‘Those were pearls that were his eyes/Of his bones are coral made…/Nothing of him that doth fade/But doth suffer a sea-change/Into something rich and strange.’
– The Tempest, Act 1/Scene 2
An ersatz Christ is awakened (re-awakened?), flies covering his face like a flaming mask. He is befriended by a limbless cackling beggar, and then set upon by a group of angry naked children with green genitalia, who attempt to crucify him. Christ and beggar escape, smoke something mind-enhancing, lick each other all over in rampant lustfulness and head for the city, where they re-enact scenes from the Old and New Testament, awash with tits and murder. Christ (if it is He) is replicated, endlessly, in some waxen consumerist nightmare, eats his own face and then sends a miserable effigy floating into the heavens on colourful balloons, returned to the Father.
Thus dispensing with the Judeo-Christian tradition in a bombast of synaptic blasphemy, The Holy Mountain moves on to more important matters. Whatever they are is more difficult to explain with any kind of certainty. Jodorowsky has approximated the picaresque forms of the unconscious mind, the shiverings of asceticism, or the exact opposite of asceticism: the film is a quest, one of the spirit, one of the deflating ego, what Huxley called the ‘perennial philosophy’, but also one that revels in its own excess. And, of course, it is ridiculous, like a fart in a synagogue. We stand, awed and a little incredulous, as a series of phantasmagorical and kaleidoscopic meanderings unfold before us in esoteric unknowing. It ends in the ultimate act of hubris and buffoonery, with a shattering of the fourth wall that feels like a slap in the face with a fish. And the idea of any kind of spiritual enlightenment is ridiculous in the face of this Blitzkrieg of dick jokes and visceral stimulation.
I suppose the thing to note about the film is that, apart from being deeply horrendous on nearly every conceivable level, it is also savagely funny. But brutal comedy, the kind that simply tells us what we already know about ourselves: human grotesquery. Lizards and frogs re-enact the conquest of Mexico in bloody symphony, replete in monk’s cowls and armour (and Jodorowsky is a notorious and unrepentant animal-killer). A giant blooping machine must be cajoled into orgasm by a sexually incompetent functionary. Toy designers train slack-jawed children to assassinate Peruvians. Swarms of bejewelled tourists frenziedly photograph public executions and gang-rapes with hand-held cameras. Weaponeers create instruments of death embellished in religious symbolism. An elderly, half-shaven hermaphrodite drowns a gape-mouthed proselyte with milk from his own breasts, which miraculously turn into the heads of snarling tigers. It’s the form of comedy that keeps you up at night, in the darkness and silence. Laughter of the spirit, as children might giggle murderously at the book of Revelations.
It’s difficult to know what to say about The Holy Mountain. It is certainly an experience. Jodorowsky parades the mysticisms and beginnings of all civilisations before us with apocalyptic gusto, blended and reincarnated, a scopophiliac Nazi vaudeville re-enacting the scribbled notes of the Kabbalah. The thing is a visual masterpiece, a true diamond of narcissistic beauty. And Jodorowsky is either leading us, the mad bastard, down the garden path towards cinematic enlightenment, or he is simply shitting in his own back yard. How are we to know? Is it any stranger, or more appalling, than other and more instantly recognizable films: say, The Sound of Music? No. Jodorowsky, like Rodgers and Hammerstein, seeks to turn shit into gold. He is an alchemist, just as the film implies, as are all film-makers; and film is a chemical transformation, a tickling of the frontal lobe.