Psychomagic, A Healing Art


They touched me and it felt like a fist.

(2019) Documentary (ABCKO) Alejandro Jodorowsky. Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky

 

For anybody who has been wondering what visionary director Alejandro Jodorowsky has been up to, well, this is it. For everybody else, you might want to skip on ahead.

Jodorowsky, for the uninitiated, is the Mexican surrealist director who is most famous for his signature film El Topo as well as films such as Santa Sangre, The Rainbow Thief and Tusk. His films are full of surreal imagery, and are sometimes difficult to interpret. Since the 1970s, he has been working with this form of therapy, which he explains at the beginning of the film thusly: “Psychotherapy is based on science, was created by Sigmund Freud, a doctor. Psychomagic, which was created by Alejandro Jodorowsky, a film and theater director, is based on art.”

We then get nearly two hours of case studies, interspersed with snippets from Jodorowsky’s 15-film catalogue. The therapy sessions, often presided over by Jodorowsky himself (who was pushing 90 at the time of filming and is 91 now), are a combination of sensual massage, symbolic ritual, primal scream therapy and performance art with a heavy emphasis on the latter.

Some of the “treatments” make logical sense; a man with familial issues prints out pictures of his family, tapes them to pumpkins and smashes them with a sledge hammer. A French couple, having communication problems, are chained together and forced to walk the streets of Paris without looking at each other. A woman, whose mother expressed that having her was a mistake and is now unsure if she herself is fit to be a mother, undergoes a simulated birth.

But some make no logical sense at all, like a stutterer forced to wear body paint and walk around muttering to himself, or a man with anxiety getting milk poured over his head. Many of the patients are required to take their clothes off which feels a bit unsavory and more so when you realize that Jodorowsky once claimed that he raped an actress for real on camera during the filming of El Topo. He later recanted, claiming that he said it just to drum up publicity for his film, but even if that were true (and I hope that it is because actually raping a woman for a film is beyond screwed up), using rape as a publicity tool is deplorable. So the whole thing takes on an extra added dosage of creepy which it didn’t need.

And to be honest, watching this go on for two hours becomes mind-numbing. I’m no therapist, but the lack of scientific grounding is troubling. Messing about with people’s minds and emotions is no joke. The brain can do wonderous things when it is properly moved to, and I can’t help feeling that for all the New Age yammering that Jodorowsky does here that he can do way more harm than good potentially and that those who have emotional or mental issues are better served seeing a true expert and not a filmmaker for help.

REASONS TO SEE: There are some interesting concepts here.
REASONS TO AVOID: Feels much more like a self-help infomercial than anything else. Way too long.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a whole lot of nudity and some adult thematic elements.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jodorowsky has published 23 books (so far) on the subject of pyshcomagic..
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Alamo On-Demand
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/6/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 75% positive reviews, Metacritic: 56/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Glass Castle
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT:
Day 13