El Topo (1976)
(Premiere Date: December 18, 1970 [New York])
(Release Date: April 15, 1971 [Mexico])

I DIG the Mole!I DIG the Mole!I DIG the Mole!I DIG the Mole!

Subterranean Cinema's most surreal landscape.

J.C. Maçek III... 

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J.C. Maçek III
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There are some things that can't be put into words regardless of what language those words are in. During the 1970s Midnight Movie crowds across the United States (and eventually abroad) were introduced to a very strange Mexican Western about gunfighting, revenge, lesbians, mysticism, trust, metaphor, backstabbing, fatherhood, pagans, morlocks and the quest for enlightenment. The film was called El Topo and was the product of the multi-talented Alejandro Jodorowsky, whose credits on this film make one wonder if he had himself cloned to handle all of them. The question that was, and still is, on the lips of a good deal of these movie-goers usually sounds like some variation on "What does it mean?"

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Some things simply don't mean anything. Some things mean a lot of things. Some things mean so many things that they become hard to explain. Some things have meanings that aren't easily translated into words. Some things are ruined when explained. El Topo probably falls into all of those categories at one point or other. Some parts are quite meaningful, whether the meaning is to be discussed or not... other parts are just there.

El Topo is complex as the above paragraph might illustrate, however El Topo is also very surreal, strange and frequently uncomfortable. The film can feel even less comfortable when it doesn't make sense. Further, it's frustrating to know that certain things probably do have a meaning (deep or otherwise) that the viewer can't quite grasp.

Our title character of El Topo (which means "The Mole") is played by Alejandro Jodorowsky himself with his real-life son Brontis playing Son of El Topo. The sight of a black-clad desperado on horseback with his naked seven-year-old can be unsettling to say the least. Seeing said seven-year-old performing a mercy killing is an additional inspiration for unease. In fact, watching the entire first 20 minutes or so, one can scarcely name two full minutes together that are particularly pleasant, from the discovery of an entire town gunned down to the vengeance El Topo takes on the mad Colonel (David Silva) and his men who performed the brutal acts.

El Topo takes its first major turn when the title character leaves his son in care of the Monks and embarks on a new journey with Mara (Mara Lorenzio), a woman whom he rescued from the cruel Colonel. Mara directs El Topo's attention to four Gunslinging Masters (played by Héctor Martínez, Juan José Gurrola, Víctor Fosado and Agustín Isunza) who have, ironically, undertaken a much more peaceful lifestyle than their status as Master Gunslingers would imply. El Topo's journey puts him before each of these four.

This isn't the last of the major turns that the character and his namesake movie take over the rest of the film. In the coming acts (which may span years) El Topo goes through many changes and ordeals. He meets the mysterious Woman in Black (Paula Romo), is rescued from the brink of death by a colony of inbred, deformed people who live inside a mountain, falls in love with a dwarf (Jacqueline Luis), comes into conflict with a hedonistic, grotesque and sadistic pagan town and ultimately finds his way full circle to confront his past.

El Topo is an extremely violent film in many parts that jumps from moments of complete calm to moments of psychotic madness with the approximate reaction time of your average car accident. Further, El Topo can morph, without warning into a hilarious, almost vaudevillian comedy and back to violent thriller again at a coin toss. This makes the beauty of El Topo all the more striking, considering all. El Topo is weird to the point of being inaccessible to many people. On the other hand, its list of fans is enormous and includes a great many of our most noteworthy surreal film makers like David Lynch. Also a fan was one English Born New Yorker who fell in love with the film and helped it gain a wider release and helped get the soundtrack released. That man's name was John Lennon.

Further analysis of El Topo could take multiple viewings and should take multiple viewings, especially considering its strange beauty. The expansive Cinematography by Rafael Corkidi is incredible, especially in the current DVD release. The colors and framing are striking and make what is, in reality, a small film seem epic. The music by Jodorowsky with Nacho Mendez not only keeps the weirdness brewing, but also enhances the rich visuals with an excellent audio accompaniment. This is not your typical movie... it's not even your typical weird movie, but it has more than earned its cult status and manages to satisfy on a great many levels, even exceeding similar films like Zachariah and Wizards. But should El Topo be studied so deeply? Probably so. A hundred people might come up with a hundred different answers, but these things prompt discussion and theories, some right, some wrong, some that might mesh with Jodorowsky's intent, some that may not.

The Midnight Movie circuit was packed with such weird and experimental movies, rarely were they this good. El Topo is an all-around well made movie, hard to understand, but hard to ignorethe artistry of or the legacy of its influence. Four Stars out of Five. This isn't for everyone, to be sure, but those who complain that all movies are the same, can appreciate a foreign-language film and can handle some things remaining obscure might get a kick out of this horse. What does it mean? You decide, just like everybody else. So until the sand storms cover the hiding places of the master gunslingers, I'll see you in the next reel.

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El Topo (1970) reviewed by J.C. Maçek III
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