Hahahahha. This goes too far. It’s just… how am I supposed to respond to this??? It is a mixture between the visuals of Tarsem Singh’s The Fall (2006) and Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) without the singing. Curiously, that film is from the same year, but The Holy Mountain is its stoned brother.
I first heard of this film while seeing the great documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013), which shows the director Alejandro Jodorowsky as an inspiring madman or genius, completely absorbed by his own visions of cinematic grandeur. At first I thought that he was an invention for the documentary, but he was real, and I looked up his most famous work, The Holy Mountain (1973). Reviews told me that it was insane, indulgent and a sensory overload, so I had to see it.
The first 8 minutes establish the plot (sort of). Try to follow these 8 minutes:
Jesus lies drunkenly on the ground with bottles of booze. A flower grows out of his hand. Naked people carry him away and stone him, but he frees himself and chases them away. A man with no arms and legs helps him, gives him a joint, and they become best buddies. The world is in turmoil. Rich businessmen are praying to flayed dogs, a group of people are shot by soldiers, bleeding black blood, and tourists make photos of the dead bodies, while the hearts of the dead people turn into birds that escape from the chest. One of the tourists is raped by one of the soldiers, and her husband excitedly films it as part of the tourist experience.
It is best not to focus too much on the details. I guess the point is that the world has become perverted and a new messiah has awoken. We follow his spiritual journey from being an outcast from society to following a special path to enlightenment. He is taught by a magician and receives corrupt disciples. The movie expands on these ideas will all kinds of strange imagery that you could only make up while drugged.
But the strange thing is… it is not random shit. It is like Jodorowsky created metaphors, and then treated them literally. I’ll explain. Like, the story is set in Mexico, and he wants to show that the Spanish conquest of Mexico was bloody and that the Spanish were ugly interlopers. So, in one scene the history of Mexico is displayed on a miniature scale by having real lizards dressed up as Aztec warriors and real toads dressed up as Spanish conquistadors who hop all over the lizards. And then the Aztec pyramids are drenched in liters of blood and blown up, flinging the lizards and toads into the air. It is a sort of free-form symbolism with an entertainment value.
Or, one other example (I won’t spoil too much, but really, these scenes are just the tip of the iceberg. Just 2-minute slices of a 2-hour film that is a continuous carousel of madness). The idea is that the image of Jesus is perverted and misused in this new land. So, in the film, fat roman soldiers and a bearded nun capture our drunk Jesus, cover him with mud and made a cast around him. Then, drunk Jesus wakes up, gets mad and smashes all the paper mache copies they made of him. So, it all sort of means something.
There are almost no spoken lines in the movie; it is mostly strange imagery. Some of it is quite revolting or vulgar or just very… down to earth and in your face. I feel this urge to explain what every scene means, but really, it is too much. It’s just too much. You’d have to write a book about it. You just have to see it for yourself and even if you feel confused, there is a progression in the story that makes sense. I stop the video every minute to giggle. I’m just looking at the screen, thinking: “what the hell is THIS?? What the hell is THAT??” I have to confess that I was often confused, such as during the whole process when Jesus poops and they turn his shit into gold. Jodorowsky himself plays the role of a powerful magician here.
There is a brilliance in it. You got to have the imagination and craziness of come up with this. And it shows some kind of vision of the world through metaphors that are very complete and elaborate. There are so many details in this film and everything has some kind of meaning, once you start thinking about it. At the same time, it is like a lot of puerile fantasies were poured into the visuals. There is a lot about sex and power and wealth. You can’t really see it as a work of great art because it is so coarse and deals in platitudes.
Halfway through the movie I had to take a break, before it broke me. On this first attempt I got to where a woman was making love with a machine, producing a machine baby. I’ll be back later.
Ok, back. In the final third of the story, new Jesus and his disciples attempt to climb the holy mountain, and this part of the movie is different in tone. It is no longer outrageous, but more like a recording of performance art in the mountains. Jodorowsky himself feels called to explain what is going on, with his Spanish accent that is quite easy to mock. It loses some of its focus here and moves slower, although this part is the whole point of the movie.
When you watch interviews with Jodorowsky in Jodorowsky’s Dune or on youtube, he is incredibly sincere. He gives his passion, his whole heart and soul to these movies. For him, all this madness is personal. And, while he is in his 80s now, he recently made a new movie after an absence of 20 years: The Dance of Reality. I should see it now.
See it. It’s a lot of fun. It will stay with you, I guarantee it.