It is obvious why El Topo was embraced by John Lennon, Dennis Hopper, Timothy Leary and their counterparts. It is a violent, brutal, confusing, occasionally fascinating and allegorical film.
Chilean-born Alejandro Jodorowsky not only writes and directs, he also plays the title role (which translates as “the mole”), a mysterious black-clad gunfighter who claims to be God, travelling through the desert – initially with his naked seven-year-old son and eventually with two beautiful women.
After entering a massacred village and riding through corpses and carnage, El Topo finds a sole survivor. He then hands his gun over to his son and instructs him to put the surviving man out of his misery.
El Topo frees a woman from a despotic colonel whose henchmen have also enslaved and abused a group of Franciscan monks. He strips the colonel, humiliates him and forces him to shoot himself.
He later confronts several ‘masters’ of the desert, including one he covers with dead rabbits and a blind one who is an incredibly fast shooter.
Filmed in Mexico over the course of nearly three years and taking its cue from spaghetti westerns, the filmmakers twice were stranded for weeks without supplies or money.
The film began production in 1964/1965 and wasn’t completed until 1968. It was not released until 1970.
Inventively composed, beautifully photographed and boasting lakes of blood, shoe fetish action, mystical iconography and dwarf pantomime – often in the same scene – it’s mesmerising, grotesque, surreal, satirical, rousing and impenetrable.
One of the original publicity taglines had it right: “What it all means isn’t exactly clear, but you won’t forget it.”
Woman in black