The Holy Mountain (1973 Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky, 126 Minutes US, Mexico)
BY EGINA MANACHOVA As the man who was once told an interviewer “I want of cinema what most of North America wants of psychedelic drugs,” director Alejandro Jodorowsky put his money where his mouth is, or rather John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s deep pockets where his talent lies, in the making of The Holy Mountain. Visually stunning and intensely symbolic, The Holy Mountain follows The Thief (who is both a Christ-like figure and The Fool) as he plays witness to the absurdities of modern life. When we first encounter The Thief he is stewing in his own urine and covered with flies, baking in the midday desert heat. He is rescued by a group of naked boys led by a limbless midget and taken into to town where his voyeurism confronts him with massacre, rape and class struggle all of which sends him in search of spiritual enlightenment. This quest for the grail of enlightenment comprises the first half of the film.
The opening scene of The Holy Mountain unfolds with Jodorowsky playing The Alchemist, a priest like figure lording over two women dressed as Marilyn Monroe. Performing some unexplained ritual, he proceeds to physically undress then shave each Miss Monroe. Literally and figuratively he removes that which identifies this cinematic icon as if to say that our preconceived notions of what film is lacks validity on the journey through The Holy Mountain. These first twenty minutes alone are worth the rental fee.
Upon confronting the Alchemist in the latter half of the film, The Thief is compelled by all he has seen to partake in the struggle against the powers that be (aptly named The Immortals). There are nine Immortals, all represented by the planets of our solar system and the various properties over which they rule. As each Immortal is introduced we are met with the various oppressive hierarchies that make up our society. Ultimately we find the duo and The Immortals on a pilgrimage to The Holy Mountain leading to the films tongue-and-cheek conclusion, itself an absurd rumination on the nature of consciousness and self-awareness.
Jodorowsky employs allegory and mysticism, along with a rich tapestry of metaphor and symbolism, to explicate his sardonic take on consumerism, militarism, organized religion and colonialism. The film’s trippy aesthetic and leftist social critiques are very much a product of the drug culture of the psychedelic sixties. Ever the alchemist, he literally turns shit to gold in this film. It’s a difficult scene to watch, but ultimately satisfying, like only a good shit can be. The same could be said for the whole of The Holy Mountain, and really, is there any higher praise you can confer on a work of art?