Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Holy Mountain - The Review Is Not The Messiah, It's A Very Naughty Boy

NSFW warning: This will be a very, very Not Safe For Work post about a film. Contains nudity, sexual situations, violence, swearing, horror, rampage, drugs, demons, gods, orgies, debauchery, nihilism, hedonism, terrorism, fetishes, depravity, insanity, all seven deadly sins, gays getting married and having 2.3 children and a dog named 'Spot' and living in a white picket fence house right next door to you, and working on the Sabbath.

The Dude is getting pissed.
If you live in an English-speaking Western country and you consider yourself to be a "mind--blown movies" aficionado, you've probably sat through the works of David Cronenberg and Terry Gilliam. Then after that, you discovered David Lynch movies and thought you'd found heaven. If you're not satisfied with that, you might intrepidly quest the whole Earth and eventually discover Luis Bunuel and Ken Russell. You snuggle up with your DVD collection, then, confident that, barring the occasional Netflix raid for Kenneth Anger or Darren Aronofsky, you've got this surreal thing pretty locked down. You'll declare that you've been-there, done-that, and bought the Tshirt.

And then you find out about Alejandro Jodorowsky. And you're right back to feeling like a virgin again.

Jodorowsky is just a tiny bit fixated on three things:

  • Religion.
  • Sex.
  • Animals.
In that order. And The Holy Mountain is a relentless canvas of obsession with all three. You might have thought that Monty Python's Life Of Brian was sacrilegious, but heck, they only bit into regular Christianity, and even gently at that. Jodorowsky takes a big, steaming dump on every religion ever to get its own book, and plenty more besides. Every frame of the film has references to some random religion, from Ayyavazhi to Zen, sometimes three or four of them in one scene crammed into background puns. Sounds like fun? Let's dive in.

And that rhymes with P and that stands for a Pool!
I'll warn about spoilers, but really, "spoilers" are a null concept with a film like this. It is impossible to spoil The Holy Mountain. It's like saying that you can spoil the Mona Lisa by telling me it's a picture of a smiling woman. By the way, Jodorowsky took a truckload of drugs during the making of this, made his cast take drugs too, and had the deep pockets financing of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who were previously enamored with his production of El Topo, to give him laissez-faire to pull out all the stops and go crackers. It shows. You have never seen a film experience like this, and another one like it may never get made again. You can see it free here, after signing in to YouTube to prove you're over 18.

Diving in now:

We open with a black-clad, priest-like figure performing a Japanese tea ceremony before stripping and shaving the heads of two submissive women. Meh, OK, nice credits sequence. Then we meet... "Jesus". I'm told he's the thief (he's even called this), but bosh to that. Jesus is a derelict bum in the street awakened by the trademark Jodorowsky amputee hobbling about, and then fifty naked boys run up and haul Jesus away for some good old fun with a simulated crucifixion and stoning. Then Jesus and the amputee share a joint and a forehead lick of bonding.

Maybe they're pinatas.
They go into a town ruled by some kind of soldier occupation that involves lots of firing squads. More crucifixes, with some kind of flayed animal, are marched about. To get to the point, a simulated conquest of Mexico is produced via a "Great Toad And Chameleon Circus", with cute froggies and lizzies sporting conquistador and Aztec costumes. Then everything blows to hell. Well, there went that scene.

Now it's time to visit a simulation of Catholicism, so Jesus finds himself in a Jesus factory where his likeness is used to produce wax Christ statues by the warehouse-load. You name it, we have your Bible story metaphor: carrying the cross, Jesus drinks wine, eating a fatted calf, Pieta pose, whipping the money-changers, pedophile Pope, and on and on. Jesus goes berserk and destroys the entire warehouse of wax figures save one, which he carries around like a teddy bear. More scenes parodying religion follow, and a bunch of temple prostitutes come out for a show just because. Jesus chews the face off his wax friend and sends the rest flying away. Oh, and we have a glass eye offered to the littlest girl temple prostitute. Remember, kids, this was 1973, there was no CGI. They had to find an actual man with an empty eye socket and convince him to be in this film.

Youoooo only live twiiiiiice...
You know how far into this we are now? Twenty minutes. This is the freaking prologue! We've already out-psyched David Lynch, outsexed Bunuel, and made Woody Allen whine that this is going too fast for him and he can't keep up. We've also seen more dicks than a Las Vegas private investigator convention. Jodorowsky is still taxiing on the runway before takeoff.

One hell of a tall tower is in town with a fishhook hanging down from it, so Jesus climbs aboard for a fishhook-ride to the top and our story at last begins. A white version of the priest-like figure we saw in the opening (I'm told it's an alchemist, shrug, OK) greets Jesus in a Wizard-of-Oz setting and from here we just get creamed with a spewing flow of religious symbols all over our face. Crucifix-shaped dagger duel, the seven chakras, I Ching symbols, a naked female slave covered in Hebrew tattoos, Yin-yang reference, the "Enneagram of Personality" which will become our main logo later, a Star of David, Tarot cards, Islam-looking something, and a blue octopus which may be a Hindu reference to whatever the blue-skinned guy with the eight arms is called. Also, we join a hippo for a romp in the pool.

Yes, this is exactly what you think it is.
OK, we're going to send Jesus on a quest. To find the Holy Grail! No, wait, to climb the Holy Mountain. Accompanied by some new characters we have to introduce, who become the Fellowship of the Ring! No, wait, they're seven parody characters themed after six planets and one has-been planet. I'm going to break convention and not list them, because it's the most enjoyable part of the film with hilarious monologues and visually stunning introductions for each one, and definitely the least challenging to comprehend. Just sit back and laugh your ass off. If just this part had been the whole movie, you still would have sworn you got your ticket's-worth.

Did I mention the naked? There's naked all over this film, and you barely notice it because of all the weird crap everywhere. It takes you a moment when you're looking at a female jousting with a licorice Slim Jim to deflower a Companion Cube before it registers "Oh yeah, she's starkers!" It is always at about this point that plain old female breasts fail to make any impression on me at all anymore, because they aren't painted with a Pagan sun-god or anything. Oh, and one more thing - there's a scene featuring the longest pee in cinematic history, a record not to be broken until Austin Powers. In fact, you could make a drinking game out of "spot the fetish" throughout the whole film.

A year later, Mel Brooks made Blazing Saddles.
Right, then, off in our helicopter to go on our quest. In finally introducing the Holy Mountain itself at a briefing, they of course have to show slides of every famous revered mountain around the world, you know, Fuji, Ararat, Olympus, blah blah blah. Now everybody gets their own wax statues! And you'll be reminded of John and Yoko's financing in a scene here.

Our ten travelers (alchemist, Jesus, six planets, one has-been planet, and the naked slave with the Hebrew tattoos who I'm told is supposed to be Mercury. Meh.) head off into the shrubs and the going gets slow here. It becomes an episode of Survivor on acid. Ooooh, a bug on a leaf, wow, man. You'll find yourself counting to ten over and over here, ten bowls of psychedelic stew, ten heads doing the wave, ten contestants barfing their brains out and babbling about wise flowers as they battle for this week's immunity challenge.

Rumor has it they didn't even have permission to land this.
Then they sail away ("ship of fools", get it?) after one last gospel reference we forgot to throw in earlier about the loaves and fishes. They have to cross a damn ocean and everything to get to the friggin' mountain, which we haven't even seen yet with only thirty minutes to go! Try to resist humming the Gilligan's Island theme here. Finally we get to the island where we're supposed to be going, only to meet a village of Smurfs! No, wait, they find a whole crowd of former quest-members who have lost their way but are having too much fun go-go partying to care anymore. This is the other hilarious part, where it's just becoming one big Monty Python film (another troupe with ties to the Beatles, hint hint). But they've come too far by now to be sidetracked by another freak-show.

Now, in the tiny handful of reviews that I've seen for this film, I see a lot of fussing about the ending. People say it's a blowoff. I say it's brilliant and perfect. Like all films about a journey, is it not getting there that was really important? In making a supreme effort to seek out the Master, do you not become the Master? Is man not frustrated in his quest for God because every God he finds is lesser than himself? Or is it not also possible that in a universe where there are no Gods, we chase our shadows, and he who seeks to become the closest to God becomes the greatest fool? Finally, what would half the Bible-thumpers say about this ending? Look for the God in your heart, not the wise men on the mountain, right? The ruby slippers on your feet could have taken you home the whole time, yada yada? Keep asking questions in every religion, I don't care which one it is, and in the end you'll get the same answer this film gives.

Blue Man Group making a Ricola commercial.
Perhaps I have a different perspective, having been raised by religious parents and been confirmed in their religion, only to reject it when I got older. I also sought out the world's religions, sampling every one I came to with an open mind before finding their tastes equally sour. I am today, at best, agnostic, humanist, or secular, take your pick. Most religions out there have a loophole clause which says that non-believers who strive to live virtuous lives can get into their heaven anyway, so what's the difference?

I'd also like to interject a point about grotesque, surreal elements. They seem to be a common factor in films that parody religion. And really, when you come to look at it, are the various baffling and disturbing images in The Holy Mountain really that different from content in the various scripture books? Have you seen the convoluted soap opera that is Greek mythology, or the surreal, disturbing events in the Bible? I'm looking at you, Ezekiel with your weird flying creatures, and you, Revelation, with your carnival of multi-headed beasts bringing death and destruction to the masses. Is a man with cheetah heads for breasts that squirt milk really more surreal than a flood that drowns the whole world save one boat? Stop and think how the church service, with its incense burners and chanting in Latin and bread that turns into a dead Messiah's flesh, hits your kids when you take them to Midnight Mass. That's how the imagery of The Holy Mountain hits you.

In the last balance, this film is a comedy. And it is not really that different from many other satires of religion and society out there. It is a supreme effort. If you see it, I can promise you that you will see things that you have never seen before. As long as this review is, I've barely scratched the surface of all the jam-packed images and scenes in this mountain of a movie. It is a work of wit and wonder, and even considering the $750,000 budget in 1973 dollars, I can see where every dollar went. Hell, American Graffiti came out the same year with a budget a few dollars longer, and I don't see anybody getting any deep meaning out of that film, as worthy of viewing as it is.

The Holy Mountain held my attention riveted throughout, and I consider the two hours viewing well-spent. That's all I could ever ask.

See Jodorowsky talk about the making of Holy Mountain here.