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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.