“I can’t live in a world of dressed up dogs! It makes me sick!”
Famous last words. A would-be assassin somehow ends up at a dog costume contest where his “kangaroo dog” wins worst costume. It gives him the opportunity to be on stage as his target…the tyrannical Chilean president…makes an appearance at the canine debacle. He pulls a gun on the man, gets wrestled to the ground by a competing would-be assassin and then turns the gun on himself when he realizes the absurdity of it all.
This is just one of many moments of hilarious lucidity amidst emotionally bombastic absurdity in Alejandro J0dorowsky’s carnivalesque nostalgic coming-of-age crackpot epic, The Dance of Reality. It’s one of my favorite moments – the others being the comically melodramatic demise of a beloved horse scene and the signing in the church full of freshly sanded chairs sequence – and these moments prove the old adage that you don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water, even if that bath water is filthy and the baby is deformed. Jodorowsky is in a bit of renaissance period as this first feature film in over twenty years comes on the heals of the documentary detailing his failed attempt at a Dune film back in the 1970’s. I’ve never seen a film of his all the way through before this (I’ve sampled bits of El Topo and have been too scared to taste Santa Sangre), though he’s the stuff of midnight movie legend and I’ve read plenty about him. I’ve always howled out loud at one of his more infamous quotes – “Most directors make films with their eyes. I make films with my balls.” Well, okay then. He proves that again here.
Clearly sampling from his own childhood growing up in Tocopilla, Chile, the near ancient Jodorowsky has turned his Oedipal issues and desire for his Communist father’s approval and warped it into a psychedelic freakscape with a paradoxical sweet undercurrent amidst reverent, uplifting music and bright colors. It’s a minor miracle that once you get through the weird circus-centric opening moments, the weirdness just is and the episodic narrative following the boy (as he struggles with his fears) and then later his father (on some kind of botched assassination turned vision quest to get back home) is shockingly coherent in the way “that really crazy dream I had last night” is.
He seems to be making some philosophical comment about the insanity of existence, and how one has to toggle between joy and tragedy with open-mindedness and laughter. There are scenes of pure shock here amidst the child’s play, but you can’t help but laugh. When the mother who communicates only through opera singing channels the lord through her urine to cure her husband of the plague, the gross-out factor is tempered by the absurdity of it all. Likewise, as twisted as it is for Jodorowsky to film his son (playing his father) tortured in graphic ways, it almost becomes comical (it’s filmed like a farce), and it’s forgiven as one of the film’s major themes is the father becoming the son and the son the father and we are all brothers and we are all the same.
The Dance of Reality is a film I can’t recommend to anyone…at least not casually. It’s truly bizarre while at the same time comfortingly banal and containing some truths about this crazy life. In the end, I couldn’t help but agree with the man who proclaimed his distaste for a world full of dressed up dogs. Jodorowksy was clearly having a good laugh…perhaps he is the dog. We are all dressed up dogs. Now shoot me.
Written by David H. Schleicher