This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
M S Krishna Prateek’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
"The skill of the spectator determines the machine's ability to reach a climax." - What serious skill of Jodorowsky (who turns 92 today) for beginning The Holy Mountain in a fairy tale and ending it in a reality to reach a climax (without context, reminded me of a similar ending to one Iranian film released in my birth year)! At times hilariously serious, at times seriously hilarious and all the time spiritually (sur)real, The Holy Mountain can be one hell of a quest to figure out what to take seriously in the first place in both life as well as film and I'm so so overwhelmed with this piece of art so much so that words like beautiful or ambitious would be an understatement to describe the peak the film scales visually as well as thematically and dare I say it joined alongside the experience Kubrick gave me with 2001!
There are some filmmakers like Antonioni, Melville to name a few whom I found to be so commanding and perfectly to the point in visual storytelling that I felt like I can understand a majority of what's going on in their films even without any form of dialogue and Jodorowsky just joined the likes of them from my experience of just 2 films of him. Given the experience I had with El Topo, I was all in for the heavy load of religious as well as political symbolism Jodorowsky could have in store, but yet I was not prepared for the images in the first 20 to 30 minutes of The Holy Mountain that were so wild that I kept switching between moods like "Can't take my eyes off this holy shit" and "Holy shit, how can I take my eyes off this?", for instance, take the Spanish conquest scene with the frog conquistadors and those lizards (I am shit-scared of lizards IRL) dressed beautifully in sort of their national Mexican costumes and I'll just leave at that to get across how suddenly I had to switch between the aforementioned moods!
The Holy Mountain is structurally similar to El Topo and the symbolism of Christ-like figure at play comes very early here post which we get the Alchemist educating the thief that "It is the master who seeks the disciple" - a principle that also sums up the entire second act of El Topo. Although there is not much standard plot as such in The Holy Mountain, I absolutely loved the flow of events in all these three acts from one to another, i.e., right after that mad rad opening images of The Alchemist stripping two women completely off their makeup, physicality and shaving heads, we get to see an almost dead Thief brought to life in a world of people decorated with full of artificiality be it in terms of the costumes they wear on the outside, or, the thoughts they wear on the inside like fascism, war, sexual abuse, etc. In the second act, like the 8 companions of Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring, The Thief joins his 7 fellow thieves who are the most powerful people on the planet in the form of industrialists and politicians from across the planets and Jodorowsky digs too deep into the atmosphere of the film's time as well as the mindsets of few people that ring scarily relevant even to this day across different countries and cultures. In aiming to become a collective being while ceasing to be individuals, they burn money, destroy self-wax-images of themselves, give up physical pleasures or pains, surrender whatever is hated or desired for only to seek nothingness that is said to be the only reality!
The third act of The Holy Mountain is one of the most wildly humanistic and surrealistic pieces of writings I have ever come across in all of Cinema and had me wondering at length about how the film uses the conventional Hero's Journey template in the most unconventional manner. Along with the narrative arc, the colour palette transforms From the bright vivid splashes initially To comparatively more muted ones as the film progresses and the bird's-eye view shots filling the majority of the film's first half slowly pave the way to documentary-esque stuff in handheld later, thereby leading all the way to that absolute banger of an ending! Living on top of the mountain and directing our world from the highest peak, nine immortal men hold the secret to the conquest of death ~ Living on the ground and directing the film from the highest peak of spirituality as well as surrealism, Jodorowsky zooms in too deep all the while to trick the viewer that The Holy Mountain holds the secret to the conquest of death, but zooms back so cleverly at the end to reveal that it actually holds the secret to the conquest of film and it's you who are watching the film that is holding the secret to the conquest of your life because every time a film ends, not to forget that "Real life awaits us".