Alejandro Jodorowsky has lived a long and storied life. At 88, he’s become one of the giants of arthouse cinema, his surreal visions echoing through the filmic landscape. His 1970 film EL TOPO is often credited as the first midnight movie, it’s outre, subversive visions attracting the likes of John Lennon and the American counterculture. It is arguable that without Jodorowsky, there’d be no ERASERHEAD, no PINK FLAMINGOS, no ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. His contributions to cinema are immeasurable.
Jodorowsky vanished from filmmaking sometime after 1990’s THE RAINBOW THIEF, a Hollywood production that severely curtailed the filmmaker’s iconoclastic visions. The former poet and theater director applied himself to more personal works, ones that he could do without the interference of suits, eventually finding a happy medium in the comics industry. When Jodorowsky finally returned to cinemas with 2013’s THE DANCE OF REALITY, he took a more prismatic, personal approach, refracting his earlier childhood experiences through the filter of his distinct, poetic filmmaking style.
ENDLESS POETRY picks up where REALITY left off, an autobiographical retracing of Jodorowsky’s young adult life, as he freed himself from the shackles of abusive parentage and found a new home among the artists and oddballs of Chile. Young Jodorowsky flees from his suffocating family when he decides he’d rather be a poet than a doctor, something that leaves his macho man father aghast. After an act of rebellion that earns the admiration of his barely-closeted cousin, Jodorowsky is introduced to a household of artists, and eventually meets and falls in love with the fiery, chaotic poet Stella Diaz before embarking a career as a circus clown.
In less deft hands, a film like ENDLESS POETRY could have come across as an indulgent ego trip — a filmmaker gratingly deciding that his life story is one worth telling. Anyone who has seen Jodorowsky the man, however, such as in JODOROWSK’S DUNE, know what kind of rosy-eyed dreamer he is, and he brings that same big, voluble spirit to ENDLESS POETRY. This is less a film about the filmmaker’s own life, but about life in general, about throwing off the shackles of expectation and being true to yourself. Throughout the film, Jodorowsky returns to his pet theme of not allowing others to dictate how you live your life, that joyous freedom is the single most important thing one can have. As Jodorowsky himself says to his younger avatar, the meaning of life is…life.
Yes, the filmmaker appears every so often, playing his current day self giving advice to his younger self. He only does it sparingly, so it doesn’t come as precious or narcissistic, but comes off as a man looking back and wishing he could go back and say to himself the things he needed to hear when he was young; it’s a deeply relatable gambit, as who hasn’t wished they could go back in time to tell their youthful selves much needed advice?
As he’s mellowed into old age, Jodorowsky’s patented surrealism has moved from a hard-edged avant gardism to a more playful theatricality. Often times, ENDLESS POETRY feels less like a movie than a filmed version of a stage play, albeit one that is fluidly staged over real life locations and without the stiff staginess that comes from filming plays for the screen. Jodorowsky even underlines this with random appearances of a black-catsuit clad figure popping up to take or give random props, like some sort of stagehand, a gag that actually becomes funnier with each passing appearance.
Ultimately though, what makes ENDLESS POETRY work is that it is a genuinely moving film. It could have easily gone the way of affectation, a distancing borne of its theatricality and auto-focus. Instead, Jodorowsky has used the bones of his own upbringing to create a joyful, vibrant, and tearful ode to the beauty of life. The filmmaker may have made on the surface an autobiography, but in his dance of reality, he’s awakened us to the glories of living.