When surrealist auteur Alejandro Jodorowsky makes a rare trip to New York City— to promote his new autobiographical film, Endless Poetry— you know it’s an occasion. During a MoMA discussion on Wednesday, the spry 88-year-old gave a tarot reading to Daniel Craig; the next evening on the Bowery, there was a party celebrating the release of the film’s soundtrack, composed by Alejandro’s son Adan Jodorowsky, who also stars in it.
Clearly, multi-talentedness runs in the family. Like his 37-year-old son, the elder Jodorowsky has composed music for films in which he has also acted— namely his cult masterpieces, El Topo and The Holy Mountain. At various times, he’s been a circus clown, a puppeteer, a mime, a novelist, a comic book artist, and a practitioner of his own brand of “shamanic psychotherapy,” called psychomagic.
Endless Poetry depicts Jodorowsky’s coming of age as a poet, after his family moved from the sleepy Chilean town of Tocopilla to the capital of Santiago in 1942. It’s a continuation of his acclaimed 2013 comeback film, The Dance of Reality, and is based on chapters from his same-titled memoir. This time around, young Jodorowsky (played by Adan) escapes the grip of his domineering father (again played by Alejandro’s other son, Brontis). He falls in love for the first time, with a firebrand, flame-haired poetess; he takes up with an art collective that doubles as a band of merry pranksters; and, this being a Jodorowsky film, he makes love to a dwarf smeared in menstrual blood.
Yesterday, I met Jodorowsky in the Union Square offices of his distributor, ABKCO, for a chat about poetry, pyschomagic, and the only thing more surreal than a Jodorowsky film: Trump’s presidency.
It was important for me because I discovered myself, I got free of my family, I discovered sex, I discovered a lot of things. I was an adolescent. When you’re 20 years old, all experiences are important. I realized I wanted to be a poet.
In the ’40s, ‘50s, Chile was like an island. There was war in Europe but Chile was so far, and so close, because it was between the mountains and the ocean. We didn’t have television during that time, only radio, and the wine was cheaper than the milk. All the people were drunk in Chile. I don’t know why or by what miracle but all of Chile admired poetry. During that time, Chile – a country so far away, that nobody knew— had two Nobel Prize winners, Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral. It was a miracle.
For my father— who was a Communist, Stalinist— every poet was a homosexual. For him, to be a homosexual was terrible. At that time I didn’t know whether I was heterosexual or homosexual. I didn’t make love with a woman until I was 21 years old. And then on the radio I listened to a poem by Garcia Lorca. At the time, Garcia Lorca wasn’t a big, intellectual poet. He was a popular poet. I liked it. And then I discovered poetry because a thief who came to [my father’s shop] lost a book by Garcia Lorca. That sounds surrealistic, but in Chile poetry was the [stuff of] the worker— the low people liked poetry. They were drunk and they said poems. Neruda liked Garcia Lorca a lot, etcetera, and then I found poetry to be like a door [out] of the vulgarity where I was living. Poetry saved my life.
Pablo Neruda was a poet and a politician. He believed in Stalin. Also, he believed in Communism and he wanted to be president of the country. And he had a big, big ego. We were adolescents, almost anarchists. Neruda was a Buddha. We didn’t want a poet to be a Buddha. A poet needs to be another thing, but more spiritual.
The firefly is the light, he’s the soul, the spirit. The toad is the ego. In the metaphor, the toad is an ugly animal. He’ll swallow a firefly but he will not kill it. He’ll try to digest it but it’s not possible to do that. And then he will write a poem with that, but he is not the poem. The poet is not the poem, the poem comes from a high level that is not the ego.
Why do I say ego? Because we are born with a perfect brain with millions of cells, and the ego is alive in our head. But we are limited by the family and by prejudices: social, cultural, and historical prejudices. We have limits. And that is the ego, because the ego makes us self-conscious.
The father says, “You want to be a poet? You will die of hunger,” and then he will limit me: “I cannot be a poet,” or “I’m not a musician, I am only that [which my father wants me to be].” That is the ego. And we fight with the ego because we believe the ego is us. It’s not us. The essential being is what we are. But we don’t know ourselves. Rimbaud says, “I is another”: Myself is another, it’s not me, the real myself is not me. It’s the ego who is speaking. The ego knows he’s artificial but he’s afraid to know that, because he thinks he will lose everything.
One of the principles of the therapy you created and practice, psychomagic, is that “rather than resisting or fleeing a problem, by entering it, making oneself part of it, one can use it as an element of liberation.” One does this by acting out or role-playing fantastic versions of the problem at hand. To what degree was making this movie, which is about your father and features two of your sons, a psychomagical way of dealing with the pain that stemmed from your mother’s neglect and your father’s abuse?
It’s all about working with the memory. I searched all the places where these things happened. I asked myself, “My father and me, who will play them?” Two sons. One son, Adan, will be the father; another son [Brontis] will be me. When they’re speaking to each other at the end [of the film], I arrived at what I am today. I mixed it inside and for the first time in my life I did something real, I forgave my father. Because I knew I should forgive my father. That was enormous, that act. It was a psychomagical act.
I see the world in destruction now. We need to fight to change our mentality because if we don’t change our mentality we’ll destroy the world. Art is not [just] an art, for me. It’s a way to heal. “You want to heal who?” Myself. “And that is all?” The actors. “And that is all?” The public. It’s a way to give an example, an act, to show how you can change your destiny, how you need to fight in order to be yourself and not what the others want you to be. You need to be a free mind, etc. The only way to have a healthy society and to find your way is to change the way of thinking. That is what I’m doing now.
Trump se cree propietario de sí mismo al robar el bien de los otros. Es un mendigo disfrazado de millonario.
— Alejandro Jodorowsky (@alejodorowsky) July 31, 2016
In one of the film’s scenes, you’re the lone resister in a parade of Nazis as dictator Carlos Ibáñez del Campo takes power. Writing about poetry in Manual of Psychomagic, you’ve said that “to survive in a world that voluntarily keeps its citizens in a state of infancy, it is necessary to introduce beauty into our language.” What would you tell people who might want to use art or poetry to resist Trump?
In Venezuela it’s Maduro, in North Korea it’s the big boy, the big baby. They’re all children— all these presidents are children. It’s the product of our society. Don’t forget, Trump was elected by the millions of people who are children, who are ignorant of reality. And they chose that because they are tired of politics. Because politicians were for centuries stealing and making wars.
Nobody’s happy. So, what to do? We need to continue to develop our mental freedom. Go destroy the prejudice, step by step, in order to get freedom. We need to work on ourselves. If I want to change the world, I cannot, but I can start to change the world. I read the tarot for free. Every Wednesday, I go to a café and read the tarot, positive tarot to all the people. Every one of us needs to learn how to give something, not for money, and every one of us needs to stop thinking money is god, stop thinking science is the proof.
Scientists have a problem— they’re all intellect, but we need to have feeling, desire, creativity and nice action. Then, every one of us, in the little space he has, needs to introduce this change, this new way to live. The only way to do that is to start with the individual. I make movies. Why don’t I start a political party? Because we cannot— it’s impossible— we cannot change the world. But I can start to change the world. How? By starting to change myself. “I” needs to become “us.”
In The Dance of Reality, you wrote that, as a young man, you were inspired by the unique ways in which Chilean poets lived among the people. How does it feel to now be one of those creators who is sought out as a sort of guru, whether it’s by Kanye West or Eric Andre.
Every day, it’s true. I can do that because I failed, I failed, I was fighting, fighting, fighting. When I made The Holy Mountain, I waited 30 years till they showed the picture, because they thought, “Where would we show something so weird?” I failed. Then I worked not to destroy my ego—I cannot—but to tame it. Not to think, “I’m doing this thing for me.” No, I’m doing this thing for us. When Kanye West or Marilyn Manson, everyone, comes to see me, I work with them in order for them to realize that they need to change them, not for me. I’m seeking no benefit. I’m making pictures to lose money, I say, not to make money. I am giving counsel not for me but rather for the world. The world is mine, as it is yours. I take possession of the world. I help this world because it’s mine. Everything I give comes for me and my sons and the other people who will be born. I am not working for me, I’m working for humanity.
“Endless Poetry” opens today at Landmark Sunshine Cinema, 143 E. Houston St., Lower East Side.