- James Deziel
The Holy Mountain: A Confusing Spectacle
Updated: May 27, 2022
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Lonely Mountain was released in 1973...and I don’t think I got it. But, I’m not sure I was meant to.
I need to start by addressing that this thing is gorgeous to look at. DP Rafael Cordiki’s cinematography blends masterfully with Jodorowsky’s direction and set design. Alejandro really abides by the old “If you want something done right, do it yourself” mantra; he is also credited as contributing to the music, art department, and costume design. Jodorowsky’s art and set decoration use color to compose these rich, layered shots that one can only imagine were extremely entertaining and engaging to shoot on the day.
That’s another thing, this shoot looked TRIPPY. There’s no way anybody was any kind of sober for this production, and I’m not sure anyone cou;d’ve/shou;d’ve been. There’s tons of heady stuff going on that, frankly, I can’t even begin to guess how it got thought up. Yet, it’s all fascinating. I couldn’t look away out of sheer fear of missing something, some key to unlock the point of whatever it was I was witnessing. And at the end of the day, it all was.
There’s not a single shot, color, or prop that feels meaningless. We go over a half an hour before any dialogue is spoken, and the film’s basically halfway over before we get to the real crux of the actual plot. But does the story even matter?
I’m not quite sure it does. It offers plenty to think about, for sure. Thoughts on religion, capitalism, war, sexism, government and policing, and sexual freedom and identity run rampant throughout the film. And those are just the ones I remembered. For a film about overtaking the old and supplanting it with the new, and all that it entails, it certainly knows it has a lot of ground to cover and it definitely tries.
Each sequence in the film serves almost as its own performance art piece, many of them strung together as an anthology sequence for much of the film. Even before we meet the planetary surrogates that The Alchemist (performed by, you guessed it, Alejandro Jodorowsky), you’re forced to inject your own interpretations onto the art. Each piece is so frantic and jam packed with imagery that I found myself reading consistently, this time watching for the visual information, another just for the art, another solely for the narration.
The religious imagery cannot be overlooked, and it is presented often with differing connotations. We see drunken thieves resembling Christian iconography and actions only to then still get the masses to follow him. We see sequences like this that appear to critique the nature of religion itself, but it’s far from the only commentary on religion. Another is when a trio of obese Roman guards and Catholic nuns drug the Thief and use him to create their savior statues to be sold out on the street market. We see a whole other side of organized religion and capitalism, and the Thief’s blood curdling screams and subsequent rampage of destroying the new merchandise seems to offer up Jodorowsky’s thoughts on the skewing of organized religion’s priorities and nature.
Now, here’s the thing. Everything I just said is me completely talking out of my ass and means absolutely nothing to you if you got something else out of it. I realized during my viewing that there was no way I could single out and narrow down exactly what I thought any of this meant; I can’t think of a single sequence that I have just one theme or thought process on. This is purely experiential and I found myself constantly wanting to know what others thought, what others see. As I mentioned before, I could watch this on multiple levels and have a brain bursting hell of a time. Just maybe not as good of a time as the crew had.