Home Year 1970 El Topo (1970)

El Topo (1970)

Whatever the end result, it had still been one hell of a party.
Whatever the end result, it had still been one hell of a party.

Twitter Plot Summary: In what is an often surreal religious allegory, El Topogoes on a desert quest to defeat the four warrior masters.

Genre: Western

Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky

Key Cast: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Alfonso Arau, Mara Lorenzio, David Silva, Brontis Jodorowsky, Robert John

Five Point Summary:

1. That’s a lot of claret right there. Also, why is that 7 year old boy naked?
2. Naked monks being ridden bareback through a field by cowboys…
3. Lamping a woman in the face and stripping her naked in a bid to find water. Sounds legit.
4. Shot in both hands and both feet after returning from a voyage of discovery in the desert. Not even disguising the religious allegory. Shameful.
5. And then it gets really weird. Erm…

First things first – the opening five minutes are incredibly weird and disturbing. A man dressed all in black tells the seven year old boy accompanying him, his son (both in the film and in real life) that he is now a man and must bury a picture of his mother in the desert to symbolise his transition to adulthood. Then, post intro credits, the man and the boy encounter a settlement awash with blood and dead bodies. Oh yeah, the seven year old boy is completely nude except for a hat, by the way. Then another tonal shift as meet a group of oddities in the mountains, who are set to kill El Topo (literal translation, The Mole), the man in black with the lovely beard – one has a shoe fetish; one draws an outline of a woman on the floor and starts grinding against it; another peels the tip of a plant and slices it maniacally. All set to some light hearted music similar to The Gonk from Dawn of the Dead (1978). Suffice to day, after an intro like this, you know you’re definitely not in Clint Eastwood territory.

At least it looks fantastic despite its age. Yes, there’s a clear 70s fashion sense on show, but it’s remarkable for the era. There’s also a gratuitous use of bright red blood, giving it that spaghetti western feel. The narrative is split in two, and there’s a clear divide between them. The first half is firmly in spaghetti western territory, whereas the second is within the same world but focuses on the love story between a really tall man (El Topo) and a dwarf girl. No joke. It’s just as odd as the first half of the movie, but in a different sense. Most peculiar.

The Pet Shop Boys reunion did not go down well.
The Pet Shop Boys reunion did not go down well.

There’s a distinct Christ figure overtone to El Topo, the character not the film. His journey is not too different to that purportedly followed by JC himself – a man resurrected and cleansed of sin attempts to help the needy, the sick, the malformed. It’s perhaps a little too obvious to look at it as a religious allegory, although that’s perhaps the most obvious thematic aspect at play – at one point El Topo is shot once through each hand and foot. Tied into this is a sins of the father storyline, where El Topo’s son (the naked boy from the beginning) comes back after El Topo’s “rebirth” in a cave of deformed outcasts. Throw in a hefty dose of Eastern philosophy as a counterpoint to the Christian allegory and the surrealism and lo – you have El Topo.

It’s not an easy film for most audiences to get to grips with, but I for one loved it. Perhaps because it’s so utterly bonkers, a stream of consciousness, waking dream type of film where real world logic is thrown out the window in favour of quick cuts and a script that has a very loose plot of a man seeking redemption for the wrongs he has committed. Honestly, if you can make it through the first fifteen minutes then there’s no reason to stop – it doesn’t get any easier to follow and the style doesn’t change. If you can’t stick with it then I can’t say I blame you, but if you’re attuned to the weirdness then it’s a stupendously good film.

Favourite scene: Why, the cowboys stripping a group of monks out of their habits and riding hem naked through a field, of course.

Quote: “I’ll call you Mara, for you are like bitter water.”

Silly Moment: The naked boy at the beginning. The point? Anybody?

(I do actually know what the point is, but I’m throwing it out there to see if anybody else gets it.)

Score: 4.5/5

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