Wednesday, 19 October 2016

HALLOWEEN HORROR: Watching - El Topo (1970)

While not strictly a horror, maybe "mystical western" is more apt, Alejandro Jodorowsky's El Topo (The Mole) had always seemed to me a strikingly violent film. Since becoming famous as John Lennon and Yoko Ono's favourite midnight movie (pretty much inventing that genre), El Topo's imagery had always laid an indelible mark on my memory, despite having not seen the film. The first I knew of it was seeing an image of a child lying dead next to an actual disembowelled donkey. Years passed, and that image was still stuck there, hauntingly graphic, yet somewhat jarring with what I heard was a spiritual story. Having since watch El Topo, though, I feel I will have only more images that'll bury deep into my mind.

Starring Jodorowsky as the black-clad zen gun slinger, we learn early on what the lesson of the film could be: "A mole digs tunnels under the earth looking for light. When he finds it he is blinded." The gun slinger, El Topo, tells his seven year old naked son to forget his mother and his toys because now he is a man. Moments later, they come across a ransacked village, where we find the dead donky, along with plenty of other dead people and animals. One of the raiders comes out, El Topo hands the gun to his son, and the boy commits his first murder. After killing The Colonel, the frankly pathetic leader of the ransacking gang, El Topo abandons his son to monks of the village, telling him "destroy me, depend on no one", before running off with The Colonel's moll, who convinces him to take on the four great gun masters. He does this, mainly through luck, but is betrayed by the woman, who shoots him and leaves him for dead. He is rescued by a group of people with deformities, who then call on him to create a tunnel out of their mountain prison.

As I said before, not strictly a horror, but enough disturbing scenes to at least class themselves as psychic violations. Firstly, there is a lot of blood and gore. The blood is almost comical, looking like someone has literally chucked tins of red paint all over the place. The gore is real though, especially for the animals. There is a lot of dead animals, and in one scene, a hell of a lot of rabbits drop dead because of how spiritually lost El Topo is. These images are intrinsically connected to the mystical nature of El Topo's journey though, as he has to fight against his shadow self, and battle his increasing existential malaise, especially when all reason for him doing his quest is taken away from him.

The latter half of the film has a distinct Christian tone, although this film is more Eastern in its philosophy. Saved from death by the outcasts, years pass, and El Topo awakes from a long meditation. He has become an almost Christ like figure to these people, and they depend on him to free them. Him and a dwarf lady become clowns for a town of depraved religious zealots (who prove miracles are real by playing Russian Roulette) in order to buy dynamite and blow up a tunnel from the mountain. His son is grown up, and has contempt for the religion he is devoted to. However, El Topo proves that one man cannot save everybody, as the film climax's with mass murder, self-immolation, and his son finally being set free of his anger.

While it may sometimes be hard to understand, El Topo cannot be ignored. Esoteric, yes, and purposely obscure, but in parts it is desperately human and surprisingly funny. Parts will frustrate and bore you, and others will grab your attention. I wouldn't be tempted to try and understand all of the films dialogue and symbolism as, seen as Jodorowsky takes every major part of this film, this is a film displaying his own revelations and fears. El Topo is like stepping into somebody else's dream, where they probably don't even understand all that is shown themselves, and should be viewed more as an essence, a feeling you try to summon, than pertinent answers to a question.

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