THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1973)
An impoverished thief, who is brought to a city to work briefly for a circus, is seen as a Christ figure by those around him. And due to his physical similarities to Jesus, he is taken in and used as a model for paper mache models of a crucified Jesus by a local merchant selling Christian knick-knacks. But this thief rejects this image, and in his escape, he comes across The Alchemist. This alchemist cleanses the thief, and then shows him his powers over the elements by literally turning excrement into gold.
With the Thief firmly under the Alchemist's tutelage and indoctrinated into several rites, the Alchemist tells the Thief of his plan to bring together seven other disciples, and together they will search for the mystical Holy Mountain, where nine immortals live. Once the Alchemist brings together the other seven - each of which represent a planet and have a hold over different aspects of life such as consumerism, politics, and artistry - they perform a ceremony to destroy their devotion to wealth, body, and self. Once free of these trappings, they group begins their journey toward Lotus Island, where the mountain top they seek is on.
If EL TOPO, Alejandro Jodorowsky's previous film, is a search for spirituality and God, then THE HOLY MOUNTAIN is the destruction of the Christ figure and a questioning of master and pupil, and of the faith that the "unenlightened" put into the teachings of the "enlightened". As with EL TOPO, which this can almost be seen as a companion piece as the two are almost always linked during discussion and on recommendation lists, THE HOLY MOUNTAIN is filled with intense imagery that is meant to stimulate a raw emotional response. Unlike EL TOPO however, almost all that we are shown here is meant to be in real life, as opposed to dream or hallucination, and thus becomes even more shocking. When a group of followers marches down the street early on in the film each holding a skinned and gutted dog crucified on a stick, that is really happening, meaning that in Jodorowsky's take on this world, an actual religious sect felt compelled to do this.
Jodorowsky places himself in the role of The Alchemist, which leads to an allegory that not only is the character of The Alchemist leading his disciples, but that Jodorowsky as the director is leading us the viewer on the same journey - he asks us to place our trust in him to lead us to through the movie and onward to a finale that will reveal to us a satisfying conclusion. His character is shrouded completely in either black or white during the film, and as such is he becomes an absolute. Should the disciples not follow precisely what is told and asked of them, they will fail.
Each of The Alchemist's disciples represent an overseer of sorts of portions of our life, and are those that the commoners place absolute trust in to make decisions that will affect their daily lives. Fon, who is the representative of Venus ironically played by a man, is the head of a cosmetic and fashion empire. Isla, who represents Mars and is a woman, creates military weapons and even has a line of psychedelic guns and grenades for the protesting youth. Klen, who represents Jupiter, runs an art factory, who mechanically designs a new art fad every season. Sel, that of Saturn, makes predictions of wars to come, and creates children's toys that will create a hatred for their future enemies when they are grown soldiers. A treasurer, a captain of police who collects the testicles of those under his command, and an architect who creates freedom by taking away housing, round out those that the Alchemist has chosen. By choosing representatives of these professions, Jodorowsky creates a hierarchy of disciple and master, of leader and follower.
As with EL TOPO, THE HOLY MOUNTAIN requires that it viewers actively watch the movie, and make connections to their own lives and feelings on religion, teachings, and what they believe to interpret what Jodorowsky is trying to say. He starts the film with a series of images of eyes, as if foreshadowing that sight above all else will be the key to understanding the film. Jodorowsky makes the impression that one should not believe what they are told to be true just because someone says so, but to seek out the truth, to witness it with your own eyes and senses, to make your decisions from there, and to discover that those masters with power over us only have it as long as we give it to them.
Jodorowsky once again fills his screen with images of brutal violence, shocking sexuality, dead and dying animals, and the dualities that beauty and ugliness hold. It is a film not for the faint of heart or undaring, and he makes no apologies for what he is trying to convey. THE HOLY MOUNTAIN is a journey to the secret of immortality. And in the final scene, Jodorowsky himself provides just that, at the risk of all that you hold true to cinema.