A former circus artist escapes from a mental hospital to rejoin his armless mother - the leader of a strange religious cult - and is forced to enact brutal murders in her name as he becomes "her arms".
In a Chilean little town, the son of an uprooted couple, formed by a rigorous communist father and a loving but weak mother, tries to pave his own path in a society that does not understand their Jewish-Ukrainian origins.
A Christlike figure wanders through bizarre, grotesque scenarios filled with religious and sacrilegious imagery. He meets a mystical guide who introduces him to seven wealthy and powerful people, each representing a planet in the Solar system. These seven, along with the protagonist, the guide and the guide's assistant, divest themselves of their worldly goods and form a group of nine who will seek the Holy Mountain, in order to displace the gods who live there and become immortal.
Are you experienced? Jodorowsky's ambitious Rorschach motion picture tests human's connection to spirituality, and cinema
How does one start describing writer/director/star/master-of-ceremonies Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain? Sensational, outrageous, in-your-face, (the much overused phrase) one-of-a-kind, hilarious, self-indulgent, dangerous, and enlightening could be some words, and there could be more. But these are just symbolic of what one goes into seeing the movie. And what is it to see a movie, to experience it, Jodorowsky, I think anyway, is essentially asking? What about faith, or belief that there can be a way to surpass mortality and live forever? Is there truly any basis to become more than just flesh and bones and organs and love and hate and desire and greed? Perhaps, in the end, it might just be art itself. The Holy Mountain is one (bleeping) crazy art-house picture experience, where the filmmaker asks it's audience to either go on the journey and be open to whatever he's liable to let out of the floodgates of his consciousness, or if to be closed off then to might as well leave. So as it goes, really, with organized religion, which his own character Jodorowsky plays- the Alchemist- could be identifiable as.
As I left the theater I kept on thinking about what it is to put total trust and confidence in a "master", someone who seems to have all the knowledge and experience to take people to higher planes. At the core, is what the Alchemist can do for the nine "planet" representatives any different than what a priest or a rabbi or a monk can promise? There is a level of intellectual stimulation, aside from the obvious emotional connection to the immense level of surrealism, that keeps one from thinking that this becomes all weird for its own sake. Unlike El Topo, however, Jodorowsky this time is much more in control of his own delirious dreamscapes and, in a sense, the genuine consciousness he creates in his Holy Mountain. He gives us, at the start, something a little much akin to El Topo with piling on Christian symbolism and imagery like its got to get into our heads right away. This part, actually, might be somewhat weaker in comparison with the rest of the film, if only because one wonders where the hell this is all going; a Jesus-figure, who comes into a village loaded with circus 'freaks' and gawkers at such 'freaks', and is put into plaster-casting to make more Jesus figures, which he demolishes except for one which he carries with him for a little while.
There's more than just this, but for the first twenty minutes, which is practically silent and without dialog, we get immensely rich but sort of free-form symbolism, some that is great (the scene with the frogs in the representation of the Spanish conquistadors is absolutely uproarious), and some that isn't, like a strange scene in a church. But soon Jodorowsky moves it along to 'Jesus' entering the realm of the Alchemist, and going under his tutelage (and learning how, mayhap, gold can be the end result of literal excrement), learns about who the other members to go on the journey to the holy mountain will be. It's here that Jodorowsky digs deep into the nature of the period he was filming in and how fascinating and perverse human beings can be. These other members are all shown in vignettes to be "manufacturers", for the most part, of weapons, clothing, architecture, political espionage, and as a police force of a sort. More than ever Jodorowsky throws out the outrageousness to eat up, and really it actually never shows (and maybe it's just me as a jaded 21st century guy) to be as shocking as one might expect. Yes, it's extremely violent (watch out for your genitals, by the way, when around these folks), extraordinarily sexually charged (sex machines anyone?), and meant to be in poor taste and so over the top you don't know what is up or down. At first, I thought it couldn't get much better, as far as sheer surrealist entertainment value goes.
Yet as the last section develops, as the Alchemist takes his pupils to the mountain to meet their promised fates, there's more depth than I would have expected, even from all that preceded it as already containing cast quantities of rich socio-political-sexual commentary and prodding knife stabs at correctness. Religion itself, as Bunuel did in the past, is questioned very strongly and seriously, however still in the context of Jodorowsky having his own subjective approach. Of course, the director- who happens to be at the top of his game here stylistically, second only to Santa Sangre as perhaps his most accomplished effort- did become a shaman himself to make this movie, so there is a level of legitimate connection to what religion says to provide us. At the same time, Jodorowsky is, all the same, questioning what it means to submit yourself to indoctrination, to "nothingness" as the Alchemist says to his pupils in their trances. It's not just Christianity that needs to be taken with a grain of salt, although that is very significant in the final section (the 'monster' over the boat, for example, has a lot that can be read into it, ala sin), but that it has to be in the person to understand what immortality REALLY means. The final revelation at the table on the mountain nails it on the head, and suddenly (or not so suddenly) things become clearer; the final lines by the Alchemist (or rather, Jodorowsky himself), make it a very poignant end to what has been a delirious, hilarious trip into consciousness expansion...
In a word, or a few, what it means to 'experience' a film itself, and once it ends, you step back into some kind of reality. The Holy Mountain is a true love it or hate it movie. I loved it, even as I still wonder what the hell it is I just saw/felt/heard/experienced, and of course if it should be believed.
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