Today I watched Alejandro Jodorowski’s The Holy Mountain (1973)
After the cult success of El Topo, a film hailed by many as the first midnight movie, Alejandro Jodorowski became something of a hot property for those who had profited off of Sixties youth culture. With money coming in from Allen Klein’s ABKCO record company, Jodorowski embarked on his more ambitions film project, an attempt to create an original holy work in the medium of film. With classic faiths all based around scripture, an old medium of data keeping, would it not make sense for a modern faith to use as it’s foundation the modern multimedia experience of film?
The Holy Mountain follows a christ-like Fool, who in the first act is a thief. This first act takes many cues from Abrahamic mythology and spirituality, putting up some incredibly blasphemous imagery in a barrage of social and political satire and critique. This sequence ends with the Fool meeting the Magi, now the symbolism takes on a much more esoteric side, slowly rolling in more Asian and Meso and South American traditions along with Tarot, Alchemy, and Astrology. The Fool and the Magi then begin to prepare for the final quest of the film, to reach the top of the titular Holy Mountain, but to do so they must gather companions. These seven companions are a group of once evil men and women who have decided to abandon their worldly wealth in pursuit of enlightenment, each representing a planet in the astrological model. After the sequences setting up each companion they all set out to the Mountain, this part of the film becomes very mystical and shamanic, building up to one of cinema’s most contentious endings.
This is a dense film, there are many small sequences that each highlight different elements of cultural critique, broad satire, or mystical discovery, often two or three of these at once. Thus it is impossible to sum up the totality of the film’s philosophical musings in the context of my usual review length but the broad strokes are much easier to address. In this film the quest for enlightenment is at first, of tantamount importance, to better oneself and overcome the injustice of the world is the protagonist’s main goal. But the ending suddenly subverts this idea, stating that enlightenment is not the crux of the quest. The quest is the means and the end, it is not about attaining perfection, it is about trying to be better, it isn’t about closing oneself off, it’s about the process of understanding and improving. Jodorowski saves his most scathing satire for those who have settled at the base of the Holy Mountain, those who came so close yet gave up and now camp at the finish line; while perfection may be unattainable, to quit the quest for it is to give up on the process of improvement.
The Holy Mountain is one of those very subjective films, heavy in imagery and metaphor. To me, it is peerless but it’s message may not ring true to others, moreover it’s depth of symbolism may mean something contrary to Jodorowski’s intention. But I think this film is also enjoyable just to bear witness to it’s incredible strangeness, Jodorowski’s background is not one of simple art academia and this shows in his odd understanding of the underground counter culture scene he helped create. Jodorowski is at once a carny, a mystic, and a philosopher, mixing low humour with Tarot derived symbolism and strong social commentary in a film that balances the crude and miserable aspects of human reality with the glory of expression and celebration of our boundless potential. 5/5