The Holy Mountain

4 out of 5

Directed by: Alejandro Jodorowsky

The Holy Mountain – Jodorowsky’s spiritual journey of enlightenment for its fictional ‘masters of industry,’ and for its viewers; a “transformational film,” as he would have it – is, fittingly, a sensual onslaught. It’s a near non-stop slew of symbolism and imagery, sound and fury, sex and violence. It’s a logical progression, conceptually, from the preceding El Topo, in which its main character sheds his worldly identity for a transcendent one (meanwhile continuing a birth / death cycle with his sons); here, Jodorowsky plays “The Alchemist,” guiding others to the same endpoint of completeness, putting them through a more turbulent divestment of Self, only – in winky, Zen-like fashion – to nigh-literally pull the curtain off things at the end and tell us it’s kind of all nonsense. Or maybe not.

The tarot plays a heavy part, of course – our movie opens with a Jesus Christ figure, also representative of the tarot’s “Fool” – as does Jodo’s (visual) appreciation for the “monsters” of society, though less directly than in El Topo. As overt as much of the messaging is in Holy Mountain (the first section is a spectacular takedown of the business of religion; of totalitarian government), much of it is also less direct in how its not “guided” in the same way Topo was by a mission. The titular Holy Mountain, as a goal for the masters of industry to ascend and achieve godhood, doesn’t come in until the film’s last section; prior to that, confidently spurred on by the success of (and subsequent funding as a result of the success of) his previous film, Jodorowsky allows Mountain to wander through insane visual corridors, almost harkening back to Fando y Lis’ more open-ended structure. Thankfully, it’s not tainted with the same art project vibe of that non-film; we are railed here by an undeniably distinct vision, just one that’s so inventive and broad in scope that it asks that we take in as much as we possibly can – hence the sensual onslaught.

After being introduced to the “Fool,” (Horacio Salinas) who rejects the usual forms of religion and worship and then quirkily mimics transfiguration, he follows the scent of money up through an insanely tall tower in the middle of town, at the top of which he finds Jodo’s Alchemist. The next section of the film begins: a tour of each master of industry – likened to various planets, e.g. Mars, Venus, etc. – and their specialized industry. Some of these are clear pokes at our indulgences as a people, be it obsessions with war or money or sex, though some are more oblique (such as children dressed as mice chasing the architectural master through a weirdly constructed building). Jodo is less interested in playing with gender roles and the artifice of “acting” here, as he was in Topo, but there’s still plenty of subversion and obsession explored, ogling of both male and female forms and Alejandro’s simplification of things down to male and female relations; mother and son relations.

Now we begin our ascendance. The masters are taught, through crucible, how to let go of their desires; their belief in “life;” their fears of death. They’re given one final test at “the Pantheon bar,” wooing them with last-minute instance gratifications. And then the mountain climb.

Throughout this whole process, we’re treated to insane visual wonders of massively surreal sets (that rotate!) and symbolism to ponder over – or not – while the more direct parables play out: an ongoing circus of animals; a woman painted with alchemical / mystical symbols, always accompanying The Alchemist; a woman who trails the holy group, with a chimpanzee in tow. Because the whole thing is so overblown and less rooted in genre than El Topo’s Western influences, it can be more difficult to watch. That is, it’s not always clear why you’re watching, and depending on your own triggers, you may turn away at points – disinterested, or disgusted, or rolling your eyes at the hoity-toity drugged out nature of the trip. But burning through that may be part of the point, and as such, once you’ve “achieved” the ending of the movie, it has the potential to hit a lot harder. Topo was a personal journey; The Holy Mountain is a journey for all of us to go on together.