Sometime back I had posted on the documentary Jodorowsky's Dune here. I was very much impressed by the vision and dedication of the subject of that movie, Mexican surrealist movie director Alexandro Jodorowsky. I found out that his first movie Fando y Lis is available on YouTube. I tried watching it but it was too much off my taste. So I decided on watching El Topo, his second attempt.
In a YouTube video Jodorowsky himself had elaborated his reasons for the existence of this bizarre Mexican western movie. It so happened that the first screening of Fando y Lis, during a Mexican film festival, ended in a full scale riot. As a result, when the movie was screened in USA, they chopped off all the surrealist scenes that were presumed to be offensive to US audience. To Jodorowsky's disappointment, the movie failed to generate any interest. He decided to make his next movie distinctly American- a western, containing all cliché elements of the genre with his style of surrealism.
El Topo starts with a bizarre image, that of a man with an umbrella riding a horse on a hot desert with a small boy who is stark naked. The boy then buries his toy and a photograph of his mother to declare he has attained manhood. The actors are the director himself and his real son. The movie proceeds to show them travelling through villages being plundered by looters delivering justice. He goes on his journey through desert with a woman, whom he rescued abandoning his son. She persuades him to win over the four masters residing in desert. He fights and win them all, by crook and luck.
But then the woman double cross him and leave him for dead. Some cave dwelling people who are deformed by centuries of interbreeding rescue him. After years he wakes up from coma and decides to help them come out of the cave by making a tunnel. His son who was abandoned has become a monk and wants revenge.
The whole story happens in punishing landscapes in the background of unending cruelty and violence. Everything that happens on screen is so out of the world, but shot so strikingly, that you are forced to find the meaning of it. The movie delivers very high on shock value. But unlike some movies made with only that purpose, El Topo makes us aware that whatever is shown is unreal.
It works as a parable- of a spiritual journey that starts with self and ends in selflessness. Lot of spiritual symbols are thrown in- animals, violent and sexual activities, magic, deformed people, rituals. The movie never bothers to be correct- politically, socially or culturally.
When it was released it became a sensation. It was the movie that popularised midnight screenings, when movies that have disturbing content are shown past midnight in movie houses. If you can handle the disturbing visuals- caution: there are lots of that here- El Topo is an interesting puzzle for the neurons.