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PLOT: Surrealist director-cum-therapist Alejandro Jodorowsky describes his own variant of psychotherapy, which involves patients undergoing rituals such as smashing pumpkins with family member’s faces on them or recreating their own births.
COMMENTS: Psychomagic, A Healing Art raises three questions: 1. Is “psychomagic” a revolutionary (or even a valid) form of psychotherapy? 2. Does Psychomagic tell us something about ‘s personal and artistic philosophy? And, 3. Is it worth watching?
Most people will answer the first question “probably not.” Jodorowsky takes us through just over a dozen hand-selected case studies, all apparent successes, but with no long term followups. One subject, a man who seems to be cured of his stuttering, looks like an impressive triumph—but for all we know the man is stumbling over his words again as I type this. It goes without saying that Jodorowsky’s theories haven’t been tested or peer reviewed. But Jodorowsky specifically and deliberately characterizes psychomagic is a healing art, not a healing science—and it may be closer to faith healing than to either. There’s no doubt that, among people who are already motivated to fix their emotional problems (and who don’t mind looking ridiculous), a shamanistic ritual—especially a needlessly elaborate one recommended by a trusted guru—is a promising way to invoke the placebo effect. As a discipline, though, psychomagic’s efficacy is especially limited by the fact that the school has a single practitioner, one who relies on his personal charisma more than any other tool. Only those who are already true Jodoworskians will buy that psychomagic is the therapeutic breakthrough the director wants us to believe in.
You’ll be more likely to answer the question of whether Psychomagic reveals something significant about Jodorowsky in the affirmative. In the final stage of his career, the renaissance that began with 2013’sThe Dance of Reality, Jodorowsky’s work has turned from the explicitly mystical to the explicitly autobiographical. In Psychomagic, he illustrates each case study with a similar clip or two from his own movies. When he asks a man to fasten a photograph of his father to a helium balloon and send it to the heavens, he shows a similar balloon scene from Endless Poetry; he recycles an idea from Tusk and re-purposes it as couple’s therapy. Jodorowsky has been frank about his strained relationship with his distant, macho father, revelations which may start to color the way you look at the father-son relationship in El Topo. You may be led to ponder: have the elaborately staged, ritualistic scenes in Jodorowsky’s early movies been a form of self-therapy all along? Is his whole corpus psychomagic?
And for the final question: even though there doesn’t seem to be too much to psychomagic, is the film worth watching? For deep Jodorowsky fans, the answer is obvious (and moot). For more casual followers, it’s iffy: I’d prioritize the narrative films (skipping Tusk) first, then tackle this as a supplement if you’re fascinated by the man behind those extravagantly esoteric movies. The scenes we see in Pyschomagic often resemble sequences from a Jodorowsky movie enacted by amateurs on a low budget. For example, our stutterer dresses up like Donald Duck and rides the teacups at Euro Disney, then lets Alejandro grab his testicles to transfer manly energy, then is painted gold and sent out into the streets to recite poetry. Some of the patients’ confessions are so painfully raw (a woman whose fiance committed suicide, an octogenarian in deep depression) that they feel unpleasantly voyeuristic, and there’s also some menstrual self-portraiture to be wary of. But it wouldn’t be much of a Jodorowsky movie if there weren’t moments that made you want to look away, would it?
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Thankfully, Jodo’s latest is also way too weird to be hagiographic. It’s indulgent, absurd, frustrating, and more than a little gross. It’s also idiosyncratic and funny enough, and in ways that Jodo’s fans will probably love.”–Simon Abrams, RogerEbert.com (contemporaneous)