di Laura Rossi
To understand Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain is necessary to go back to where it all started: the panic theatre movement. The movie follows a thief’s quest for immortality and alignment while icons and symbols are just enough to take the viewer to a mind-expanding journey. Its shocking aesthetic has its roots in the panic theory that Jodorowsky developed in the early 1960s. Together with Fernando Arrabal and Roland Topor, Alejandro was heavily influenced by Luis Buñuel and Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty.
The Holy Mountain is a purely visual movie, almost like if Luis Buñuel’s A Chien Andalou would become a full movie. The work of photographer Rafael Corkidi (Jodorowsky’s partner in Fando and Lis and El Topo) was extremely insightful and it makes the plot almost unnecessary, dialogue and sound are added only to enhance the spectator’s visual experience. The thief “is born” within a Christian environment, and physically he also resembles the many representations of Christ, he gradually sees himself disgusted by the commercialization and corruption of his image within the church, all of this is a paradox and a direct critic to how commercialized the religious image of christ is in the modern world. When repelled by the society he sees himself in, the thief is driven to seek for another type of spiritual contact, starting his journey the contradictions of many types of corruption of values that exist in society, in religion, within the church, as part of a capitalist system that causes the total alienation of the population.
A strong satire of the capitalist production industry and the commercialization of art is perspicaciously underlined, mainly by showing how money operates leading the higher classes of society. The director himself was questioned about the outcome of the movie, emphasizing what is already evident in his work: “Movies are a commercial industry,” he says.
“Today a picture has value if it makes a lot of money. Myself, I declare I want to make a picture to lose money. Really! I want to lose money. is not the finality of art to make money. Today you make conceptual art. You try to astonish the people, but you are saying nothing deeper for the human soul. Nothing! I always think that art is a form of sacrifice”.
The stages in which the protagonist pass-through can be identified by the introduction to the Alchemist lived by Jodorowsky, who is able to recognize redeemable souls for purification; we are introduced to the seven individuals in short vignettes, joining the thief in his journey to seek immortality, each from one of the planets in the Solar System, representing a horrendous aspect of humanity. The vignettes scenes can be described as an acid comedy that criticizes the society in which we live. This society is satirized, and is nothing more than a background for the protagonist and his search forenlightenment, it is all about the encounters of the protagonist with the immoral society and the path he is going take to enlightenment. The seven personalities that are presented to us can also be interpreted as the seven capital sins. However, analyzing the group as a whole which is formed by eight people, it can be read as the noble eightfold path, which is one of the principal teachings of Buddhism, taught to lead to Arhatship and the arhats or arahants are those who have attained nirvana. The journey goes on by following their renunciation to all worldly criteria on which the individual’s existence is based, material belongings, and social conventions. The group starts a great surreal and psychedelic journey through questioning, to achieve the understanding of the relationship between illusion and reality.
By analyzing the symbols present in the tarots, the thief is The Madman and his companion, the amputated dwarf, is the Five of Swords – card of the Minor Arcana – they are motivated to arrive at one of the many holy mountains, which can be read as the pantheons, a place where they will be free of control and from where they will be able to control all the others. However, by blindly trying to achieve a high spiritual level that is going to enable them to get rid of rules, the powerful rest of the group do not even realize this major goal is just an illusion.
The group is made of characters that at this point are too corrupted to continue living in this world, the Alchemist brevets the real intention of that trip and the thief he is sent by the alchemist to live in the tower with the prostitute and the chimpanzee. All that they lived through was only part of a fiction and Jodorowsky presents to them the existence of another dimension, the dimension of reality. Characters and spectators disconnect from fiction and, surprising the shock, see themselves in their respective realities. It is not an easy or comfortable conclusion, but it does make The holy Mountain a superb demonstration of how to put into perspective the things around us, be they material or spiritual; real or not. After all there is no holy mountain and, since the beginning, that’s the real moment of enlightenment they were seeking.