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 4 of 4)

Jodorowsky’s scorn for realism goes beyond his odd visual palette. At MoMA he explained his indifference to cinematic conventions, saying, “I’m not trying to hypnotize you and say this is reality.” Rather, he’s interested in exploring emotional, spiritual and metaphysical processes in ways that are transparently symbolic.

In “The Dance of Reality” this kind of magical storytelling occurs when his mother cures his father from a plague by pulling up her dress and urinating on him, thereby transmitting her healing powers. When Alejandro has his hair cut for the first time it peels off like a wig, and then disintegrates into thin air. Sara Jodorowsky treats her son’s fear of the dark by taking her clothes off, stripping him to his underwear, and smearing them both in black shoe polish. At the end of the movie his father cures his own paralyzed hands by shooting pictures of himself, Stalin, and Ibáñez, in a ceremony that smacks of Jodorowsky’s own psychomagic.

Although Jodorowsky’s movies have often contained references to Judaism, those were usually filtered though the lens of the Western esoteric tradition. In “El Topo” a tiny woman leads the revived hero down a path blowing a shofar, while the Alchemist in “The Holy Mountain” puts on a tallis and a pair of tefillin to perform his alchemical rites.

Here, in contrast, Jodorowsky’s Judaism manifests itself through his experience of anti-Semitism. He is called “Pinocchio” by his schoolmates and mocked for being circumcised, while his father, despite Communist loyalties and an avowed atheism (at one point he forces his son to flush a collection of religious symbols down the toilet, reciting with each one “God does not exist”), is ostracized by his fellow radicals for his Jewish origins.

It is probably a mistake to read too deeply into “The Dance of Reality” as a key to the rest of Jodorowsky’s work. While some of his imagery might have a biographical basis, it is equally possible that he is simply presenting his life using the images that have long interested him. Like all beguiling artists, he seems to hum on his own frequency.

What’s important is that “The Dance of Reality” is a beautiful film — visually, it is the best looking of all Jodorowsky’s movies — and it is a touching depiction of the pains of childhood. As Jodorowsky says to his younger self: “Everything you are going to be, you already are. What you are looking for is already within you. Embrace your sufferings, for through them you will reach me.” It’s harsh advice, but given with tremendous love.

Ezra Glinter is the deputy arts editor of the Forward. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @EzraG

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!
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel:
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war?
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah:
  • 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.