Saturday, May 9, 2009

Movie Review: Holy Mountain (1973)

The Holy Mountain
HOLY MOUNTAIN - Alejandro Jodorowsky Cult Classic - Cover Image
(La Montaña sagrada)

Written and Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky

The Thief...Horácio Salinas
The Written Woman...Zamira Saunders
The Alchemist...Alejandro Jodorowsky
The Chimpanzee...Chucho-Chucho

Following director Alejandro Jodorowsky's brilliant epic El Topo, he had gained a fair amount of underground notoriety--enough that his next work, Holy Mountain, was produced by Beatles manager Allen Klein of ABKCO, with financial assistance by Yoko Ono and John Lennon. This film is said to be based on both "The Ascent of Mt. Carmel" by St. John of the Cross and the unfinished work "Mount Analogue: A Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing" by Rene Daumal.

A thief is found unconscious in the desert by a a tribe of naked children. Perhaps because of his unmistakable physical similarities to Jesus Christ, he is tied to a cross in a sort of mock-crucifixion. He quickly frees himself, scares off his attackers, and befriends a quadruple amputee with dwarfism (damn, this fellow can't get any breaks). The two of them attend a showing of the Great Toad and Chameleon Circus, until the thief is kidnapped by manufacturers of religious icons and used to make a mold for their statues of Christ. He dispatches of them in a very un-Christ-like way, and then escapes back into town, where a large number of people are gathered around a tower. A large hook containing a bag of gold has been lowered from the top of the tower, and the thief, smelling a score, latches himself onto the hook and ascends to the top.

Once there, he finds a modern day alchemist who can turn feces into gold. The alchemist inducts the thief into a secret organization of people who have great power and great wealth, among who he sticks out like a sore thumb. But money and power simply isn't enough for these people, as they do not have immortality. This is something they want desperately to change, and intend to do so by conquering the titular Holy Mountain on Lotus Island, but first they must give up their money and their social status, becoming monks of a seemingly Buddhist variety.

Every scene in this film has some sort of symbolic surrealism in it, every flicker of film practically a work of art in and of itself, overflowing with grotesque and bizarre imagery. Say what you want about Jodorowsky, the man is a hell of a director. Every one of his films is like somebody gave Salvador Dali a secret key to Universal Studios and let him run wild. For those of you who can't enjoy the story, I challenge you to not at least enjoy the scenery.

I have heard it claimed that much of the symbolism in the film is sacrilegious--for example, the scene in which the thief eats the face off of a statue of Jesus. But isn't 'eating the flesh of our savior' exactly what people are said to do at communion? And if the alchemist's tower isn't the Tower of Babel, then I don't know what it is. Concentrate hard enough and watch without judgment, and you'll see allegories every step of the way. This isn't sacrilege...and it's not just weirdness for weirdness sake, either. It all means something...all of it.

Which is why the ending is such a cruel joke. I won't go into specifics here, but suffice it to say that at the apex of their journey, it is revealed that it was all a sham. Not just the voyage, but the very film itself, and all of the hidden "meanings" we've racked up along the way.

Pretty ballsy.

Pretty damned beautiful, too.

Rated R
114 Minutes

"Our bees make honey, but your flies make shit."


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