The Holy Mountain. There aren’t many films like it, really. Anyone who has even watched the trailer would agree. The cult classic Mexican fantasy was released in 1973, but for me, it’s still one of the most captivating films on the subject of spirituality and the occult to this day.
Alejandro Jodorowsky is the director of The Holy Mountain, as well as the writer, producer, co-scorer, and co-editor. Yeah, the guy is a genius. His previous films garnered affection from John Lennon who, along with his manager Allen Klein, took enough of an interest to fund The Holy Mountain, making it the highest budget Mexican film to date at that time.
The story begins with the main character, an archetypal ‘thief’ of the tarot card, lying on the ground covered in flies. Fetching! He travels with a no-armed dwarf to the big city: a carnival of consumerism and nauseating theatrics.
As you can tell by the opening, The Holy Mountain is here to take you on a ride. It confronts you with imagery that you can’t un-see: exploding frogs, bloody bodies, twisted rituals. It makes you uncomfortable, yet it’s beautified at the same time. The film is visually stunning, to say the least.
Don’t expect a coherent plot from now on…this isn’t the sort of movie that starts off strange and then falls into place like a neatly solved jigsaw puzzle. It’s rough around the edges from start to finish and the real appeal, beyond the visual aspects, comes from a multi-layered and highly symbolic approach to filmmaking. This is a surrealist film that is full of art and spiritual symbolism. A journey to take you higher.
The thief stumbles across a tower that has a hook lowering gold to the citizens of the town in exchange for food. He jumps on the hook and enters the tower. It is here that the thief confronts the Alchemist, played by Jodorowsky himself.
The Alchemist turns poop into gold, in a very literal scene with a very obvious metaphorical overtone, and takes the thief on as his apprentice. The Alchemist introduces him to seven others, the most powerful people in the world, each of which has corrupted a pure facet of humanity such as innocence or peace, and each representing a different planet. Even the fact that there are seven others on the journey is significant. The number seven has long been known as a mystical number, with references to it in every culture from the Romans to the Egyptians.
Yup, it’s starting to get stranger, and without a Ph.D. in metaphysics, you might be getting a little bit lost at this point. That’s okay though. When I was watched The Holy Mountain for the first time, I knew it would demand more viewing, more time to enjoy and interpret what was happening in front of me, and greater reflection to let my subconscious mind play around with the multi-faceted symbolism.
It’s refreshing to watch a film that demands thought but which also rewards with beauty through imagery and sound, captivating scenes that can be absorbed. The feelings of The Holy Mountain change throughout; sometimes the film takes on an apocalyptic feel, taking on forms of horror or human demise, while at other times it becomes light-hearted, humorous, poetic, and beautiful.
One thing’s for sure, this film is artistically intense and symbolically meaningful — the hidden layers and contemplation taking on a greater meaning than the base level of the plot. The Holy Mountain is a mystical journey in film form!
As the film progresses, the team takes off on an alchemical pilgrimage to reach the Holy Mountain. along the way encountering Lotus Island and the Pantheon Bar, where lost seekers remain enslaved by carnal desires, facing their greatest fears and desires, then later emerging to find that it was all a big hoax.
Jodorowsky famously ends the film by breaking the fourth wall. He talks directly to the audience, telling them that real life is what matters. An absolute masterpiece!
Review in Collaboration with Florence Marceau