Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Writer: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Cinematographer: Rafael Corkidi
Producer: Alejandro Jodorowsky and Roberto Viskin
by Jon Cvack
I had come across Jodorowsky's book “The Spiritual Journey of Alejandro Jodorowsky” while cleaning out my girlfriend’s apartment a few weeks after I moved in. The previous owner had left behind a bunch of a books and having known about El Topo (1970) for nearly a decade, and buying it before I even moved to LA though having never watched it, I figured I’d read the book after I finally watched the movie. El Topo was told in a surrealistic setting spaghetti western setting, and per my usual problems surrealism (see thoughts on The Milky Way (1969)), I was pretty bored. It’s a movie that’s worth checking out, if for the experience alone. But I wasn’t exactly excited for another couples of confusion with The Holy Mountain.
“The Spiritual Journey of Alejandro Jodorowsky” reads like if you put all the literature from any type of metaphysical/head/spiritual shop into a blender and someone began just pouring out what they remembered with little to no context. Maybe not since Finnegan’s Wake (1922) did I find my mind drifting so far. This guy goes all over the map, varying from Eastern Philosophy to Meditation to Religion with lightning speed, never feeling as though he's’ making an actual argument so much as just reciting ideas he’s heard. It bounces between Jodorowsky expressing his desire for peace and harmony to violent exchanges with his teachers and collaborators and occasionally into strange and in depth descriptions of sex, specifically an interesting theory on how the four orifices of a woman all serve a specific spiritual purpose, with anal sex being what connects most to the emotions.
I’ve had a few friends and have met a few people out in California who match the stereotype of the person who believes this type of stuff. I don’t mind. If it provides meaning to someone and they’re not hurting anyone or forcing it on anybody else then it doesn’t matter to me. I do noticed a strange correlation between those who rely on these abstract philosophies or spirituality - whatever you want to call it - and their often precarious emotions. Most of the people I know who are deep into this stuff snapped at me at one time or another in our relationship (which is not to say I’m innocent, so much as that the calm they preach is abandoned when put to the test). In fairness, there’s the strong possibility that some of these people might have their own mental or spiritual problems and therefore they’re attracted to these ideas as a potential cure, and therefore although they have had emotional snaps, the ideas have actually helped to contain far more than they would otherwise. Whatever the answer is, I don’t know what this book was saying and was thrilled to finally wrap the thing and finish Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood (1952).
I had started The Holy Mountain right before I began the book and while I was expecting another incoherent and bizarre film I wasn’t expecting that it would make as much sense as it did (though the book must have helped). The film nearly starred John Lennon who, in the book, Jodorowsky says didn’t want to show his anus on screen getting washed and dropped out for that reason alone. I guess he didn’t want to connect to his deepest emotions. We all have our limits.
A man is introduced as The Thief (Horacio Salinas) befriends a dwarf man with his arms and legs cut off at the joints. They perform in the streets and I believe there are a bunch of bloody soldiers and kids with guns and skinned animals but I don’t remember what it had to do with anything. The Thief has a beard like Jesus, launching him into a long spiritual journey to The Holy Mountain, in which he attracts his disciples as they force their way through some of the most memorable, frightening, and bizarre images I’ve ever seen on the screen.
The money behind the film feels extraordinary, as The Thief moves toward progressively more sophisticated and elaborate set pieces; from inside a factory with hundreds of paper mâché models made of him, to shooting inside a sacred church with a bunch of half naked women which - according to the book - got him into significant trouble with the government; finally ascending a massive obelisk via a fish hook to shitting in a bowl, getting his asshole washed, and then sitting in a giant bell jar as he inhales his own shit being turned into liquid.
After the shit inhalation, he’s introduced to seven disciples who each represent a different planet, varying from a factory owner who seduces his female employees into a strange polygamous cult; another person who’s in charge of constructing toy guns used to train children for future military invasions, an actual weapons manufacturer who’s committed to trying to find ways to destroy as much as possible, and four other successful individuals, who then burn the money in a fire and join him in search of The Holy Mountain.
Typically I hate this type of stuff, but contrary to most other surrealist pieces I’ve seen, this actually feels manageable to piece together, swaying near on the nose and over to abstraction, yet never getting you frustrated for what it’s trying to say. It’s here that I resent surrealist art most, as to express into words what I think it means sounds so stupid and yet it’s the only way to defend what it is. Given the horror of the Vietnam War, the threat of domestic revolution, chaos, and the impending nuclear war, inserting these ideas into religion seemed interesting enough.
As Jodorowsky says throughout the book, referring to numerous kauns - a paradoxical one liner, more or less, which is impossible to answer - it’d make sense that a man who breathes his own shit would be able to lead a bunch of terrible people to a salvation, providing what felt essentially like a straightforward narrative about the rise of a religious cult while exploring the paradox of the lack of logic in faith. For instance, if God created the universe, what created God? Or if the universe is the effect of some cause, what is the first cause? There is no reason for such a loyal following and within this lack of reasoning is a possibility to take things to the utter brinks of brinks of cinematic possibility. If you look at all of the larger moments and what generally takes place, it’s easy to take those larger ideas about money, war, industry, and power and the ways in which Jodorowsky's abstract images reflected them.
In saying that, there are so many distinct images in this film that I’ve been remembering them one by one every few minutes while writing this. I’m left wondering what it must have been like seeing this in the theater for the first time and how it’s one of the few styles that will forever exist - people will always want to see a reasonably weird or fucked up movie and the fact that Jodorowsky could get this much money for this film shows the extraordinary power cinema once had in that Golden Age. It’s by far one of the strangest movies I’ve ever seen that I’d be willing to one day watch again.
BELOW: Something to do with Vietnam
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