“Reason needs to be taught to speak the language of dreams,” declares French-Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky in his new documentary. That language, oddly enough, resonates with prop comedian Gallagher at least twice in this eye-popping work. Structurally, Psychomagic: A Healing Art is more straightforward than one might expect from this weaver of sometimes impenetrable visions, and that subtitle title sums up what his films may have been about all along. What’s different this time is that Jodorowsky’s body imagery, while still as outrageous as ever, is more easily connected to emotional turmoil than ever before.

Jodorowsky presents himself as a psychic healer in a series of case studies, juxtaposed with clips from his films as well as vintage video footage of what might be described as extreme naked cuddle sessions. That’s just for starters. Take, for instance, the case of a suicidal man coming to terms with his abusive father. After breaking plates on the man’s bare chest and pressing his face close to his patient’s, he buries him alive (with an air helmet to protect his head) and throws meat on the grave to attract vultures. The sight of winged creatures descending on the man’s head is an image right out of a Jodorowsky midnight movie, and for a moment it brings home Jodorowsky’s gallows humor, equal parts hilarious and terrifying.

Some of these sequences may appear problematic to certain viewers. A section titled “Is Menstruation a Problem?” begins with one of the more alarming scenes from Jodorowsky’s 2016 autobiographical fantasy Endless Poetry and leads to a session in which nude women make paintings from their menstrual blood. Jodorowsky not only urges his patients to get naked, but to reveal themselves in more painful ways, as when he takes a woman to the apartment building where her then-fiancée killed himself right before their wedding.

The therapy sessions recall portions of the work of another cinematic radical, Dušan Makaveyev’s WR: Mysteries of the Organism, but while the Serbian director juxtaposed his observations of the American the counter-culture with a violent Communist melodrama, Jodorowsky here utilizes his art for healing, which may have been the artist’s goal all along.

Psychomagic at times feels like a clip reel, as the director weaves his greatest hits throughout the film. But if the case studies are often visually static, that doesn’t mean the visionary has been tamed; the vultures alone are a perfect example of his still radical, fearless sense of adventure. As he expressed in Endless Poetry, Jodorowsky has “a heart capable of loving the entire world. Part of that love is to encourage his patients, much like his actors (including his sons) to do things on camera that most people wouldn’t dream of. It’s uncomfortable, and sometimes appalling, but to the artist, it’s all part of existence, impurity an inescapable element of life and truth.

What does all this have to do with Gallagher? One patient, to exorcise the memory of his abusive father, is instructed to smash pumpkins with a sledgehammer. This may be one of the films great revelations: Jodorowsky seems to recognize the destruction of a watermelon as the act of a visionary. His therapeutic methods are as highly unorthodox as the flights of his fictional vision; after all, a certified physician would be unlikely to ask a middle-aged man who wants to stop stuttering how big his penis is. And that’s not why the man begins to cry. But working here in the non-fiction realm, his practice, however alarming it may be, achieves the goal he sets out with at the start. One may not agree with his reasoning, but as we see case after case of a troubled psyche, it’s clear that, at least for Jodorowsky, he has found a way to directly reach into the dream world and resolve his patients’ nightmares. And that is cinema.

In which the iconoclastic director reveals the therapeutic nature of his psychedelic imagery.
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Weirdly Healing
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