The Illusion of Life

Reality and truth are questioned in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s latest film

After a 23-year hiatus, Alejandro Jodorowsky has made a comeback to film with Dance of Reality, a surrealist masterpiece acting as a poignant personal and spiritual memoir with a subtle touch of political satire.

Dance of Reality recounts both the story of Jodorowsky’s childhood as he makes his first steps into a hostile adult world and the story of his father’s struggle with political battles that become intertwined with a quest for personal redemption. His father is played by Jodorowsky’s son, Brontis.

The initial scenes of the film take place in the coastal Chilean town of Tocopilla, where the filmmaker was born and spent most of his childhood. It opens with picturesque shots of the Chilean desert, however the camera reveals great human suffering through the image of a horde of dying men contaminated by the plague.

In Dance of Reality, Jodorowsky perfectly masters the tension between intense pathos, lyrical metaphors and vivid aesthetics playing with the colours of Latin America.

In a distortion between dream and reality, the filmmaker blurs the horizon of possibilities, making this fiction a poetic dadaist painting. He explores a fantastic magical world populated by burlesque characters such as clowns, transvestites and amputees who sing and dance while professing aphorisms on desire, spirituality and money. Jodorowsky himself makes several appearances in the movie as a mystical, shamanistic presence who accompanies the little boy in his most difficult experiences.

As we first perceive Jaime, the father, to be a humiliating, cruel and chauvinistic tyrant towards his son, we discover other facets of the character: a communist revolutionary, a victim, and a martyr. In this sense, Dance of Reality does not fall into Manichean concepts of good versus evil. The characters are complex and human and Jaime learns forgiveness and compassion throughout his Odyssean journey.

Jodorowsky plays with political critique with a subtly comic irony. In the film, Chile is under the cruel fascist dictatorship of Carlos Ibañez del Campo while Jaime, on the other extreme of the political spectrum, is a fervent admirer of Stalin. Jodorowsky plays with the disturbing physical resemblance of the three characters with their hair combed back and thick mustaches. Jaime is just another tyrant like the two others, only his tyranny is on the domestic scale. He will learn to accept his connection and similarities to both tyrants to be able to free himself from the paralyzing anger that contaminates him.

In the role of his mother, the filmmaker cast a Chilean opera soprano, Pamela Flores, who sings all of her lines in an astonishing performance. He represents her character as a tender, spiritual being who can even master certain magical powers as she heals her husband from the plague, relieves her son from his fear of the dark, and teaches him invisibility in front of persecution.

This style of psycho-magical realism perfectly illustrates the underlying philosophy of the film that, as said by Jodorowsky himself, “reality is not objective but rather a ‘dance’ created by our own imaginations.”