The Holy Mountain (1973)

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Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky

Stars: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Horacio Salinas, Zamira Saunders

Don’t watch whilst intoxicated

The only Alejandro Jodorowsky film I had seen prior to The Holy Mountain was El Topo. I thought El Topo was one of the weirdest films I’d ever seen with a gunslinger traipsing around the desert with a naked child on his back and encountering a corrupt town full of disabled people. Could things get much weirder than that? Yes they bloody could. You know a film is going to a little bit off the wall when it has the line, “Your sacrifice has completed my sanctuary of 1,000 testicles.” El Topo seems as deadly realistic as a Michael Haneke film compared to Alejandro’s The Holy Mountain. I made a list of weird movies a while ago and placed Eraserhead as my number one weirdest. If I were to revise that list, I’d definitely place The Holy Mountain directly behind Eraserhead. It’s that weird.

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Casual moviegoers beware. This is a film funded by John Lenon and Yoko Ono so it isn’t your average Owen Wilson cosy romcom. Within in the first half hour we’re bombarded with bizarre imagery. A man who looks like Jesus walks around a dreamlike town full of frogs in clothes getting blown to smithereens, Jesus statues made out of sponge cake, armless dwarves, sex in the street and eyeless paedophiles. All of this section is told without dialogue bar a few screams and Baldy Man styled gibberish.

I was so taken back at the sheer amount of strangeness. Every single shot has severely strange imagery in it. It’s like a Salvador Dali painting coming to life and the pacing is so fast, especially in the first act. There’s no point trying to read the symbolism because too much happens, too quickly. The best thing to do is just let the film wash over you like some sort of fountain of oddness. Even after reading some ideas on the film I still have no idea what any of it means. However, my guess is that Alejandro isn’t a fan of religion or weapons, but he is a fan of nudity and animals. In fact, I’m pretty sure that they cleared out London zoo to make this film.

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The second act takes a slower pace, but is no less bizarre. The production design in this section is pretty astonishing. I was particularly astounded by the rainbow room which seems like something from another world. A kind of plot does kick in with our Jesus hero meeting a ‘master’ (played by madman Alejandro Jodorowsky himself) who plans to take him and a bunch of increasingly bizarre misfits on a quest to meet the gods. We’re introduced to nine new characters in quick succession. All of them have a detailed backstory involving everything from orgasm machines to testicle collections. This section does get a little repetitive and lengthy but it’s entertaining nonetheless.

The rest of the film follows the oddballs on the quest to meet the gods. Compared to the weirdness overload we’ve been having, this section does feel a little less weird so it’s less memorable. I do have to say though that it acuminates into one of the best endings to a film I’ve ever seen. It’s incredibly jarring and the most postmodern thing I’ve seen since The Cabin in the Woods.

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So what else can I say about The Holy Mountain? As its trailer states, it’s a film which defies conventional plot and criticism. It’s like a piece of art or music. It’s something you have to feel and depending on what you felt, you either like it or you don’t! As a connoisseur of the weird, I really liked it. It definitely leaves an impression and leaves you with an army of images you won’t forget in a hurry. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as hypnotic and dreamlike as it could’ve been thanks (or no thanks) to Alejandro’s directing style. The film feels quite detached and objective. I think the film would’ve been stronger if it was seen more through the eyes of the Jesus character. The reason I love David Lynch films so much is that he takes us on an experience with the characters. Alejandro shoots like we’re just spectators and so part of the experience is lost.

The Holy Mountain is still an extraordinary film though. It’s rich and full of surrealist imagery. It’s almost like the ultimate surreal film with so much impenetrable symbolism crammed in to make your brain melt. Most average moviegoers won’t make it pass the first ten minutes, but then again why would an average moviegoer attain a copy of The Holy Mountain? For the rest of us weirdos, this is unmissable!

eight-out-of-ten

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