Jodorowsky’s Dune made me feel like I was taking crazy pills. While relaying Alejandro Jodorowsky’s substantial preparation for an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune, the documentary director, Frank Pavich, talks to several critics, artists, and other directors about how unarguably brilliant Jodorowsky is, and how unarguably brilliant his Dune would have been. Nicolas Winding Refn, who directed Drive, makes Jodorowsky sound like an undisputed master of cinema, a genius whose only flaw is that critics and the public just don’t get him (he says as much at the end of the film). All the while I sat there, watching clips from Jodorowsky’s previous films that Pavich intercuts, and wondered: “What are these people talking about?”
I will admit that I have not seen Jodorowsky’s movies, but even by the accounts of Jodorowsky and his cult-like supporters whom Pavich interviews, the guy basically made movies that are those hyper-symbolic and barely coherent narratives that were the bread and butter of the 1970s. However, in the same sentences, these people discuss how truly unique he was, despite describing aspects of his filmography that directly line up with surrealism and drug trip-induced stories that were definitely not uncommon in that time period. Am I going crazy? Did Pavich pick scenes and sections of the interviews that totally misrepresent Jodorowsky’s style? I felt like I was being told how amazing this guy was in the same way that a door-to-door salesman attempts to convince you that his product will change your life. I was sick of Jodorowsky within twenty minutes.
For all of my confusion and frustration, though, Pavich manages to make a movie that is tolerable even to those who don’t think throwing in as many abstract symbols as possible makes someone the most unique, visionary director of all time. The history of his attempts to make Dune are incredible, and Jodorowsky—despite being narcissistic in a way that is probably essential for a director of his ambition—relays his stories such that the audience is always captivated. He’s an infectiously excited person, and he would make a great door-to-door salesman.
As much as I disparage Jodorowsky’s work, his ideas for Dune are truly exciting, although that might be because I can see how much better they might have played out than David Lynch’s Dune (1984). While it absolutely meanders into hyper-symbolic silliness, how can you not be excited by the idea of Orson Welles as a the hedonistic antagonist? Of artwork by H. R. Giger, who went on to create the basic design for the titular creature of Alien? Of the numerous aspects of his ideas that would show up later in science fiction greats like Star Wars? Jodorowsky’s Dune would have been, if nothing else, fascinating; the narrative of its production might lean too heavily on expecting the audience to blindly accept Jodorowsky as a genius, but it’s still an exciting narrative no less.
Also, I would do Pavich a great disservice not to comment on the quality of his direction. He seamlessly ties in artwork, interviews, narration, and imagery into a 90 minute film that is impeccably paced, edited, and shot. In a way, his subjectivity makes the film work, because it helps the troubled-production story become something personal, and therefore engaging. Without his passion, Jodorowsky’s Dune would not be nearly as exciting as it is.
But man, I really just cannot get over how baffled I am by the subjectivity. One of the last interview clips with Jodorowsky features him spouting off what I am sure everyone in the production thinks is a brilliant metaphor, but is one of the most idiotic statements I have ever heard—a statement that, given the scenes played from The Holy Mountain and the way interviewees discuss him, seems pretty representative of his work. He says that, when adapting a book, you cannot respect it, and in this way it is like a wife. You cannot respect your wife, according to Jodorwsky, otherwise you’ll never have kids; you have to rape her. And so too must you do the same to a book that you wish to adapt for film.
Let’s all take a minute to be thankful for the fact that none of us are married to Alejandro Jodorowsky. I mean, what the hell? Who thinks that?! I get that he’s saying you can’t idolize the book and treat it like an untouchable piece of glass, which is valid. You shouldn’t do that with someone you love, either. You have to take the book and make it your own. But for the sake of all that is sane, who thinks that way about someone he loves? Who thinks that this is how children are had, how sex occurs in a marriage? You can tell me it’s just a metaphor, but it’s one of the most horrendously misogynist ones I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard that drivel about locks and keys. That quote actually colored my opinion of the entire movie in a more negative manner than I’d viewed it before, because I wondered why so many people—including the director—choose to idolize this man. He might have some movies under his belt that show imagination and a lack of restraint, but I can’t help but wonder how strong their Kool Aid is.
It’s disappointing when a well-made movie leaves such a bad taste in your mouth, but to keep everything in perspective: if you like Jodorowsky, and you like pretentious artists, then you’ll love Jodorowsky’s Dune. If you like heartfelt documentaries and fascinating “making of” movies, then this will definitely float your boat. But if you don’t want to buy what the salesman is selling, you might similarly struggle to overlook the weirdly rose-colored glasses through which this film is made. Those glasses won’t rose-tint your vision; they’ll make you see red.