Film Review: Psychomagic, A Healing Art

STUDIO: Alamo on Demand | DIRECTOR: Alejandro Jodorowsky
RELEASE DATE: Aug. 7, 2020
SPECS: NR | 104 min. | Documentary | 1.85:1 aspect ratio

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie 3Dishes.jpg (40×13)

Alejandro Jodorowsky is a bona fide cinematic visionary; he’s also a colorful, rather bizarre figure whose personal obsessions have him kept a very productive artist at the age of 91. This 2019 film is a record of his “alternative healing ceremonies,” which are part of a therapeutic belief system he calls “psychomagic.”

Psychomagic, A Healing Art is reportedly all nonfiction, but Jodorowsky shot it as if it were a series of short melodramas, each with its own cathartic conclusion. A series of people with troubles – martial, parental, disabilities, discomfort with menstruation – recount their problems and then take part in symbolic ceremonies that cleanse them of their problems.

The ceremonies harken back to the Sixties, as they resemble the then-popular forms of therapy that involved “acting out” alone or in a group; they also take on the appearance, at times, of the elemental and sometimes just plain odd experiments conducted by performance ensembles like the Living Theater.

One has no doubt that Jodorowsky firmly believes in this notion of symbolic performance as therapy; the participants all seem to have been emotionally “healed” by taking part in the rituals he designed for them. (And, adding to the Sixties vibe, it is a given that most of Jodorowsky’s “patients” have to shed all of their clothing, as clothing equals inhibition in his realm.)

Included here are events like a “birth massage,” in which a woman who doesn’t get along with her parents goes through a second birth; a man who has problems with his relatives beats gourds adorned with family members’ photos on them with a sledgehammer; and a woman who skydives to get over the suicide of her fiance, who jumped out of a window.

At times, one begins to wonder if some of the proceedings are faked, since the unyielding sincerity of some of the “sufferers” does becomes amusing. And Jodorowsky has some delightful, unintentionally funny moments.

At one point the filmmaker tells a man who stutters (because of an unhappy childhood) that he will “pass manly energy along” to him. He says he will do this “because I am a fatherly archetype who stand for the many generations of men from which you come.” He then adds, “So I’m going to grab your testicles…” and does exactly that. He tells the man to grunt, state his age, and repeat the two times table, and then informs him, “You are healed.” The man then strips, rubs blood on those selfsame testicles and his body is painted gold by two of Jodorowsky’s colleagues. (Where else can one go after the grabbing of one’s balls by a cinematic visionary?)

It does seem that Jodorowsky has brought happiness to those who took part in his psychomagic ceremonies – then again, he doesn’t narrate the film, so we have no idea how often he has conducted these experiments, nor do we see any failures. Only two non-ceremonial clips are included: a current-day intro by Jodorowsky and a speech he gave on Spanish TV back in 2006.

The film’s concluding segments include a full-blown faith-healing session he conducted with a throat-cancer victim in a stadium in Santiago, Chile (his home country) in 2008. Here, he and the audience project healing “energy” toward the woman to help with her cancer treatment. During this sequence, one truly has to decide whether he is colorfully working on the powers of suggestion or indeed has some supernatural ability (or, of course, is staging an elaborate “show”).

By its very nature, the film has some of the appeal of Jodorowsky’s fiction films, as the oddness of his vision is juxtaposed here against the real world (while select short clips from his preceding films introduce the various “problems”). He does his best to erase this line, as when an unhappy couple walk in chains on city streets and the passersby barely look at them.

Still, Psychomagic will appeal primarily to those who are already fans of Jodorowsky’s work. Those who aren’t familiar with his work are best served checking out his cult classics El TopoThe Holy Mountain, and Santa Sangre.

About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”