Alejandro Jodorowsky Goes on a Voyage in Search of Himself

Cult Director Returns to the Scene of His Childhood

Looking Back: Jodorowsky’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Ukraine.
Photo by David Cavallo, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Looking Back: Jodorowsky’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Ukraine.

By Ezra Glinter

Published May 22, 2014, issue of May 23, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 4)

Pavich argues that Jodorowsky’s designs for the film influenced movie history anyway, through the work of his collaborators on later blockbusters like “Star Wars,” “Alien” and “The Fifth Element.” But the failed project had a more tangible effect as well. While making the documentary Pavich brought Jodorowsky back together with his old producer, Michel Seydoux, who offered to finance his next film. The result is “The Dance of Reality,” Jodorowsky’s first movie in 23 years, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013 together with “Jodorowsky’s Dune.”

Although “The Dance of Reality” is autobiographical, it is not strictly factual. Jodorowsky’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Ukraine who settled in Tocopilla, the mining and fishing town where he grew up. His father, Jaime Jodorowsky Groisman, was a devoted Stalinist and strict disciplinarian who ran a general store called Casa Ukraina, here depicted as a women’s lingerie shop. His mother, Sara Felicidad Jodorowsky, was cold and unaffectionate toward her son, which Jodorowsky claims was because he was conceived through rape. (This is depicted, to some extent, in the movie.) It was not a happy childhood.

Jodorowsky reinvents many of these details in the film, especially those pertaining to his mother, who is portrayed as a loving figure. “I change my memory — art is for that,” he said in March, at the film’s New York premiere at the Museum of Modern Art. He even imaginatively fulfilled her ambition to be a singer by casting an actual opera singer, Pamela Flores, who delivers all of her lines in song.

As with many of Jodorowsky’s movies, “The Dance of Reality” is a family affair. Jaime is played by Jodorowsky’s son, Brontis Jodorowsky, who appeared as the naked boy in “El Topo” and was cast to play the hero, Paul Atreides, in “Dune.” Also included are his sons Axel Jodorowsky, a “Theosophist” who instructs the young Alejandro in the mysteries of religion, and Adan Jodorowsky, who plays an anarchist revolutionary and who provided the music for the film.

Although “The Dance of Reality” lacks the shock value of Jodorowsky’s earlier work it is still very much a Jodorowsky film. Like “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain” it is composed of episodes strung together in a meandering, quest-like sequence, rather than as a unified story. (For this reason I doubt that “Dune” would actually have been such a masterpiece even if it had been made, especially since it was planned to be 14 hours long.) The movie veers off in a new direction when his father decides to leave home to assassinate the president of Chile, General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo, shifting the emphasis of the movie away from the young Jodorowsky and toward his tormented father.

Jodorowsky’s great strength has never been his stories, however, but his images. Despite his eclectic use of symbols, Jodorowsky’s movies belong to the vein of medieval and Renaissance strangeness associated with painters like Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Breughel the Elder, and which filtered into the 20th century through movements like surrealism, Jungian psychoanalysis, and New Age interests in alchemy, astrology and the Tarot. A particularly Breughelian scene in “The Holy Mountain” shows a corpulent older woman and her husband in their dingy attic apartment, he in the bathtub and she perched next to him on a six-foot-tall toilet.

“The Dance of Reality” partakes of this sensibility, but it stands apart from it as well. Favorite images that reappear in the film include people carrying black umbrellas through the desert and hauling old Victrolas around town, men dancing homoerotically in smoky taverns, and a collection of severely maimed and disfigured characters who populate the main street of Tocopilla. Whereas in previous films the presence of such figures went unexplained, however, here they are disabled miners whose limbs were torn off by dynamite. Unlike his earlier movies, which were never quite of this world, “The Dance of Reality” is set in a real time and place. Rather than present his images directly, as he did in earlier works, Jodorowsky introduces them as inspirations for his younger self.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • What would Maimonides say about Warby Parker's buy-one, give-one charity model?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.