“Destroy me. Depend on no one.”
El Topo (or The Mole) is a surrealist Mexican Western about a cowboy with a naked son who frees a bunch of slaves from an evil Colonel before venturing through the desert to duel The Four Masters and then comes to find self-realization in a cave. The Internet said it’s about religion or something, so that’s cool.
In all seriousness, I really ended up enjoying this film. I may not have picked up on every piece of meaning, but it’s always visually interesting. Some may find trouble with all the nudity and violence, but I usually found it to be doing something meaningful. I think good surrealism comes when everything doesn’t seem random, and you can really get a sense that something important is going on, even if you have to do some Googling to figure out what that is.
Religious imagery is all over this movie. I’ve brushed up on several theories about the film’s take on religion and also the meaning of the “Four Masters” and their respective teachings. I think Christianity is the clear inspiration for most of the religious aspect. There is Old Testament imagery such as when El Topo prays for water and shoots a rock to make a spring appear in reference to Moses, but there is even more Jesus imagery. This stuff is everywhere. Crosses, the stigmata, El Topo spreading his arms in classic Jesus pose when he is betrayed and shot down. I took the entire second act to reflect a rebirth like the Biblical rising from the dead. While Christians believe that Jesus rose to lead people to heaven, El Topo rises and leads people out of the cave and into the village. There are a lot of ways to read into the religious stuff, and I found it to be the coolest thing to think about regarding the film.
I personally enjoyed Act I a lot more. I think the Western vibe and the plot structure was a lot more engaging. The second half seemed to drag a bit with the establishing of the village and the cave people and all these new elements. I think it’s a cool contrast to the first half and definitely indicates a rebirth and a sort of penance for El Topo, but it’s definitely less interesting to watch in my opinion. However, I did think the return of El Topo’s son and him taking his father’s place to an extent was a cool plot point.
Surrealism can be tricky, and the movie can fall flat at times. Maybe a second viewing will lend more appreciation to a grander scheme, but lack of a conventional plot asks a lot of a viewer. For the most part, El Topo delivers, but I would perhaps like to see a more focused direction if the rumored sequel ever gets made. Then again, maybe I just didn’t get something.
I will certainly say I have never seen a movie like this one before. Director (and starring actor) Alejandro Jodorowsky certainly takes a bold leap with this film, and I can see why it found its way onto the list. I am always welcome to cinema on the stranger side and hope to come to a better appreciation of the genre as I delve deeper in the future.
Films Left to Watch: 993