If you could go back and visit your childhood self, what would you say? Would you offer words of advice? Warning? Wonder how the child you were both is and isn’t the person you became?
This theme is at the heart of “The Dance of Reality,” a new movie by Chilean-Jewish director Alejandro Jodorowsky. In it, Jodorowsky shows himself as a child (played by the precocious Jeremías Herskovits) along with his parents, his friends, and the strange cast of characters in the coastal town where he grew up. Throughout the movie he makes magical appearances as his older, now 85-year-old self, guiding the boy he was with a mixture of affection and pity.
The movie is a departure for Jodorowsky, a director best known for ‘70s cult films like “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain.” In those pictures he gained notoriety for brutal violence and heavy-handed symbolism, mystical and New Age ideas.
“El Topo” (“The Mole”), an acid-Western dripping blood, starred Jodorowsky as a leather-clad avenger and, later in the movie, as the savior of a group of deformed people trapped inside a mountain. In an early scene we see him declare “I Am God!” to a general responsible for massacring a village of innocent civilians, whom El Topo pitilessly castrates.
“The Holy Mountain,” which followed in 1973, was less violent but even more weird. It showed a Christ-like thief who makes his way through a landscape of underage prostitutes, profiteering churchmen and exploitative American tourists. After ascending a mysterious tower he is guided to enlightenment by an Alchemist (again played by Jodorowsky) along with the leaders of corrupt society, each represented by a planet of the solar system.
“The Dance of Reality,” in contrast, is less concerned with archetypical myths or the Perennial Philosophy than it is with the old question of how a sensitive boy turned into a mature artist. At the same time it uses characters, images and themes that have appeared in nearly all of Jodorowsky’s films, providing, perhaps, a partial clue to their origins.