ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY has spent 88 years on this earth looking for something. Whether or not he has found it is not the point, let alone what “it” even is. As he nears 90, Jodorowsky contains more intellectual curiosity and artistic yearning than most poets a quarter of his age. When he tells you that he is only just starting out, the joy in his voice provides proof of that conviction. His most recent film, Endless Poetry, is this summer’s anti-blockbuster and a continuation of its autobiographical predecessor, The Dance of Reality (2013). What he is “starting” appears to be an attempt to organize the fact of his life into a kind of dream — the way, it would seem, he prefers to see everything, including the totality of his 88 years.
If you are familiar with Jodorowsky and his work, it is likely because you have seen his most famous film The Holy Mountain (1973), or you’re a fan of the science-fiction writer Frank Herbert and entered his orbit via the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013). But Jodorowsky has provided multiple entry points to fanaticism along his lengthy career, playing a kind of pied piper to self-styled philosophical cosmologists and attracting diverse devotees — some who simply admire his films, others who consider him a spiritual guide and seek him out in Paris for tarot readings, and still others who just dig graphic novels and read The Incal, his celebrated collaboration with artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud.
Jodorowsky himself has been a mime, a puppeteer, a poet, an actor, a director, a novelist, a playwright, a musician, and anything else that might provide him with the tools necessary to access something beyond our humdrum everydayness — to tilt the world just slightly and see it all from a new (and maybe better) perspective.
Endless Poetry is a film as much about Jodorowsky’s own life as it is a guide for outwitting those who have predetermined our lives for us, before we’ve had the chance to evaluate all available options and to chart our own course. In the end, it is a film about fathers and father figures, whether Jodorowsky’s own, or Chilean dictator Carlos Ibáñez del Campo, both of whom played a part in the young Jodorowsky’s flight to France to pursue his dream of becoming a poet and, above all else, to be free.
During a recent tour of the United States to promote the release of Endless Poetry, Jodorowsky felt some of the unfortunate side effects of age, rescheduling our conversation twice in order to rest up for yet another evening of introducing his new film to an eager audience. But once he gets going, the years disappear, his voice rises, his eyes widen, and it becomes clear that Alejandro Jodorowsky is far from finished examining this collective dream that some call real life.
GREGG LAGAMBINA: There is a scene in Endless Poetry that is reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz. The poets Alejandro (Adan Jodorowsky) and Enrique (Leandro Taub) link arms and decide to set out on their path, announcing: “We’re poets. We don’t have to do anything!” They proceed in a straight line, walking through anything that attempts to obstruct their path, including buildings. It is also reminiscent of your first film, Fando y Lis (1968), when Lis laments her paralysis and Fando says that she doesn’t have to worry, that he can take her anywhere she wants to go, and they, too, set out on their own path. In some sense, this also reflects your career, but the straight line you’ve carved out as an artist has turned into a circle with Endless Poetry.
ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY: When you make your art, you don’t know what you are doing, really. It is coming like a dream. You can use the intellect like a guide, but the film is about feelings. Maybe what you say is real, because every person feels differently when they see the [film]. But, I like what you are feeling! For me, I really like that idea.
Some people might see Endless Poetry and want to ask you, “What is poetry?” But I would rather ask, “What is autobiography?”
The film is certainly autobiographical. Everything you see in this picture is true. But not in life. It’s a true tale in the artistic realm. I start with reality. Every scene was, in a way, more real than it was in life. It was [filmed on] the same street where I lived [in Chile]. I went to the same store where my father worked. I went to all of the same places where I lived [growing up]. Everything in that world is like my life, but also not. It is like a painting. Take Rembrandt or Van Gogh and say, “Paint the street.” He will paint the street, the real street. But every painting will be different because of their particular style. So, I paint with my own style, but everything is true. In this film, my father is played by my oldest son. And my son is played by my youngest son, and he is like me. It is real! You see? It’s family. It is a real family. For an artistic picture, I make it like a poet. For myself, that is everything. For the costumes, the set — everything is going through the mind of the artist.
In the film, you appear behind your own son and tell him, “I am the man you will be. You are the man I was […] You will learn to die in happiness. You are not guilty for living as you do. You’d be guilty if you lived as others want you to live.” To me, the film contends with how fathers, or father figures, attempt to define our lives for us without realizing they are denying us the freedom to do so ourselves.
Yes, happiness is to be what you are and not what the other wants you to be. The error of parents is they want a child, but they don’t see the child. They see themselves. They decide for the child whatever they want them to do. The schools do that also. Society also does that. History does that. We are not free. Inside, we need to be free. Industrial movies are like that. You are an artist and the producers will say, “I don’t know. The picture is too crazy. People will not like it.” And if you do what they say, you are not free. An artist searches for freedom. Now, I just deal with it myself. It took me years to learn that. It did not come to me in one day. It was a painful experience. I needed to learn how to be free.
Endless Poetry allows you to visually express that freedom. It also allows you to go back into your life to say goodbye to your father again, maybe in a different way than it happened in real life. But this film is also your life, so maybe it counts just as much.
Yes! When I say [to my father in the film] “I want to be a poet,” I am saying I want to be free. That was really my life. I did that. I finished with my father and my mother. I never [saw] them again. I regret that. It was too painful. And I came to Paris, and I started a new life, and I [got] free.
Money was an obstacle you overcame to make this movie, by calling on your fans to help finance its completion. But money is also central in the film, especially when young Alejandro is asked to help count and clean the bills his father brings home, and later on when he breaks into his parent’s house to steal from his father’s cash box.
What I am doing with this picture is getting free of the movie industry. I don’t want the other to put up the money. Money is not the goal of my pictures. I’m very surprised you are making me do an interview, because I am thinking, “Nobody wants to see that!” But I will do it anyway. [Laughs.] I will do it to promote the picture!
Listen, I was not making pictures for 22 years because I was economizing to [be able to] do the picture with freedom. I was waiting in suffering for 22 years, but I did it. I did what I wanted.
Tell me about your fascination with butterflies. They come up in this film and in many places throughout your work.
I will tell you that the butterfly is a worm. Then, they close into themselves and [are] reborn beautiful. That is why I [tried] to become a poet. Poetry is buried inside of yourself, in order for you to be reborn in a better way. They say life is an illusion, you know? To that, I say, “If life is an illusion, I want to live in the most beautiful illusion!” And that, I think, is the freedom of poetry — to live in my illusion, not a dictator’s, or a person who takes your freedom, but to live in a beautiful illusion.
In the film, there is joy, but there is some sadness too. At one point, Alejandro weeps and calls it a “harmless fit of sadness.” We’ve talked about poetry, freedom, and happiness. What makes you sad?
Listen. One day I will die. I am not immortal. That is terrible for me. Not only will I die — all of my friends, my city, even the planet. One day, it will die. Everything will finish. When I went to Paris [as a young man] to live this beautiful illusion, it was clear: the life, the world, it is not illusion. So, I tried to fight to live inside the illusion and it was very, very difficult. But I did it because I wanted the impossible. I said to myself, “I will try the impossible. Maybe I will have nothing, but I will have passion and I will try to do what I want to do.” I was fighting not to lose myself. I was fighting not to sell myself. Not to lose my illusion.
I am a living human being. The human being is the most beautiful creation of the cosmos, of the universe. The universe — to make you and me and the others — it’s not 400, not 4,000, it is millions of years! You are a masterwork! So, why not try to live in another way? Why not change your way of thinking? We all need to change our way. We need to change the political. We need to change the wars. We need to change the business. We need to change the family. We need to change a lot of things! We are human beings, and we can have a mutation. One day we will do it. I am sure of it.
There are people in Endless Poetry who commit suicide and get drunk. Is drunkenness or suicide, in some way, a path to freedom? The drunks in the film appear to be sleeping. Maybe they are dreaming of something better too.
When I was searching for poetry in Chile, at that time, I was 19 to 23 [years old]. I was very young. At that time, drugs were not in fashion. No marijuana, no cocaine. Only the bandits take the cocaine, not the artists. But the wine was very chic! It was more chic than milk! [Laughs.] All of Chile was drunk from six o’clock. The country was completely drunk, because of World War II. Chile was so far away, they were selling copper and powder for the guns. It was big business, so in the evening all the people were drunk. There was always a party. Every day someone was saying, “Where is the party? Where is the party?” There was a sexual revolution.
What is the greatest difference between your 88-year-old self and your eight-year-old self?
That is a beautiful question. In some ways, I am still a little boy of eight years. In another part of my brain, I have 1,000 years. The soul when you are born is always the same. She was the soul before you were born, and she will continue to be when you die. That does not change. You have the same age. The work, in our life, is to live all our years at once. I am a child. I am an adolescent. I am a man of 40 years, or 80 years. At 88, I am starting! I swear I am starting! For me, it is an easy age. When you feel old, you get old. That’s why I don’t get old. Next, I will prepare three pictures. I may not have 100 pictures when I have 100 years, but I will do it, if I don’t die.
I hope so.
You hope? I hope for you also! [Laughs.] At 88 years old, I tell you, life is fantastic. Every morning, I say, “Oh, what happiness! I am still alive. What happiness!”
Image courtesy of ABKCO Films.