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  • Jan 9, 2012
**** out of ****

After seeing but two of the four major works of surrealist cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky - "Santa Sangre" and "The Holy Mountain" - , I came to a sudden realization; there were still two more of the acclaimed director's films that I needed to tackle. One of those films is "El Topo"; a film that I have tried many times before to sit through; each time failing to succeed in doing so. What can I say; this is not an easy film. It doesn't follow a conventional narrative; it tells its story mostly through symbolism, grotesque imagery, and rare moments of spoken dialogue that never last for too long a time. Every instance where I had given the film a chance, I knew I was watching something, but the question still lingered: what? What was I watching? After borderline forcing myself into a much recommended mind-set; I finally sat down and tried my hand at finishing "El Topo", and found myself able to this time. Now, I find that my question has been answered.

The film begins with a sad - yet hopeful - scene in which a tough, violent gun-slinger dressed in black (none other than the titular character, El Topo, played by Jodorowsky himself) approaches the horizon of a long, winding dessert by horse; with only his young, naked son to accompany him. I suppose the sad part of the scene comes with the burial of the son's stuffed bear - along with his mother's photograph - in the sand; clearly some sort of metaphor for the transition from child to (young) man. The hopeful part, however, is that the journey has yet to begin.

Shortly after, the two come across a lonely town; in which all the people have been slaughtered and left for dead. El Topo demands to know the butcher behind the massacre; and gets his final answer from one of three goading bandits. The murderer is a man known only as The Colonel; a fat, balding leader to a group that accompanied him on his killing spree. El Topo is quick to kill the man, along with the other assistants in murder, and like always, he continues to ride on. But this time, he leaves his son with the monks - who were being held captive by the Colonel and his perpetrators - and takes the enemy's woman slave.

At this point, I suppose the grand journey has finally begun. The woman tells El Topo of four gunmen who he must defeat in order to become the greatest "warrior" in all the land. El Topo accepts the challenge out of honor and spirit; tracking down each gun master and successfully defeating every one of them in combat. Each one shares with El Topo a piece of their mind on the spiritual journey to enlightenment that he has mapped out for himself; he learns a lot from each encounter.

In all honest truth, "El Topo" is a difficult film to describe. It is, in theory, pure cinema; it is pretentious, it is bold, it takes risks seemingly impossible to overcome, and best of all, it comes from the mind of an undeniable intellectual. What I love about Jodorowsky is that he never forces his philosophies down our throats; you're either willing to see his movies through or not. Reading through some reviews in which differing opinions on the film are given, I see that not everyone adores the film and that's just fine. I don't imagine that Jodorowsky could have wanted it any other way.

Like the work of a great artist, "El Topo" cannot be fully understood unless you are, in fact, Jodorowsky. There's a handful of religious symbolism - many characters represent different religions of the world and the like - and I understand that those can be easily understood as well as you are well-read on such matters, but there are scenes of stunning beauty that clearly mean something; although it's as if they mean nothing to the viewer and everything to the maker. This angers people and it certainly angers me, but not to the point where I fail to recognize my un-ending admiration for this ambitious, intellectual work. I feel that "El Topo" is a great film not because of its ability to befuddle us; but for its many moments of unrelenting awe. This is, at the core, a violent Western with otherworldly sensibilities seldom found in any given Western. It is not a classic for its genre - because it does not have merely one - but it does stand out as one of the many great "weird works" of the 1970's.

However, I must caution certain viewers; if you have a weak stomach, or a faint heart - than perhaps you should steer clear of this film. In the journey ahead, there shall be castrations, corpses decayed by honey-bees, animal slaughter, and a whole lot of bullets. If you feel prepared for all the mentioned things - and even more - then you're also ready for "El Topo". Just go in knowing that it is a deeply-felt work of art; humanistic, spiritual, and completely relevant - whether its detractors decide to acknowledge that or not. Nevertheless, I think the fans have the upper hand; the advantage. Proof: the midnight showings at the IFC Center in New York City. It's not every day that a film finds an escape from obscurity and instead, a loyal fanbase. "El Topo" must be something really special; and much like the animal (the mole) that the title literally translates to, it's a film that will continue to dig until the end of time.

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More El Topo reviews
review by . May 05, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
el topo
Forget everything you've heard. Forget the name of the film. Just see it! Jodorowsky is another undisputed cinematic god & El Topo is his crowning work of art. For anyone not familiar with the man's work, here is a fantastic place to start. Trust me, there are not enough wonderful things to say about the film without totally spoiling the entire experience for you. Let's just say that there is nothing like it & probability suggests never will be.      For those who like …
review by . July 30, 2009
A peyote fueled western set in a nightmarish wasteland
El Topo has to be one of the most strangest films in history. A mysterious gunfighter dressed in black accompanied by his young son cross the desert on a quest to become the greatest gunslinger.  He fights them all and along the way learns more about life and everything is not what it seems.  A very soul changing metaphysical journey into one's self. It's a pretty twisted film that's highly enjoyable. A film filled with all kinds of beautiful people and unique individuals and …
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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El Topo (The Mole) is a 1970 allegorical, cult western movie and underground film, directed by and starring Alejandro Jodorowsky. Characterized by its bizarre characters and occurrences, use of maimed and dwarf performers, and heavy doses of Christian symbolism and Eastern philosophy, the film is about the eponymous character - a violent, black-clad gunfighter - and his quest for enlightenment. For many years the film could only be seen at midnight screenings, in arthouses and via partially censored Japanese laserdiscs and bootlegged videos until its official DVD release on May 1, 2007.

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