Alejandro Jodorowsky Wants You To Keep Nuclear Bombs Away From Donald Trump

And Make A Paradise Of This Earth
  • Theatrical
  • Drama
Director Alejandro Jodorowsky giving advice to his younger self (Jeremias Herskovits) in Endless Poetry.
Director Alejandro Jodorowsky giving advice to his younger self (Jeremias Herskovits) in Endless Poetry. ABKCO Films

Alejandro Jodorowsky transforms global problems into personal imperatives. At one point during our interview, he held me personally responsible for keeping Donald Trump from using an atomic bomb. It’s at once disconcerting and heartening to imagine or aspire to that level of responsibility for the world. But for Jodorowsky — not only a poet, filmmaker, novelist, tarot reader, musician, comic book writer, but something else too, entirely of his own invention: a psychomagician — the individual and the world share unities beyond the social systems and artificial groupings we empower to disempower ourselves. “Why not you?” he would say. I wouldn't have an answer. Why not me? Why not you?

In this is Jodorowsky’s most powerful artistic assertion. By describing the personal and the universal’s power over each other, Jodorowsky’s art enacts an endless discovery of the holy within the profane. In his gory acid western El Topo, a gunfighter roves across the desert in search of enlightenment. In 1973’s The Holy Mountain, a traveler is taught how to convert himself into gold by The Alchemist (played by Jodorowsky himself, of course) through a combination of intensive meditation, glass chambers, strange devices, sweat and a pile of human shit. At the end the traveler is left with a lump of gold, but has found himself beyond a need for it.

Even with a 23-year gap in his filmography, broken by 2013’s The Dance of Reality, Jodorowsky’s energetic output continued with comics like The Incal, psychomagic manuals and novels like the recently translated Where the Bird Sings Best, which has garnered favorable comparisons to Gabriel Garcia Marquez (though Jodorowsky insists he’s more ecstatic reality than magical realism). He was introduced (or reintroduced) to thousands in the United States as the visionary eccentric at the center of the 2013 documentary, Jodorowsky’s Dune, describing the Chilean filmmaker’s desire “to make something sacred … to change the young minds of all the world.”

In Endless Poetry, Jodorowsky’s latest, the second in a planned five-movie memoir, art and poetry become the material of reality. Young Alejandro (played by Jodorowsky’s son, Adan Jodorowsky) runs away from home and the plans of his father, who hawks fabric with Nazi uniform marketing gimmicks and counts his profits with rubber gloves. Instead of that gray life, Alejandro pursues a foul-mouthed muse, dances in the streets, pioneers walking poetically and joins the circus. Life, even its miserable moments, is lived poetically, with joy and invention.

At 88, Jodorowsky continues to talk with the same vivacity and hope for humanity’s future. We began at the end of Endless Poetry, when young Alejandro is about to leave for Paris to join the Surrealists. He’s found the power to love his father, but his exit is marred by a jarring moment of discord.

The beauty of art is contrasted with a fascist march in Endless Poetry.
The beauty of art is contrasted with a fascist march in Endless Poetry. ABKCO Films

By the end Alejandro is this artist who's grown enough to reconcile with his father, but finds himself powerless to halt a fascist march through Santiago. What do you think art can do in the face of fascism and oppression?

Nothing. Nothing. You can share reality in an artistical way, but movies are not an arm. In order to destroy the dictator, what can you do? With art, you cannot do it. You can start to do it. Start to do it by starting to heal the person. To take the limits of his mind, because the dictator came — because the people wanted, the limited mind wanted — so you need to start taking out the limits of the mind in order for the whole humanity to work together. But when there is not collaboration in the mind, you cannot fight against them. Because when you start to fight in that way in the arts, they will close the picture. Or theater. Take France. The movie industry made a lot of pictures there, but respecting Hitler. It was not possible to fight.

This is not our goal: the political pictures. Why? Because you make a communist picture, for example, the persons who are against communism will not go. And the communists will not go because they know the message. It's not important. When you want to make a picture of a good director, not an industrial picture, do you have the theaters to do that? They don't distribute you. But you touch a social problem, you have an opportunity, because the rich person, who feels guilty, will go to see the picture. But nothing will happen. They walk. This is not useful. This is opportunismo: to use the misery of people to make picture. It's better to go on to be a doctor or give money or to do another thing.

If the goal of art is more about people and expanding people’s limitations, is there a big illusion art must work to dispel? Or is it about growth?

No, no, no. What I am doing, myself, I work into myself. How do you work in art? The painter: when a big painter shows to you the beautifulness of the form, of the colors, and show to you what you have — you learn, you have an emotion. A poet shows to you "what is the interior of a human being?" The art, the artist, is discovering your self values. The sublime feelings. Because he has a developed sensibility. And he shows to the people and you learn what you have.

The real art shows the person what is beautiful, what is true, what is kindness. And then we learn something that makes our mind, our heart, our sex, our body develop through the beautifulness. Art is beauty; is the search of beauty. But what is beauty? Beauty is not the girl of Playboy. That is not beautifulness. Beauty is having morals — an ethical thing, aesthetical, philosophical meaning. Beauty is everything that makes alive the planet, that develops the human being. That is art, no? To find yourself. To be what you are, not what the other wants you to be or the system wants you to be.

I've heard you express another half to that. Art is partially a search for beauty and meaning, but also a quest for immortality?

Oh sí, sí, yes, yes. But it is not immortality. You need to change immortality to the search for long life. That is the search. Immortality is no good. Because that's the end of something. When something's immortal, it's the end. Immortality, who knows? Immortality: a million, a million, a million years. You get bored! It's not possible. But long life: yes. Now, in this life I would be happy to reach my expectation: 150 years is not bad. That, maybe that will not happen. But 100 years is very near me. It's possible. 100 years is possible. 120? I know two or three people who lived to 120, a master kabbalist and alchemist lived to 120. That is possible also, but very difficult ... and it does happen. It is possible. And why not you? My father lived to 100 years. It is possible. My poet master, Nicanor Perra, is actually going to 103 years. He's alive and thinking very well. Long life, this would be good. But a good long life, in a society and a planet that's a paradise. That: yes! That is possible.

You've become an icon in yourself, but in Endless Poetry there's as much about the community of artists. Do you feel like people focus too much on individuals and not enough on community? Is that part of what your movie is saying?

This is the error of civilization: that we are individuals. But in reality we need to go from the "I am" to "we are" — to the community. Because we are a community, we are not individuals. It doesn't exist. Even our body is made of a community of cells, with every cell working for you, no? It's a community. What I give, I give to me. If I don't give, I've lost myself. That is the way to think. I am not here to fight, I am here to collaborate. It's different.

And there are no countries, there's a planet. We have no nationality, no one. It is a dream. The United States is the world, the complete world. As is China. We are of the planet, for the moment. In the future we will go to live on other planets.

So are you optimistic about the future of mankind?

I need to be optimistical. Why be pessimists? We need to be optimists. It's a crime against humanity to be pessimists. Why did the universe put 400,000 years to make our body, millions of years to make you? Millions of years, the universe is working to make you. An animal, that's you, with consciousness of what he's doing, looking at yourself all the time with the consciousness. A cat is not that. The cat is doing things, but you are one and seeing yourself. You're a conscious and an unconscious. And there's millions and millions of years of the universe to make the humanity. Why be pessimists?

Well, you've named before industry and money as these oppressive powers arrayed against us...

This is a mistake. We must change the way to think. Because we are thinking with old Greek, Aristotelian logic that's not good anymore today. We need to change it. We will change the way to think. Then we will have no problem.

We need to change the money. This money, it's an illusion, it's not real. Before money was gold, before that something, but now it's an abstraction. They fabricate money. This paper is nothing. We need to change that. Everything will change. The industries now, they are dangerous because they have no soul. Yet they make changes that can be terrible. We will rearrange the world, yes. We need to do it. If we don't do it, we'll die.

In your country you have a crazy person directing the country, with an atomic bomb in the pocket. That's what you have. It's a danger for the whole world. A person who does not control himself, with an atomic bomb in his pocket, that's the situation now. He could not do it, I pray. It would be fantastic. But if he do it, what would happen, my god! And the other big boy, he's directing North Korea, he will try to have two atomic bombs in the pocket. And then China, who have a million… this is a very dangerous moment.

Pessimism is so tempting in the face of that.

I think, I say to myself, it's a good moment. Because of the danger for humanity, we can change. The moment is coming, the crisis is coming. The big countries, from one side they are “defending their security,” but the other side: the factories are for wars and because they are making the arms, they need to sell the arms. So they can start wars to sell the arms and then this person who buys the arms attack us. It's ridiculous that it's like that. Anyone can have an arm now. Any person. It's dangerous. It's a dangerous moment. But we need to commit to life and pray that the crazy boy who has an atomic bomb in the pocket, doesn't do it. Because he cannot change. A person like this doesn't change. He is capricious. Maybe we will find the way to calm him. Who will do that? I don't know. You. You will do it.

Yeah, maybe.

What do you mean? You need to do it.

The Holy Mountain ends with pushing away illusions "zoom back camera!" and walking outside of the movie, but Endless Poetry is highly theatrical, with life portrayed as a play and a stage. It's about embracing illusion. Are those two ideas in harmony or in conflict? What's the difference there?

I make Holy Mountain years ago. It's still alive, because it was so new and so different. Holy Mountain, it played for 30 years. I needed to remaster that, but then you start to live, after 30 years. And it was my vision of the movies, no? The movies for me was Hollywood movies, industrial movies, it was not reality. We need to go to reality.

Alejandro Jodorowsky as The Alchemist in The Holy Mountain.
Alejandro Jodorowsky as The Alchemist in The Holy Mountain. ABKCO Films

And I went to reality. And for 22 years I became some sort of psychoanalyst and I make therapy: tarot, psychomagic. I went to reality. And every Wednesday I went to coffee and read the tarot, free, to any person who wanted. I did it. I put in practice what I say, no? But after that I realized, when I wanted to make a picture or an art, now I need to discover: what is the goal of art? Because my picture, Holy Mountain, is still alive, but I want something different from what industrial films are.

I want an art movie — but not superficial art — an art movie that can change the life of a person who's seen it. I'll make a picture that can heal me, heal my child, my sons, heal the actor, heal the public! It's a healing art, therapeutic art I am making. That's what I'm making. And that I want to do, to show to the person how you get free of this problem. How? You can realize what you are and stop being what the other person wants you to be. To be free. To learn to live without doubt. To live free! To realize your life as you want! And when you are free, you are not a bad person. Human beings are not a bad animal, it's not true. A bad animal is an animal that cannot be itself. That is a bad animal. If we are doing what we are, we could become a real paradise.

Do you attach your work to a political ideology, or is that a distraction to you?

For me, politics now are dead. This is why Trump is in power. In France they are changing: the socialist party is finished. Spain, Europe, South America ... politics are not useful now. Because there's always a Right and Left. That is a monstrosity. We need another kind. We must not advance fighting, one to the other. We need to advance singing the collective idea we need. No politics. No religion. You can be mystic and find god inside you. But religion is terrible because fanatics go to war. Business goes to war. Destroying the planet, that's not good, we need to connote that a crime against humanity. The pope, we need to say, "you need to be judged because of crime against humanity." A saint who is made only by money, is evil is evil is evil... evilness.

I think a lot of people who agree with you would say "I'm a socialist, I'm an anarchist," but these labels are a mistake too?

Yes. We are not party. We are humanity. We need to work as humanity. Please, have your ideas, but don't kill the planet. To see a person living in the street is not normal. To make associations, to spread rumors, to follow religions where priests separate man and woman, that's not normal. Racism, it's not good. Homophobia, it's not good. Step by step we've gone, very slow, but we need to go quickly, because these times are dangerous. We cannot wait too much. It could be an enormous catastrophe. You and me, we could die in an atomic explosion. We have the atomic bomb in the pocket of a fool. What? Why? This is funny.

Is it? It's a pretty dark joke.

Yes, it's a dark joke. It's funny. It's impossible. It's funny.

Thank you for talking to me, this was really great. I love the new movie.

[Laughing] The movie is not important. It’s not what’s important. This is true of any picture. But this, it's a little picture, because I don't have the publicity.

So how do you get the massive transformation, if that’s the case?

Step by step. With every person I speak, I speak deep things. I've stopped non-useful conversation. I've stopped. Myself, once a week I go to a coffee and for free I read the tarot. I do it and heal people. I say, you want to come to illumination? To love yourself? Give something to others free. You have something to teach. I don't know. Yes, you have something. What? You speak English, right? Yes. Teach English to someone who has not perfect English. You have always something to teach. You start to teach something. Make a group where you are teaching something. That is a beginning: generosity.

Endless Poetry
Alejandro Jodorowsky Is Crying Out To You With Endless Poetry
Endless Poetry, the second of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s filmic memoirs, is as vibrant as any movie the director has made, following the growth of a young artist as he discovers the meaning of life.
  • Astounding imagery and imagination
  • An incredible performance by Adan Jodorowsky
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