Psychomagic, a Healing Art: Act Now, by David Bax
Psychomagic is both the name of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s new documentary and the name of the loosely defined, post-new age, psuedo-scientific art therapy method he has invented and for the advocacy of which he directed this documentary. That means that, yes, this is essentially a feature length infomercial (or, possibly, cult recruitment video). But still, coming from Jodorowsky, it’s nonetheless a fun and fantastical thing to behold.
Jodorowsky establishes the format immediately and the film (full title, Psychomagic, a Healing Art) does not deviate. We are introduced to a person who explains the emotional, psychological or physical issue with which they’re struggling. Then Jodorowsky devises some sort of elaborate role-playing pageant to help them work through it. Finally, after we seeing them participate, we check in with them at some point in the future to find that their problem has miraculously vanished. Each episode is preceded by a clip from Jodorowsky’s filmography that usually has something to do with what we’re about to see but sometimes is just a scene of a man being killed by a boa constrictor.
If Psychomagic weren’t directed by the creator of “psychomagic,” it could easily take the shape of something like Tickled, all disbelieving mockery. As it turns out, though, it’s even funnier because of how committed Jodorowsky is. That’s not to say that he doesn’t know it’s funny, just that he doesn’t give you the comfort of laughing with him. Moments like the one where Jodorowsky buries a man up to his neck and then places a glass dome over his head, followed by a “Two months later…” title card and then the revelation that the man is no longer suicidal could not have elicited a bigger laugh from me if it were trying to. Nor could the sequence of another man sledgehammering pumpkins with pictures of his family members’ faces on them and screaming, “Why won’t you listen to me?!”
It does sour the good time a bit, however, when Jodorowsky’s subjects are dealing with things like abuse or neglect or, in one case, cancer. Call me close-minded but things that deep aren’t likely to be fixed by positive energy alone and it’s insulting to suggest that they could be.
Even with the discomfort of those bits and the overall kookiness of psychomagic itself, the documentary proves that Jodorowsky has not lost his talent for macabre beauty. One man has blood smeared on his scrotum and the rest of his body painted gold. Another man gets coils of snipped electrical cords rubbed against his chest by Jodorowsky himself. Even if their motivation is downright puzzling, these are striking images.
It may be tempting, then, to try to parse whether Jodoroswky truly believes in what he’s selling or if it’s all just a pretense for performance art. The director gives us reason to believe the former is true when he insists, “Nothing that is human is ridiculous.” But the truth is, our experience of Psychomagic wouldn’t change either way. Revelatory or risible, it’s impossible to look away from it.