Whenever the manifold personal qualities of the extraordinary Alejandro Jodorowsky are discussed, modesty and humility are conspicuous by their absence. True to form, El Jodo opens this documentary presentation of Psychomagic (the therapeutic method he has evolved through his life and films) by comparing / contrasting himself to / with Sigmund Freud. Whereas Psychoanalysis is a talking cure that bans touching, he tell us, Psychomagic is an active cure to which physical contact is fundamental. No doubt Jodorowsky is a sufficiently cultured man to realise that he is here revisiting the schism that eventually sundered Freud from one of his longest serving, ablest and most fondly regarded lieutenants, Sandor Ferenczi (1873-1933).
Reasoning that at some level, all of his patients were (or perceived themselves to be) insufficiently loved, Ferenczi began to believe that their analyses could be more readily expedited with the judicious application of kisses, hugs and caresses. Horrified by the implications of this for Transference (the process by which the client reveals important clues about their relationships with significant others by visiting them upon the blank canvas of the emotionally remote analyst), not to mention the potential ethical pitfalls (nobody was worrying about Coronavirus in those days), Freud cried foul. No doubt his prosthetic jaw would have dropped and his ubiquitous cigar fallen to the floor if he had lived to see where Jodorowsky has taken Ferenczi’s heresy.
As well as one-on-one and group massage sessions (in such case studies as those entitled “Brothers Competing For Mother’s Love” and “A Man Abused By His Father, On The Verge Of Suicide”), AJ’s prescriptions include theatrical (and often public) ritual. The abused guy on the verge of suicide, for example, is buried alive (with provision made for him to breathe) while vultures pull apart carcasses laid on his grave. Dug up and “reborn”, he attaches a picture of the abusing parent to a balloon and lets it float away.
“An Australian In Paris, Angry Against His Family” is seen smashing pumpkins (hey, that would be a good name for a band, right?) on the streets of France’s capital while screaming: “Why won’t you listen to me?”, then mails the pieces to his unsupportive family in Oz. “A Mexican Woman Whose Fiancé Committed Suicide On The Eve Of Their Wedding” (by jumping out of their window in her presence) goes through a funeral ceremony for her wedding dress then jumps out of a plane (El Jodo generously allows her the use of a parachute). “A 47 Year Old Man Who Wants To Stop Stuttering” feels like a child so AJ lets him loose in a Disney-style kids’ park wearing a sailor suit and silly hat (a concerned mother hustles her daughter away from him). Then Jod takes him to a church and squeezes his bollocks, telling him: “In this Holy place I will pass Manly energy on to you… because I am The Father Archetype!”
As if all this wasn’t enough, the guy is then painted gold and sent to walk down the street in his skivvies… and yes, he finally stops stuttering. “An 88 Year Old Woman In Deep Depression” probably isn’t up to some of the energetic and bold stuff described above but does seem to benefit from pouring water on the roots of a massive tree every day. In “Coming Out Of The Closet” an actual closet is burned during a gay wedding ceremony and during “The Walk Of The Dead In Mexico City, 2011”, participants chant “Psychomagic against violence!” to protest casualties of the country’s drug wars. In the section “Birth Massage”, a young woman frightened of bearing children is given therapeutic massages by a pair of Psychomagic practitioners and is later shown proudly displaying a beautiful baby bump. “A Couple In Crisis” decide to separate, but on amicable rather than antagonistic terms.
All of the episodes are illustrated with apposite clips from Jodorowsky’s films and intercut with his sage pronouncements, delivered in front of a corny “psychedelic” background. Their titles are presumably intended to evoke such classic Freud case studies as “The Wolf Man” and “The Rat Man”, though “Is Menstruation A Problem?” (in which El Jodo advises a cellist to daub her instrument with period blood) is more reminiscent, at least to this viewer, of the cod Krafft-Ebing in Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex * But Were Afraid To Ask (1972).
Jodorowsky claims that the shortcomings of classical psychoanalysis “obliged” him to create Psychomagic, a name that (given his cooky reputation) offers hostages to wise cracking fortune. He cites the Tarot, rather than any conventional therapeutic discipline, as the foundation of his method, which blends a frisson of Ferencszi, a jolt of Janov and perhaps a soupcon of snake oil. El Jodo is a charismatic individual and although we see apprenticed Psychomagic practitioners applying his ideas at various points in this film, one wonder how the discipline will fare when he’s gone. Innumerable studies have proven that those in therapy benefit from human company and attention, also (yes, Sandor) from tactile comfort. Jodorowsky has always been an expert manipulator of emotion (a manifestly cool and together lady who accompanied me to The Scala to watch Santa Sangre was reduced to tears during the scene of the elephant’s death) and some of the case studies here are genuinely moving, though I can’t entirely dismiss the suspicion that some of the patients just might be shills. Then I think I’m just being an insensitive heel…
The thing that troubled me most about Psychomagic, A Healing Art, was the section in which AJ’s helping a cancer sufferer come to terms with her illness and prognosis… fair enough, but entitling this episode “Can Cancer Be Cured?”, in an age of rising quackery (tied in with conspiracy theories, the “post truth” media landscape, Gwyneth Paltrow’s vaginal candles, et al ) seems, to me anyway, to be a seriously questionable move.
Health warning. Embrace Psychomagic. With caution.