Alejandro Jodorowsky is one of the most divisive and compelling artists working in the modern cinema, and one of the best. With Endless Poetry, the 88-year-old auteur has delivered one of his most heartfelt and touching films — and while the subject is autobiographical, egoism is never the objective. Rather, Jodorowsky utilizes the emotional reality of his recollections as a lens through which to examine the function of art as both a transgressive and healing tool, a fitting avenue for the artist’s prodigious talents.
It’s no secret that I’m a Jodorowsky fanatic, so it should come as no surprise that I loved his latest film. What may be more surprising to those unfamiliar with Jodo’s late-period output is just how much the agent provocateur has mellowed in accordance with his advancing age. Don’t get me wrong, the bizarre surrealist tendencies are still present, but what’s absent is the palpable rage underlying films like El Topo or The Holy Mountain. Gone is the Gurdjieffian drive toward spiritual warfare, replaced by a wistful, Felliniesque sense of melancholic nostalgia — and this hard-earned perspective renders the work far more personal and approachable than the better-known installments in the Jodorowsky canon.
Endless Poetry is the second in a proposed five film narrative autobiography of Jodorowsky, following 2013’s The Dance of Reality, and picks up literally where that film left off. Young Alejandro (Jeremias Herskovitz) is leaving the isolated Chilean mountain town of Tocopilla for the debauched urban hellscape of Santiago, where his parents (Brontis Jodorowsky, Pamela Flores) sell underwear to the thieving masses and Alejandro must step over corpses on his way to work. Poetry could accurately be termed the “coming-of-age” chapter in this portrait of the artist as a young man, with Jodorowsky’s son Brontis reprising his role as Alejandro’s bellicose father Jaime alongside his brother, Adan Jodorowsky, as 20something Alejandro. The central narrative arc follows Alejandro’s defiance of his father’s aspirations of a medical career for his son, instead taking up the pen and becoming a poet — but such a summary would be far too reductive to do this film justice.
To call this cycle of films mere biography would be to do a disservice to the director’s true vision, an impossible fantasy world that rivals the surrealism of a Bunuel or Lynch — and surpasses both in the sincerity of its emotional content. Jodorowsky’s casting of his sons in pivotal roles is a masterstroke, and while the director has consistently found parts for his sons throughout his oeuvre, the impact of their roles as their own progenitors is remarkable, closing a psychological loop opened for Brontis when his father put him through hell on the set of El Topo. At its core, Poetry is about the process of dismantling inherited psychological complexes, and Jodorowsky is clearly working through some multigenerational conflicts, and as director himself appears onscreen to counsel his younger counterpart, he’s also communicating a universal truth to the audience: We are all more than the sum of our familial influences, and both nature and nurture can be overcome by creative self-determination if the will is there.
The multifarious depth of Poetry far exceeds what can be covered in a 500-word review, but it should suffice to say that Jodorowsky’s most recent work is essential viewing. As a visual stylist, the director is in peak form, and as a narrative artist, Jodorowsky has created an intimate work of nuanced beauty and unaffected grace. While lesser filmmakers would have floundered in the face of similarly advancing age or absurd budgetary constraints, Jodorowsky transmutes these limitations into virtues. It’s a rare opportunity to witness the work of a master in full bloom, and while I would never presume to suggest that everyone will love Endless Poetry as much as I did, I will go on record as saying that I think everyone should see it. Spanish with English subtitles. Not Rated. Opens Friday at Grail Moviehouse.