You haven’t really seen how outrageous cinema could be until you have seen Jodorowsky’s psychedelic-surrealist head trip on acid.
Dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky
1973 | Mexico | Drama / Fantasy / Adventure | 114 mins | 2.35:1 | Spanish & English
R21 (passed clean) for mature content and nudity
Cast: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Horacio Salinas
Plot: In a corrupt, greed-fueled world, a powerful alchemist leads a Christ-like character and seven materialistic figures to the Holy Mountain, where they hope to achieve enlightenment.
Awards: Official Selection (Cannes)
Subject Matter: Mature
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Niche/Cult Arthouse
First Published: 29 Aug 2017
It’s fair to say that The Holy Mountain is writer-director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s holy grail, arguably his most notorious film, but also his most accomplished. The cult Chilean filmmaker, who shot the film in Mexico, is one of the medium’s most enigmatic visionaries.
Not one to shy away from controversy, Jodorowsky shocked the Cannes Film Festival with his third feature film after Fando and Lis (1968) and El Topo (1970). Because of longstanding legal issues, it is almost impossible to see it on home video on a good transfer for more than thirty years.
But time has ensured that his early works are now exposed to a new generation of followers, coupled with the director’s newfound active phase (Jodorowsky’s in his late eighties already) with two out of five autobiographical films planned getting critical appraisal in recent years—namely The Dance of Reality (2013) and Endless Poetry (2016).
One can’t even begin to describe The Holy Mountain. An all-powerful alchemist (played by Jodorowsky himself) takes on a disciple, a Christ-like figure, who is introduced to seven other materialistic characters representing each planet of our solar system. Their quest is a spiritual one: to reach the eponymous mountain to seek enlightenment.
“You are excrement. You can change yourself into gold.”
Jodorowsky’s intention is to make the film a quasi-religious experience, appropriating elements from different religions and cultures such as music (e.g. Tibetan Buddhist-style chanting opens the film) and art direction (e.g. a confluence of Western art with Oriental stylings in some of the film’s most surreal segments).
Rarely have I seen a picture that oozes so much creativity and imagination… yet it has enough offensive material and blasphemous symbolism to distress conservative viewers.
As a stark counterpoint to its more philosophical and existential musings, biting social and political commentaries adorn the film’s lengthy ‘solar system’ segment, which explores Man’s desire for greed, sex, trickery, cheating, exploitation and violence—very much all that is wrong with the world then… and now.
Seeing Jodorowsky going through the paces and poking fun at society is enlightening in its own right. And with all that has happened between 1973 and today, it must be said that most of the filmmaker’s observations are eerily prescient.
The Holy Mountain is a challenging, explicit work of art, and an outrageous piece of cinema that is also a psychedelic-surrealist head trip on acid. Not for the faint-hearted or the easily-offended, but a legendary work no less.