playing Alejandro as a child is Jeremias Herskovits, and it is through his eyes that we see this small town and the unusual characters that inhabit it. There are moments where Alejandro appears onscreen as himself to soothe his younger self as he goes through trials and tribulations in life both at home and outside of it.
Alejandro’s father, Jaime (played by the director’s son, Brontis Jodorowsky), is introduced to us as a brutally tough man and a Communist who dresses like Joseph Stalin every day. Jaime is very eager for his son to prove his loyalty to him by exposing him to painful situations like getting a tooth fixed without any novocaine. This is done to test the boy’s manhood and to make sure he doesn’t cry because men don’t cry (or so we are taught from childhood). Don’t worry, these tests come back to haunt Jaime in a rather excruciating way.
We also get to meet Alejandro’s mother who is played by Pamela Flores, and she doesn’t speak her dialogue but sings it instead. Alejandro has said that his mother always wanted to be a singer but never got to be, and this was his way of helping her to achieve that dream. It makes for a very interesting family dynamic as his mother has her heart wide open to the world while his dad, for much of the movie, is a cold hearted realist who wants to toughen up his son before it is too late.
Throughout the film, Alejandro is introduced to a wide assortment that help him view the world in a more extraordinary way. But still, he has to contend with his father who is way too tough on him, and the movie ends up switching direction halfway through as Jaime goes off to assassinate the president of Chile. In the process, Jaime goes through a visceral journey that tests what he truly believes in. In short, a lot of people are getting very strong lessons about life here.
Now “The Dance of Reality” cannot in anyway be mistaken for a literal biographical film as it is truly a poetic one. Everything he shows us here is seen through a very colorful lens which almost makes this look like Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” if it weren’t a horror film. The visuals were intoxicating and all the characters were as crazy as they were compelling to watch, and I kept wanting Jodorowsky’s journey to go on for as long as it could. This is one of the very few films I have seen recently where I truly didn’t know what was going to happen next.
Alejandro has described this film as a “mental atomic bomb,” and it clearly acts as form of therapy for him and his family. Heck, practically his whole family was involved in the making of it both in front of and behind the camera. In addition to Brontis, Alejandro’s other sons Adan and Cristobal give memorable performances as the Anarchist and the Theosophist, and Adan also composed the music score as well. From the looks of it, “The Dance of Reality” represents a great opportunity for the Jodorowskys to exorcise all their demons at the same time. Having been through different forms of therapy myself, I don’t remember one as exhilarating as this film.
For me, Alejandro’s “The Dance of Reality” is one of those films I would describe as pure cinema. It was untouched by corporate hands as Alejandro relied on donations from friends to make it, and he has stated on more than one occasion that he would rather lose money on his film rather than make any as he tires of studios chasing after gargantuan profits. There’s something very refreshing hearing a filmmaker, any filmmaker, say that because we live in a world today that is filled to the brim with big budget superhero tent pole movies that look to either start, reboot or continue a franchise. The fact that a film like this even got made today feels like a miracle as many personal films don’t often get the audiences they deserve. But here is a work of art that demands to be seen, and all the true movie buffs out there owe it to themselves to see it on the big screen where it belongs.
I related to some of the struggles Alejandro went through as a child as they are presented here, but I especially relate to his fear of the world becoming too dark for him to where all the emotion and desires are sucked out of him. In many scenes there are crowds of people who wear masks that not only hide their true identity but rob them of their individuality. The world can really beat us down to where we accept conformity without question, and that’s one of the things Alejandro is fighting against here.
The movie is filled with images that may remind you Federico Fellini’s films or Tod Browning’s “Freaks,” but Alejandro has a style that is all his own, and it’s a style that has influenced many filmmakers over the past few decades. Some filmmakers don’t always get received so well when they return from a long break to make a movie (just ask George Lucas), but I’m guessing that the long break did Alejandro some good as he has given us a deeply personal masterpiece that is all his own. His work may be an acquired taste, and I can see a lot of precocious teenagers watching certain scenes and going, “Ew that’s gross!” But for anyone who truly loves movies, this is a must see.
The last image of “The Dance of Reality” implies that Alejandro has finally made peace with his painful past and is ready to move on. It’ll be interesting to see what movies he will have in store for us in the future, although I imagine his version of “Dune” will be one of them. Anyway, it’s highly likely we won’t have to wait another 20 years for his next project.