The Holy Mountain

The Holy Mountain ★★★★½

Listen to ScreeningNotes and I discuss this film and Ferris Bueller’s Day off on our podcast,
Movies Now and Then

Alejandro Jodorowsky's film El Topo felt like a man expanding the boundaries of filmmaking. With The Holy Mountain, he burst through those boundaries and found an unparalleled method of making a movie that is shocking, repugnant, epic, trippy, and most importantly, conscious.

Every set up, every shot, every frame is the result of a decision Jodorowsky made. Nothing happens on this film by accident. The real impressive thing is that all of the strange happenings somehow cohere to tell a thoughtful and transformative story.

To talk about the plot of this film is sort of missing the point, but here it goes anyway. A Christ like figure, who we later find out is a thief, is abused so he seeks enlightenment from an alchemist. The alchemist prepares him for his experience, then introduces him to "the most powerful people in the world". The alchemist claims that he can lead them to the summit of the Holy Mountain, where they can meet a group of immortal beings and learn their secrets.

As if that isn't a complex enough story to tell, Jodorowsky insert a seemingly random barrage of various religions iconography, mostly being misused or abused. Beyond that there are scenes about the European conquest of South America, there is some pointed political commentary, there is a huge amount of sexual liberation subtext, as well as dealing with ugly, rich American (USA) tourists and their attitudes towards Mexican culture.

Jodorowsky does all of this with an extreme attention to detail, and a production design the likes I have never seen before. Wikipedia says this film had a production budget of $750,000 dollars. Adjusted for inflation that is about $4,000,000 today. This movie would have a four million dollar budget today, and it looks like it would have cost 250 million dollars.

My notes look the ramblings of a crazy person. I have notes like "Bathes with hippo", "Christ for sale", Ass painting", "Machine ejaculate", "snake sock", and on and on. It would takes months to unpack all that Jodorowsky put into this film.

All this being said, the most impressive thing about the film is that there is an actual message inside this insane facade. Not only is there a message, the message is one of social and spiritual awareness. El Topo felt like an artist trying to find his voice. The Holy Mountain is the same artist shouting at the top of his lungs.

Andrew liked this review