Tuesday, November 22, 2011

EL TOPO (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1970, Mexico)

A gunman surrenders to his lust and must complete an epic journey, much like King Arthur, to seek fulfillment and drink from his holy grail. Creator Alexander Jodorowsky's metaphysical graffiti copulates with surreal images and births a lurid and tempestuous hybrid of genre and genuflection, anarchy in spurs.

The lone gunman of the apocalypse is a mole digging through the dirt of revelation, seeking justice in a desert world where saints are victims to sinners, his six gun salvation tolls of his own destruction. Once El Topo gives himself to a woman he becomes slave to bodily desires: this is not the woman's fault, it is his. His feminine soul dressed in black leather, a husky voice commanding obedience with love and violence, leads him to a crumbling bridge over troubled prairies, where El Topo is crucified with lead, deconstructed by his own tools. This is the Genesis of a great man who must die to be reborn...in what form? Is he angel with a sword of fire or does he bring forgiveness through intervention?

The second verse brings the godhead to flesh, psalms for alms, as the nameless protagonist is no longer a dangerous gunman but has become greater by becoming smaller. With his tiny bride, he begs and dances for money, a surrender without giving his true self away. His love is now healthy and complete, not driven by lust or selfishness but shared and gentle. Together, they save their copper cents to buy tools to dig the tunnel to connect the dark underworld to the blistering Sodom. But even good intentions lead to corrupt results, as the surface dwellers who represent the "norm" prove to be crippled and diseased, a disguise defined by the status quo and exposed by their inhumane behavior. And the nameless little man's self immolating protest burns into the consciousness, a harbinger of total war, a ghost of Vietnam. His son assumes his father's responsibility and rides away into the sunset, clad in black leather, an echo of his father's last will and elemental testament.

Jodorowsky utilizes Sergio Leone's style and twist it into surreal parody, showing contempt for form but delivering his own unique message like a secret code embedded in the narrative strata. He uses a simple and recognizable structure, a gunfighter seeking to avenge the poor and disenfranchised, to lure the viewer into this dark night of the soul. EL TOPO cannot be understood by deciphering every scene, by explaining every detail or nuance, but by experiencing as a whole; allowing the mise en scene to complete an entire picture. Once broken down into basic elements, the journey becomes toxic like multiple interpretations of inane Holy Books. Jodorowsky allows each viewer a chance to crawl out from under the rock and taste the sweet honey.

Final Grade: (B+)

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