Thursday, March 29, 2012

510. EL TOPO (1970)

Running Time: 125 minutes
Directed By: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Written By: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Main Cast: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Brontis Jodorowsky, Jose Legarreta, Man Alfonso Arau, Jose Luis Fernandez
Click here to view the trailer


When flipping through the book, prior to my last hiatus, I came across the entry for "El Topo" and just by looking at the picture of Alejandro Jodorowsky in his El Topo gear, I wanted to see this film. I took a break before I could get to it, but when I restarted my Netflix account this month, I made sure that I'd receive it in my first batch so that I could check it out.

The film starts with El Topo (A. Jodorowsky) riding across the desert, dressed in all black, riding a black horse. A child is with him, whom we can assume is his son. He instructs the child that since he is now seven years old, he is now a man and must bury a photograph of his mother and his favorite toy. Once the boy buries his possessions, the two continue riding through the desert and eventually come upon a town. There they find the residents massacred, the animals massacred (including horses with their entrails falling out) and in the buildings they find people hanging from the ceilings by their necks. They find one man still breathing and able to speak, who tells them that the perpetrators have fled to a nearby monastery. El Topo hunts them down and kills them and their leader, a Colonel. It is here that El Topo leaves the boy in the hands of a group of monks and takes with him a woman, whom he names Mara. From here, El Topo is told that he there are four master gunslingers living in the desert and that he must find and defeat all of them to become the greatest gunman of all. El Topo accepts his mission. The four gunslingers each represent SOMETHING (a religion, I suspect) and together with Mara he rides to duel with each of them. This is really only half of the film, but to even try to get into anymore would be too much of a headache for me...and you.

I'm not going to sit here and say that "El Topo" was a garbage film, filled with sex, violence and sacrilegious imagery and something that I really regret having to watch to continue my journey. I won't say that because it isn't true and in fact, I've watched worse for this journey. Take "Salo" for instance, which was far more gruesome in it's imagery. Actually, "El Topo", at times, reminded me of Fellini's "Satyricon", a film that I didn't hail when writing about it, but one that has since grown on me and one that I look back on as an utterly fascinating experience. However, did I like "El Topo"? No, I didn't. Honestly, it falls under that often used category of "not for me" movies. The film, above all else, is about religion (or at least that's my perspective), as Jodorowsky's El Topo character is forced to duel with four men, each representing a different belief. Yes, I believe in God, but I really don't like a lot of religion in my movies (see my Ingmar Bergman reviews). In the trailer for "El Topo", the narrator claims that "El Topo is not about religion, for it contains all religions". Well then that would make it an apex film on the subject of religion, wouldn't it?

By the time this movie was over, I honestly couldn't tell if Jodorowsky was a religious man and his film was meant to justify his beliefs or if he was an atheist and his film was meant to mock other people's beliefs. And on top of all the religious talk there was an awful lot of symbolism, something that got much more thick in the second half. On top of the symbolism and religion, the film was very surreal and I feel like if I had brought a bag full of marijuana with me to watch this movie, then we'd be talking about the #1 film of my next TOP 20. I can say, however, that I was never bored. I watched the screen intently, soaking up the images, listening to the actors and trying to put together the Rubik's cube that was "El Topo". The images actually were quite mesmerizing at times. A scene where one woman splits open a cactus plant and licks through the inside, to symbolize her sexual desire for another woman was quite...intense? (not sure if that's the word I'm looking for). If you want a one sentence explanation of what "El Topo" is all about, chew on this: "El Topo" is what would happen if Federico Fellini made a spaghetti western. Now, I actually like Fellini and my dabbling with spaghetti westerns several months ago was a highly positive one. However, I can't say that the two mix very well. We'll leave it at that.

RATING: 5/10 Let's just call it right down the middle. I have a hard time saying that this was a bad movie, because there was obviously SOMETHING there that had appeal. However, in the end it just wasn't my cup of tea.


March 29, 2012 3:49pm


  1. This one sounds a little to wierd for me!

  2. Ok....... Well done for resisting the very tempting desire to rubbish this film. I'm sure I've said this before, but I believe in trying to see something good in most things and most people. Just because I don't like, or understand, I should not write it off as garbage.
    However there are times one wants to ignore ones fine principles.. and this film was one of them. I just did not like it one bit.
    I quite like weird.. I can cope with disturbing images if used well for important points... (Salo I think is a valid use of highly repulsive images).... But this?
    So, I will believe someone who tells me I missed the point of this film.. OK, heard that and will try VERY hard not to simply dismiss it all as 'c**p'.. but I'm afraid I felt like saying so, and do regret having to sit through it.
    Yes Red, it is 'a little too weird' for most people. If you are doing the list.. sorry you have this to come!
    Oh dear.. I feel disapointed in myself...

  3. Yeeeow....
    Oh boy, if any of us thought this was odd, weird, difficult, challenging.. or any other words to convey similar things..
    For another list (for UK readers, 'The Guardian's 1000 films to see before you die) I had to do this guy's 'Holy Mountain'.
    Andrew, if you thought you were puzzled as to Jodorowsky's view of faith.. 'Holy Mountain' may give an answer. Here we have a Christ like lead character, always mostly naked (occasional use of a pouch) who seems to be on some sort of quest.. to find the titular Holy Mountain I assume, beset or abetted by lots of other naked people, paraplegic dwarves, and err... who knows what.
    You know I have often defended experimental.. and my above comment about happy to accept weird at times.. but Oh boy....
    Be glad, be very glad, THE BOOK chose El Topo, not Holy Mountain.

    1. I have another list ready to tackle after THE BOOK and "Holy Mountain" is on it. I've seen stills from HM and it DOES look "out there" to say the least.

  4. OOOOhh.. what is YOUR other list?

    1. Well, it's sort of a makeshift list - an amalgamation of several different lists. I'll be putting up a post next week discussing it in-depth.


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