The Must-See Films of Cinema’s Mystic Alejandro Jodorowsky

“Poetry is the removal of all limits on consciousness,” the 88-year-old filmmaker-mystic-performance artist Alejandro Jodorowsky told a group of besotted fans gathered at New York’s Rubin Museum of Art last week.  “The limits placed on it by family, by society, and by language itself.”

There’s no single skeleton key to understanding Jodorowsky’s surrealistic, poignant body of work – but this statement comes close. From the 1970 cult classic El Topo to the just-released Endless Poetry, Jodorowsky has created a cinema of poetry, not prose.

Reflecting his immersion in 1950s surrealism and 1960s absurdist performance art, the imagery of Jodorowsky’s films is un-realistic in the extreme: people with no limbs, rampaging animals in the midst of polite society, parodic Christ figures.

In a Jodorowsky film, everything you see is a symbol. The unconscious is as real as the conscious. There are, indeed, no limits.

In this context, Endless Poetry has already been called Jodorowsky’s “most accessible” film. But only in this context. Its narrative is conventional, even familiar: the portrait of the artist as a young man.

Yet within that space, we encounter symbolic images so extreme that I’m reluctant to write about them, lest you think the film is a Gothic horror story.

It isn’t – in fact, it’s heartwarming, and moved me to tears. But there is a lot of blood (of various kinds), a lot of nudity, and a lot of absurdity so radical that you wonder, having seen it, if you really just saw what you think you saw.

“The artist is the person who receives the transpersonal,” Jodorowsky said. “To receive the sacred is the work of art…  Art is what you are.” Indeed, Jodorowsky’s best work – my favorite is the 1973 allegory The Holy Mountain – is equal parts aesthetic flood and spiritual baptism.

Alchemists, astrologers, and tarot-readers share a screen with cowboys, naked children, abusive fathers, and circus freaks.  It’s common to describe…

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