Strange Cinema: The Holy Mountain (1973)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on 366weirdmovies.com‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.

(Author’s note: Again, there’s a huge, year-long gap between entries because I’m a terrible person. But I have still been watching films from this extensive list, so that means you can expect plenty of reviews and witty banter. For real this time, guys. I swear.)


holy_mountainThe Holy Mountain (1973)
Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Starring: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Horacio Salinas, Zamira Saunders

What’s it about?
A Christ-like man known only as the Thief meets a powerful alchemist who leads him (and seven other materialistic figures) to the Holy Mountain to achieve enlightenment.

Is it any good?
Alright, kids. Strap yourselves in because we’re about to take the strangest trip of your meaningless lives. Let’s get enlightened.

Nothing could have really prepared me for this film and I’m pretty sure this review isn’t going to prepare you for it either. I remember stumbling across the trailer for The Holy Mountain in a listicle about strange videos from a wonderful site called Listverse (also where I found the terrifying Begotten, which I will also review when I stop having nightmares about it). The trailer advertises this as a “film completely outside the entire tradition of modern theater,” and that’s 100% accurate. This is surrealism in its finest, most daring form. The color palettes, the cinematography, the gratuitous use of nudity and bodily fluids–this is true art.

So now that I’ve attempted to articulate the artistic merit of this film, it’s time to talk about just how fucking weird this is.

The first 40 or so minutes of the runtime are almost completely dialogue-free. That’s right–almost half of this 2-hour film is a silent acid trip set in a nightmarish version of a Mexican city. But honestly, I didn’t even need dialogue. The imagery in those first 40 minutes is so intensely rich and bizarre that I found myself completely enthralled. Everything from the prologue with the alchemist (Jodorowsky) shaving women’s heads to reptiles dueling in a reenactment of the conquest of Mexico to the Thief eating the face off a wax figure made in his likeness is pure, nonsensical entertainment. Two of my favorite shots in the film are of the Thief screaming as he wakes up to find himself surrounded by Christ-like wax figures and the Thief exploring a rainbow hallway as he enters a conspicuous tower in the middle of the city. Explaining those to you doesn’t even do them justice. Explaining anything about this film doesn’t really do it justice, if I’m being honest.

But obviously all those great visuals have to be accompanied by an incredible story, right? Oh, reader, you are sadly mistaken. What great work of surrealist art comes with an easy explanation? Everything here is metaphorical, open to interpretation. And I’d argue that some of it is just for show (the rainbow room had to be an aesthetic choice).

The plot is flimsy and obviously irritatingly obscure, but I’ll give you a brief synopsis.

After the prologue, we find the Thief lying in a desert covered in flies. He befriends a footless, handless dwarf and the two venture into the city to make money entertaining tourists. Some locals notice the Thief’s striking resemblance to Jesus Christ and decide to get him drunk and cast an impression of his body in order to make life-sized wax crucifixes. The Thief destroys the replicas in a fit of rage and steals one, ultimately eating its face off and sending it floating to the heavens with some balloons. After that ordeal, he stumbles across a crowd surrounding a tower where a large hook hangs down. Attached to the hook is a bag of gold, which provokes the Thief’s curiosity (where did the gold come from?). He climbs on to the hook and rides it up to the entrance of the tower. Inside, he finds the alchemist, who shows him how to make gold. (Spoiler: gold is made from shit. Yes, you watch this character shit into a container. Fucking art.)

The Thief is then introduced to seven people who will accompany him on his journey to the Holy Mountain. Each one is a personification of the seven planets (yes, including Pluto). Venus is a cosmetics manufacturer, Mars is a weapons manufacturer, Saturn is a war toys manufacturer, Jupiter is an art dealer, Uranus is a political advisor, Neptune is a police chief, and Pluto is an architect. (Side note: this is probably my favorite part of the film because each one of these people is more bizarre than the last. Look out for Neptune and his collection of 1000 testicles.)

The rest of the film follows the group of nine (including the Thief and the alchemist) as they journey to the Holy Mountain and achieve enlightenment. When they reach the end of their journey, they are instructed to “displace the immortals” sitting at a table. The immortals turn out to be fake and they all have a good laugh. Then the alchemist break the fourth wall with the command, “Zoom back, camera!” We see the film crew and the alchemist ends the journey with a few final words: “Real life awaits us.”

Holy shit (pun intended). What a bizarre masterpiece. I knew this film had a cult following and now I understand why. I’m not sure if I loved it so much as I was fascinated by it. The Holy Mountain definitely isn’t for the casual movie fan (it’s probably not even for the casual weird movie fan), but if you’re willing to shut your brain off and let this surrealist trip wash over you, you might end up feeling a bit enlightened yourself. And remember, in the words of the alchemist, “You are excrement. You can change yourself into gold.”

Grade: A- (for beautiful and often terrifying visuals)
Weirdness Score: 9.5/10 (officially the weirdest film I’ve seen so far!)

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]

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