I bought this film for what has to be the lamest of reasons. I heard that John and Yoko considered it one of their favorite films. So, I figured i'd like the movie. I started the DVD, and about 20 minutes in, when the Jesus like character takes a dump inside a glass jar, which is then baked, and the fumes moved into this 8 foot large decanteur, in which the Jesus like character was enclosed, I stopped the film. Later, I started the film again, but stopped it at the anus washing scene. When this old man pulls out his glass eye, and puts it into the hand of a 7 year old child prostitute, I had to turn away, but I didnt turn it off. Hey, at least the film was making me REACT. I finally got thru the film, and thought, "This is the more weirdest film ever made." I had no idea if I had been conned, or if I had missed the point. I watched it again, after watching some of the bonus materials. (mostly about the director's daliance with Zen Dharma, and the Tarot.) Then the symbolism became clearer. I've read alchemical books, and know the Hermetic roots of the Tarot. I've explored psychedelic psychopharmacology, and various forms of gramacy. So, I could tell what Jodorowsky was presenting was serious, not a put on. This is not to say, that I was able to watch the scatological portions of the film, or the parts that caused me repulsive, subconscous fear. The third time I saw the film (ie, the third or fourth day I had it), I listened to the director's commentary. I can respect that some art, is more demanding than other art, and this film IS demanding. Thankfully, Jodorowsky deconstructes the film, explains its symbolism, its backround, and his own esthetic philosophy. So it took work on my part, to discover I was watching a profound masterpiece of cinematic art.
The commentary made clear the structure and meaning of the film. The film is NOT so conceptually avant guarde, as to be incomprehensible. It simply helps to know what the director's INTENT is. Even without that knowledge, the film is enjoyable. You dont need to have studied the TAROT for years, or know Alchemy, ceremonial magic, or Zen buddhism. Like most 20th century art, the director lives in a world that has become globalized, not just economically, but culturally, religiously, and personally. Knowing these ideas, the "plot" of the film can be explained a bit more easily. Dont worry, I couldnt give a spoiler for the plot here, if I tried. That's cos the film isnt about plot, its about artistic freedom and enlightenment.
One of the "themes" of the film, is the way religion keeps people from being spiritually enlightened. We see the Catholic church, Buddhism, and Judaism take several knock out punches, with startling, provocative imagery, which the Catholic Church considered blasphemous at the time of production. As the main character of the thief, who is a JESUS double, begins on the spiritual path, the MASTER (Jodorowsky himself) appears, and asks him, "Do you want gold?" Of course, the pseudo Jesus says yes, so that alchemical decanting takes place, where feces are magically metamorphizied into Gold. Then, the master invites the pseudo Jesus figure, to tread the path of enlightenment, with the other 9 initiate candidates, each of whom represents a different planet. Mercury is a nude black woman with symbols from the kabala tatooed on her. After that, we are taken into a large spinning room, where the plastic sculptures of each 9 initiates are shown and explained to the Theif. Each initiate represents the negative parts of that planet. The actors, and non-actors, who play these roles, went thru all kinds of strange preparations to portray their roles, including seclusion for months, while given large doses of psychedelic drugs, and forced to meditate for hours on end. (This isnt shown, but you can TELL this film is in the stratosphere somewhere...jupiter's stratosphere, not the earth's stratosphere, ok?) After the 9 initiates transcend their egos, they burn their sculptural representations, and that ends the first part of the film.
After the first section, the director cuts all the actors hair off, women and men both. Then, they try to climb up this snow capped holy mountain, in order to take over from these immortals who live on top of it for 40,000 years. They are given many chances to be lost to desire and delusion, but they all keep going. The initiates follow Jodorowsky, the master, up the mountain. Unlike the surreal, bizarre first part of the film, where imagery like toads and lizards dressed up like aztec priests and Spanish conquestitors are commonplace, the last part of the film is closer to documentary. After much dangerous struggle, the 9 archtypical initiates make it to their goal, only to discover its all been a big put on. So, the ending of the film is disappointing for some. But does that mean the film doesnt work? This film only works, if we make it work. In every way imaginable, the dense, psychedelic, humorous imagery, in tandem with the obvious sincerity of the director to make a film to enlighten his viewers, opens the viewers to almost every possible reaction a human can have to artwork. You'll be appalled, humored, nauseated, freaked out, angry, offended, disgusted, sexually aroused, and who knows what else. This is NOT family viewing, even if youre a member of the Addams family. (Manson family tho, perhaps.) So, who likes this type of film? Normally, I'd say if you liked ERAISERHEAD, or CLOCKWORK ORANGE, or VIDEODROME, you'd like this film. But really, this movie is a huge step beyond those films, in weirdness, flipped out philosophy, and offensiveness. If you are a good Catholic, you might want to avoid this DVD. If you have a squeamish stomach, avoid. The final word is this. If you could embrace art like Maplethorpe's homoerotic photography, or Fassbinder's strangest films, or music like Yoko Ono's 1970 solo album, or books like NAKED LUNCH, then I'd say you could watch the film without blinders on. If you have some exposure to Zen, Kabala, or the TAROT, all the better. Again, if religions outside our your own seem like satanism, avoid this film. If you hate Don Cherry's far out free jazz (since he helped to write the soundtrack) by all means, avoid the film. I've often heard it said, that when we are ready for the master, he appears. Likewise, I think we have to be ready for some works of art, before the esthetic objective of the artist will appear to us. If we are not "ready" for the artwork, we will just be offended, and of course, blame it on the artist, and not our own limitations. This is not fair, not to anyone. Its certainly not fair to artists in any society that claims freedom of expression. But if you want to stretch your imagination, and dont mind the iconoclastic intention of the director/writer, why not buy the film, and see what you think? Maybe you'll smash a few of your own symbols, and see things in a new way. No doubt that was what Jodorowsky wanted from his audience. Believe me, you dont need to be a psychedelic mind jockey to understand this film, anymore than you do to understand the Beatle's SGT PEPPER. The film, like all artwork, is a product of its time. But masterpieces transcend their time of creation, to become eternal symbols of mankind's quest for beauty and truth. 35 years after its premiere, HOLY MOUNTAIN remains a challenging masterpiece of world cinema.