We round up the surreal in cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s first release in 25 years
A mother belts out opera tunes while lovingly urinating over her unconscious husband on the kitchen floor. And that’s just one scene you’ll find in The Dance of Reality – an autobiographical flick from Alejandro Jodorowsky. For anyone wondering what kind of messed-up childhood shaped Jodorowsky into the lunatic genius behind acid cult classics like El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973), you’re in luck.
The Dance of Reality, the Chilean director’s first film since 1990, depicts his memories of pre-adolescence: bullied by anti-Semitic locals, possessed by his grandfather’s hair, and raised by a father plotting to assassinate the president. What’s supposed to be autobiographical is a series of increasingly mindboggling set-pieces drifting from dream to nightmare within the blink of a very confused eye.
It’s been long since a new Jodorowsky joint; 2013 documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune was just Nicolas Winding Refn and others begging him to hurry up. Here’s how The Dance of Reality more than makes up for a lengthy hiatus with a lifetime of WTF-ness on display.
BLACK SHOE POLISH OEDIPUS
“Being in a cradle of cement,” Alejandro whines, “swaddled in a gigantic shadow bound to my empty existence.” In other words, he’s scared of the dark. His mother’s solution is to wipe shoe polish over her son’s body until he’s unrecognisable. Even more puzzling is she does the same to herself, informs him he needs to “devour a princess”, and launches a game of nude, blacked-up hide-and-seek. So, swap one childhood phobia for a lifelong traumatising memory?
MAMMA MIA: THE OPERA
For reasons unexplained, Alejandro’s mother sings every line of dialogue as if she’s an operatic soprano. Unlike your annoying niece humming “Call Me Maybe” all weekend, she’s played by an actual opera star who consistently hits those high notes. The arguments with her husband – she’s beautifully melodic, he’s just shouty – get funnier and funnier, and lead to orchestral sex noises. Unfortunately, no one’s polite enough to thank her for the free concert or join in for a sing-song.
PISSING ALL OVER YOUR FATHER’S WOUNDS
After Alejandro’s father is trampled by a mob carrying umbrellas (that’s not the weird bit), the mother drags his unconscious body into the kitchen and peels off his blood-stained shirt. “I am the bank of the vast river,” she warns her helpless husband. Without a cutaway, she urinates on his bruised chest, which brings him back to life and sets up a wet, gross embrace. “You are as strong as Stalin,” she chimes to his piss-dripping face. “Even stronger!”
PLENTY OF DEAD FISH LEFT IN THE SEA
Just before Alejandro chucks a beachside pebble into the water, the Queen of Cups (an old woman in silver makeup wearing what’s only a “hat” by definition) warns him: “A single stone can kill every fish in the sea”. The rock is smaller than a cup, but causes a mini tidal wave that dumps the world’s population of sardines around Alejandro (it’s reminiscent of the dead rabbits in El Topo). As CGI seagulls swoop down like a Hitchcock outtake, 80-something Jodorowsky enters the screen to comfort his younger self by imitating a human chair. The lesson here: the drunkard at the beach may be a marine biology expert.
NAKED NAZI FATHER/SON TORTURE BONDING
At a Nazi rally, Alejandro’s communist father Jaime is found out because he can’t do the Nazi salute (his hand is paralysed from a failed assassination attempt, but that’s another story). The ensuing fight, accompanied by videogame sound effects, ends with torture – Jaime’s genitals are electrocuted, and then it gets worse. Although Jodorwosky seems to be punishing his father through a revenge fantasy, it’s more complex as Jaime is played by the Chilean director’s son Brontis Jodorowsky – aka the then 8-year-old naked co-star of El Topo. No one’s jealous of this kind of nepotism.
SAID THE ACTOR TO THE BISHOP
The masturbation euphemism “beating the bishop” is ridiculous in itself, so understandably confuses Alejandro when some boys at a funeral ask him to participate. The misinterpretation – a gang of youths beating up an actual bishop – is horrible, so why does he say yes? It’s even stranger. Leaning against rocks in daylight, the children furiously rub wooden dildos (no idea where they came from) up and down with their hands, while mocking Alejandro’s for not having foreskin. Nonsensical, sure, but with an undercurrent of sadness as he’s informed, “Your difference bothers us. Go away!”
SIGNED, BALLOONED, DELIVERED
The 1930s were a dark, gloomy time without WhatsApp or Facebook. To keep in touch with his missing father, Alejandro resorts to spitting on a rock and informs it: “Don’t forget us – come back!” Tied to balloons, the stony parcel soars Up-style and finds the boy’s father, even though there’s no stamp or address attached. The fact it’s just a stone with no actual message isn’t the point. How did it work? Was it the spit?
“AND THE GOLDEN BONE GOES TO...”
While novelty dog competitions aren’t so bizarre when acknowledging the Palm Dog is a yearly Cannes tradition, it’s in Jodorowsky’s imagination that each mutt dresses up as an animal (awards go to a “butterfly-dog” and “kangaroo-dog”). “I don’t want to live in a world of dressed-up dogs,” a dissenter with a gun declares. “It makes me sick.” Considering another scene features a sophisticated dog funeral held by the fire brigade, the overall tone is enticingly avant-dog.
CURSED HAIR TODAY, GONE TOMORROW
Like it or not, you’re stuck with your family’s genes. For Alejandro, his luscious hair is haunted by the spirit of his dead grandfather (who set himself on fire by stepping on an improperly cased barrel of alcohol, FYI). A barber rips off the hair like a wig – conveniently for production – and it burns into thin air. It brings to mind what Jodorowsky says in Jodorowsky’s Dune: “The picture needs to be exactly as I dream it. Don’t change my dream”. With The Dance of Reality, Jodorowsky gets his dream – and nobody dares change it.
The Dance of Reality is out in cinemas 21 August