El Topo

I’m so glad I finally watched this. I expected it to be much more difficult, and while I don’t profess to understand what Jodorowsky was saying with it, I can say I enjoyed it completely, and like a Fellini film constructed of symbols, I will be watching it again and again. El Topo, or “the mole,” is the story of a gunslinger’s journey from the darkness into enlightenment. And when the mole finally sees the sun, “he goes blind,” so says the narrator…
Never has a story thrust me into an archetypal, surrealistic world so swiftly and successfully. A man in black riding a horse across the desert, holding an umbrella. Like the famous scene in Lawrence of Arabia, as he approaches, the speck becomes a man; but this time, the man is holding a naked boy on the horse in front of him. Is he really El Topo’s son, or does he symbolize the child within? What the hell is he doing with a naked kid when he could throw his cape around him? The film’s Catholic imagery worked against it, but John Lennon urged a friend to buy the rights and promote it, and it became an instant cult hit.

It keeps the same queasy tone from there, as he wanders through a blood-soaked town where every villager has been slaughtered, and continues on a spaghetti western acid trip reminiscent of Django, the Man with No Name, and Johnny Guitar populated with grotesques and creatures of the id. It’s enjoyable because it works on both the classic “what the fuck?” level and as a surrealistic exercise, like reading Finnegan’s Wake- trying to make sense of the language invented for the film, and how the story, bizarre as it is, mirrors the Jungian quest archetypes and the cycles of life. As he goes from one master gunfighter to the next, they become increasingly bizarre; one is two men, a man with no legs strapped to a man with no arms, another merely sits in a pen with dozens of rabbits.

I loved every minute of it. It’s also suffused with humor, poking at other surrealists such as Bunuel and his foot fetish, and Fellini’s parades of grotesques. So while it is an exercise in surrealism, it has more in common with allegorical tales like The Silent Flute (Circle of Iron) and off-kilter bizarro westerns like Six-String Samurai than Viridiana. Fans of bizarre bloody films can like it for its surface, and those who enjoy unhinged surrealism a la Eraserhead and Lynch’s other masterpieces.

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