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Film / The Holy Mountain

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You know you cannot escape death, but immortality can be obtained. We must unite our forces to assault the Holy Mountain and rob its wise men of their secret of immortality.
The Alchemist

Alejandro Jodorowsky is a special kind of director, and The Holy Mountain, made in 1973, is a special kind of movie.

The film opens with a man dressed in black (The Alchemist) shaving two women in a rather psychedelically decorated room. The very next thing is a naked man (The Thief) lying in a pool of his own urine, covered by bees. This should tell the audience that, oh boy, they are in for something completely different. The plot is about The Thief, who is somewhat of a Jesus figure, and his dwarf companion who has no arms. They travel, meeting The Alchemist and seven other strange people, who are pursuing a mysterious goal that involves reaching the titular Holy Mountain.

The Holy Mountain is a parade of symbolism, be it meaningful or just there to confuse everyone. Coupled with the dream-like narrative and Jodorowsky's tendency to cram the scene full of whatever he wishes, the result is quite bizarre. The film is also either a spiritual or an outright actual sequel to El Topo, another trademark Jodorowsky film made three years earlier. The Holy Mountain was bankrolled by Allen Klein, manager for The Beatles, as John Lennon and George Harrison admired El Topo. The film was shot sequentially, entirely in Mexico.

The Holy Mountain has examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: A major inspiration for the movie was Mount Analogue by René Daumal, a book that is a surreal Mind Screw in its own right. Notably Daumal died before he completed the novel, and as a result the published work ends mid-sentence. Actually providing an ending was all up to Jodorowsky.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Every one of the pilgrims has a good laugh at the Thief trying to steal some of the money they were trying to burn and all of them don't mind at all that the secret cabal of Lotus Island was a simple ploy by the Alchemist, finding it to be hilarious.
  • Affably Evil: Fon and Klen are as shallow and exploitative as the other planetary representatives, but their machinations are considerably more colorful and the least destructive.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Isla is introduced waking up from bed flanked on either side by beautiful women, but she has a pit full of half-naked male secretaries, and during the Lotus-Eater Machine sequence near the end of the film, she imagines herself being rained on by steer semen and very much liking it.
  • Anachronism Stew: The film contains traditional Mexican villas and iconography blended with handheld cameras, helicopters and other then-modern technology. Isla of Mars says that her weapons manufacturing plant creates biological weapons as part of its inventory.
  • Arc Words:
    • "You are excrement. You can change yourself into gold."
    • "My name is X, and my planet is Y."
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The last person the group encounters in the Pantheon Bar before they decide to leave it is a robust and experienced traveller who has trained himself to peak condition both physically and mentally to the point that he can teleport great distances through sheer force of will and body. However, he can only do such horizontally, so it's a phenomenal skill that's useless for actually getting to the top of Lotus Mountain in a hurry.
  • Bald Mystic: The Alchemist shaves his disciples bald when they fully commit to their abandonment of material possessions and pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. In the opening, he does this to two women after first stripping them of their fancy dresses, jewelry, and makeup, and he does it again later to the main characters as they accompany him on his journey to the mountain.
  • BFG: Axon of Neptune carries a comically oversized assault rifle in his first appearance on screen.
  • Bifauxnen: Butch Lesbian Isla cuts a handsome figure with her various business suits.
  • Bigger on the Inside: The Alchemist's Tower and the Pantheon Bar.
  • Blood Knight: Before his journey, Axon was an absurdly violent man. So much so that instead of sex, money, or conventional vices, his visions at Lotus Mountain consist of dogs savagely fighting one another with him goading them on.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall/Postmodernism: The fourth wall is completely demolished by the Alchemist at the end.
  • Brick Joke: In the first act, a foreign tourist is raped by a police officer and doesn't seem terribly bothered by it, even having her husband take pictures of her and her attacker. The following act reveals that her lack of distress was likely due to the fact that Axon had castrated all the cops under his command, retroactively outing the rapist as a desperate impotent.
  • Church Militant: A clientele that Isla hopes to cater to (or create) with firearms modeled after religious symbols such as crucifixes and Buddha statues.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: Intentionally done early on to The Thief. A religious group make a hold of his body for religious iconography since he looks so much like Jesus.
  • Death of Personality: What the Alchemists disciples undergo and then reverse over the course of their pilgrimage. In the middle of their trek, they're asked to count the members of their party and are all instinctively unable to include themselves in the tally.
  • Dirty Cop: Axon's career as police chief has evidently made him a very wealthy man, but it's a perfunctory prize compared to his real goal of crafting a Cult of Personality around himself. Tellingly, when he's called to burn all of his money, he does so in one go rather in increments like the others. Also, he's the first of the group tasked with burning his effigy.
  • Fantastic Religious Weirdness: If you can spot its presence, you've probably watched this an unhealthy number of times...or just once.
  • Godhood Seeker: The Alchemist's goal is to travel, with his nine disciples, to Lotus Island to dethrone the immortal gods ruling there, and take their place.
  • Good Is Not Soft: The Alchemist will lie, throttle, and scold to make his disciples better people and the world a better place. As evidenced by the first third of the movie, it's rather understandable as the civilization he lives in is treacherous and foul.
  • Gratuitous German: The lyrics to the frog soldier song are the numbers 1 to 5 in German. repeated over and over.
  • Groin Attack: Neptune castrates a guy, then takes his testicles to be stored in a room with 1,000 other pairs.
  • Humanity Ensues: The actual purpose of the pilgrimage; to reconnect with nature and other people.
  • The Immodest Orgasm: When Fon of Venus brushes the cheek of one of his factory workers, she begins clutching herself and gasping... while suddenly appearing in a bombshell dress, fighting off other plant workers.
  • Immortality Seeker: Why everyone besides the Written Woman and the Thief joins the Alchemist in his quest.
  • Indulgent Fantasy Segue: The Alchemist at one point shows The Thief what would happen if he had the powers of Christ in that exact instance. It doesn't go well.
  • Makes Just as Much Sense in Context: One of the prostitutes who follows the Thief throughout the film is accompanied by a chimpanzee. We never find out exactly why.
  • Male Frontal Nudity
  • Male Gaze: The endless breast shots of the prostitutes.
  • Mind Rape: After all the actual climbing of it is done, Lotus Mountain sees fit to drench the gentle slopes to its summit with tortuous hallucinations.
  • Mind Screw: Much of the film.
  • More Dakka: Isla of Mars.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: When the Thief attempts to use his newfound enlightenment and knowledge gained from the Alchemist to give some street children a hefty amount of bread ala Jesus Christ, the Alchemist chidingly points out that such a sudden influx of wealth would lead to hoarding, territorial disputes, and outright violence among these desperate poor.
  • No OSHA Compliance: The Alchemist resides within an extremely tall building with an open, round entrance at the top. The Thief makes it up there by riding a large hook that is retracting into the top of the building. He gets down via The Alchemist's helicopter.
  • Not So Harmless: Berg of Uranus is initially presented as an innocuous gold digger leeching off of a raunchy older woman, but he's ultimately revealed to be a financial advisor to the government whose solutions to potential economic ruin all involve mass murder in the millions.
  • Pædo Hunt:
    • A scene featuring a boy around the age of 10 stroking the naked buttocks of a girl his age while both are in bed, positioned as if they had just had sex, was deleted from the film to avoid this trope.
    • Played straight early in the film, with the twelve prostitutes (disciples?) who follow the Thief around: one of them is clearly Under the Age of Consent, and is admired by a Dirty Old Man as well.
  • Pet the Dog: Even before his major Character Development hits, the Thief goes to great lengths to give the last of the giant Jesus Christ molds made from his image somewhere to belong. When he fails to find any in the city, he attaches a large number of balloons to the statue and casts it off into the sky to give it a shot at being part of the heavens.
  • Pietà Plagiarism: Performed early on during the molding scene.
  • Proscenium Reveal: In the final scene.
  • Refuge in Audacity: The Movie.
  • Scenery Porn: Trippy or not, the film has a huge variety of beautifully shot sets and stunning vistas in the third act.
  • Sexbot: Klen created a "Love Machine" to act as the big centerpiece for his latest batch of assembly line artwork. However, it has little to do with actual love (unsurprising, given his character) in functionality and is more reminiscent of a giant fickle robotic vagina that rewards technique more than tenderness, even spawning a whining metallic "baby" if sufficiently pleasured.
  • Take That Us: Among the people at the Pantheon Bar who gave up their quest for the Holy Mountain is a man who recommends using drugs. Jodorowsky, who openly talked about his use of drugs and hallucinogens, is telling the audience that getting high is not the way to reach spirituality.
  • Tulpa: The true nature of Five of Swords, manifested by the Thief to make his miserable, vice-filled existence less lonely.
  • Wham Line: "Is this reality? No. It is a film.. Zoom back, camera."
  • Writer on Board: Jodorowsky did pretty much everything in the film, including starring as The Alchemist. Not as pretentious as it sounds, since this allowed Jodorowsky to complete his vision the way he envisioned it. Whatever that was.

"Goodbye Holy Mountain, Real life awaits us."