Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain is a bizarre, surreal satirical exploration of a man’s quest for his inner truth. On that note, this is not a film for everyone. That needs repeating; this is not a film for everyone. This is the type of film that would shock most casual viewers by its grotesque, yet beautiful visuals and overall unconventional story telling. The Holy Mountain is STILL one of my favorite films because of the challenge it poses to its viewers to think critically, not only about the film but also about their own personal spirituality, society, and religion. The film follows a Christ-like figure that wanders through a bizarre, perverse land where he encounters a mystical enlightened guide, whom sends him on a spiritual pilgrimage. The film is stuffed full of beautiful, however perverse, imagery as the viewer follows this Christ-like figure through his pilgrimage. The most common response to the film is that it attacks organized religion, though this is most likely an effort of average moviegoers to dismiss the film and avoid deeper reflection. Upon closer examination one can see that Jodorowsky was trying to illuminate precisely how primitive our understanding of the world can be. As the theorist Abraham Maslow suggested in A Theory of Human Motivation, self-actualization is the highest stage of human physiological development. This film illustrates the journey to this end.
At first glance, the film appears to be a simple hero’s journey, a man seeking truth in a maniac world, but it also must be interpreted as a reflection on both Jodorowsky’s and the audiences’ lives. The Christ-like figure must face the numerous temptations of this world. Along this journey Jodorowsky stresses the importance of making one’s own decisions and the consequences that ensue. In an early scene the protagonist walks through Mexico City to observe all of the city’s grotesque distractions that astonish the eye and confuse the mind. It is a bizarre festival of whores, soldiers, and liars. After taking it all in, the figure then meets priests who befriend him and proceed to mass-produce a mold of him under the promise of enlightenment. They have created a product that is promised to bring clarity, belying their true intention to market it to society, in effect emulating the everyday promises of new technologies. It’s a concept that has been used throughout history. The figure, disgusted by this greed, flees on a journey to find his personal truth. In this way Jodorowsky suggests that man sees the world as chaos. He further suggests that each person must arrive at his or her own conclusions, finding their own personal truth without being alienated by a society whose intentions may be deceptive. The final act of the film is the most linear in that this is when the actual journey towards enlightenment takes place. Our protagonist has faced many challenges on the path to enlightenment: distractions, debauchery, and confronting personal fears. After all the trials and tribulations the figure, and those who have joined him along the way, complete their journey to the top of a mountain. Again this is reminiscent of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where the ultimate twist is revealed and the alchemist breaks the fourth wall as if to tell the audience, “What did you expect? This is just a movie!”
In the end, Jodorowsky does not provide any obvious answers, implying that viewers must find their own meanings and identify their own self-actualization. Jodorowsky makes his final statement about spirituality and beliefs perfectly with this ending, asking each of us to find our own truth because life is a series of experiences that no one can fully understand or can possibly interpret in the same way. The film suggests that society at times can frighten, tempt, and distract, and if one cannot accept these, then they will not experience the pinnacle of true living. Thus, we all must experience life for ourselves, finding truth and meaning in its events as they pertain to our selves. For the film, The Holy Mountain, as in life, one must find their own meaning and develop their own interpretations, this was mine.
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