Alejandro Jodorowsky’s latest, Endless Poetry, is the sequel to his similarly autobiographical 2013 film, The Dance of Reality. While this is, by Jodorowsky standards, a fairly straightforward movie, fans of the director’s more outrageous work shouldn’t worry. There’s little (if any) adherence to biopic conventions and still plenty of weirdness and beautiful, surreal imagery from end to end.
I’m not sure how accurate the specific details of Jodorowsky’s life on display here are intended to be. For example, was his father’s shop really called “El Combate” and did it really employ a diminutive pitchman dressed as Hitler who shouted “El Combate wages war on high prices!” at the passerby? Did his father really viciously beat suspected shoplifters?
Audiences are likely to be too enthralled by the visuals to worry about whether or not any of the specifics matter. Even though Endless Poetry never tries to scale the psychedelic mountaintops of Jodorowsky’s early work, every shot is vivid and colorful in a specific way that may remind some viewers of the moments right before the chemicals kick in, as a different perception begins to peek around the corners of your mind. But fans hoping for the full-blown consciousness expanding madness of Jodorowsky’s early work like El Topo or The Holy Mountain or the psychedelic shamanism on display in the Jodorowsky’s Dune documentary should adjust their expectations.
Endless Poetry is instead the relatively simple story of Jodorowsky as a young man, discovering his artistic talents and trying to find a place for himself in the world beyond Tocopilla, Chile, where he grew up. The movie begins with Jeremias Herskovitz reprising his role as young Alejandro Jodorowsky from The Dance of Reality. Brontis Jodorowsky (who made his screen debut in El Topo and was his father’s choice to play Paul Atreides in the director’s famed, ill-fated adaptation of Dune) returns as the stern, difficult patriarch of the family. Pamela Flores returns as the mother, who operatically sings all of her dialogue. But this time around, Flores also appears as Alejandro’s first lover, the Chilean poet Stella Diaz Varin, who delivers lines like “Stop you apes! Bow before the vengeful vagina!” while engaging in bar fights.
Adan Jodorowsky plays Alejandro as a young man (with Alejandro himself appearing from time to time as a spiritual narrator) and he gets the bulk of the screen time. Adan is a remarkable presence, and at times his line delivery is uncannily similar to the often hypnotic tones of his father. We don’t meet Adan-as-Alejandro until young Jeremias-as-Alejandro has decided once and for all that his father’s dreams (he expects his son to become a doctor) aren’t for him, and he leaves home to become a poet. From then on, it’s Adan’s film.
Endless Poetry is at its most engaging when Alejandro/Adan begins to fully embrace his artistic talents, and Adan’s performance becomes more confident as Alejandro finds his way in the world. At the start of the film’s third act, when he strikes up a friendship with a fellow poet, the mood, however briefly, lightens considerably, and Adan demonstrates a real knack for comedy in some warm, genuinely funny scenes.
The movie does overstay its welcome a bit, although I fully appreciate what complaining about the 128 minute running time of such a personal work in the era of the 150 minute blockbuster sounds like. It’s just that it switches gears so many times, from melodrama to comedy with plenty of absurdity, philosophy, sweeping artistic utterances, and, of course, no shortage of surrealism, that it can be a little exhausting. Nevertheless, it’s so beautifully shot, so utterly sincere, and carried along so effortlessly on the charisma of its lead that you can’t help but get caught up in its heightened reality. Despite the often bizarre imagery, Endless Poetry captures the nocturnal essence of being young, on your own for the first time, and surrounded by friends who inspire you to pursue your dreams in a way that few films do.