Review: Endless Poetry at VIFF

Still from Jodorowsky's Endless Poetry

Still from Jodorowsky's Endless Poetry

It’s a testament to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s myth that, in order to see anything about his new movie released this month, you have to get your key words right. Google “Jodorowsky” and you’ll have to scan to about the third page 3 to see anything about it, and even these headlines, like the intervening pages, are more interested in Jodorowsky the myth than Jodorowsky the movie-maker. Here you’ll learn that Jodorowsky is a psycho-shaman, tarot guru, and comic book artist who’s had his fair share of encounters with media legends: he’s read Kanye West’s tarot, conducted Marilyn Manson’s marriage, received a million dollars from John Lennon, all in the name of self-realization and spiritual expansion. He met Pink Floyd, Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, Mick Jagger. Some would say they met him.

In all of this, it’s easy to forget that Jodorowsky makes movies at all. He might be the only director—the career that’s meant to put you behind the camera—more famous than his movies. Which is sad, because it’s Jodorowsky the director, I think, that I’ve been interested in, or wanted to be interested in; the one who criticizes money’s role in art and is ambitious enough to think that he can “change the minds of all the young people in the world” with a 15 hour space opera (is anyone else bold enough to think and claim their art has political merit anymore?). With this in mind, I went to Endless Poetry to see what Jodorowsky can do with film, but I also went to see why and whether it’s fair that Jodorowsky is more famous than his movies are, and what that might mean. I left conflicted.

Endless Poetry really starts already a few minutes into the movie, around a gambling table. Young Jodorowsky (the movie is loosely autobiographical) stands by his father while cards are dealt out to the adults—a group of carnivalesque characters out of a Lynchian dream sequence. So what is the boy going to be, the adults want to know? I’m going to be a poet, Jodorowsky says. No, his father grabs him by the cuff, you’re going to be a doctor. No, Jodorowsky thinks, I am going to be a poet. As evidence for his claim, Young Jodorowsky’s first poetic act is to walk out the door and axe down their family tree. So starts his (mis)adventures.

The rest of the movie tracks Young Jodorowsky coming of age as a twenty-something poet-rebel in 1940s Santiago. This premise could have lost me—everyone 20+ has seen enough bildungsromans to know the genre’s lessons, that “life is complicated,” “that relationships are complicated,” “that sometime’s the best way to find yourself is to stop looking”—but Endless Poetry is hallucinatory enough to make them feel new and unfamiliar. So Young Jodorowsky’s first girl friend (a cliche of the genre) is a burlesque punk poetess (decidedly not a familiar cliche of the genre) who holds his groin in her hand when they walk around the city, or anywhere. His first house—another cliche of the genre—is reimagined as a plaza for parties with strange communal rituals, which in one case leads to a handless man’s wife consensually groped on stage. Things get weirder; Young Jodorowsky cheats on a friend with his menstruating girl friend, he throws veiny red meet and eggs at an audience, he sells puppets. Halfway into the movie, you can perceive it’s still the same meat-and-egg throwing Jodorowsky behind the camera. He wants you to feel uncomfortable, offended, and lively.

But the movie’s got its problems. And two hours into the movie these problems become harder and harder to overlook. Like why are the character’s emoting like they’re performing in a theatre? Why is every frame competing to be the most explosive, perfervid frame of the movie? Why is Young Jodorowsky’s poetry so immature and treacle (and endless), and why does everyone respond to his bad poetry like he’s an undiscovered prodigy? The answers seem to be nested in good intensions—Jodorowsky wants everything and more out of this film. More action, more drama, more colours, more emotion, more enlightenment, more more. It’s a stew with everything in it. Bacon and peanut butter and tomato sauce and apples and fish. It just doesn’t work. 

It’s a hard thing to dislike Endless Poetry—you hate yourself for having to. It feels like finding yourself stuck in a plane next to someone who’s very excited about their own life, and wants you to be excited about it too, but only knows how to yell. You want to be excited for them, but, well, your ears hurt. Can’t they be just a bit quieter?