EL TOPO (1970) – The Dungeon Review!

“If you’re great, El Topo is a great picture. If you’re limited, El Topo is limited.”

Although I’ve seen El Topo several times, completing this review was a challenge. El Topo is not an easy film to explain, as it is chocked full of symbolism and little dialog. I get the feeling that every last image in El Topo has meaning but only Alejandro Jodorowsky, who writes, directs and stars could explain every detail. Every time I watch El Topo I marvel at its awesomeness and how I manage to discover something new with each viewing. The films tagline states it is “The Definitive Cult Spaghetti Western”, but it is so much more than that. Sure, it’s got a gunslinger dressed all in black riding a horse through the desert but El Topo’s strange, surreal, mystical and violent journey is something quite unique.

El Topo’s story begins in the desert with his seven-year-old son. The boy is told he is now a man and must bury his first toy along with a picture of his mother. The two stumble upon a town where a bloody massacre has taken place. El Topo adorns his fingers with elaborately jeweled rings and rides into the desert. He is quickly surrounded by three bandits who he dispatches, but not before one of them names a man called the Colonel as the one responsible for the massacre. He finds the Colonel along with his gang already terrorizing another small town. El Topo is just in time to prevent the gang rape of a woman. He makes short work of the Colonel but fails to eliminate his biggest threat, the woman herself. Mara, ends up riding into the desert with El Topo as he leaves his son behind with a group of monks. After coming between the man and his son Mara insists that El Topo find and defeat the four masters that live in the desert. She can only love El Topo if he is the greatest gunfighter alive. Seemingly motivated by his love for Mara, El Topo embarks on a journey to find the masters.

El Topo is Spanish for “the mole”. We are given a brief fun fact about the mole, which digs and digs and when it finally makes it to the surface it is blinded by daylight. Attributing the mole’s behavior to the gunfighter is logical enough; particularly considering El Topo literally spends the films final scenes digging a tunnel. The result that lies at the end of the digging is not blindness however but something far more tragic and disheartening. To call the ending of this film bleak and tragic would be the understatement of the year. Although the ending is certainly dark, and features some unflattering portraits of humanity, it isn’t without its positive moments. In fact, Jodorowsky leaves us with one final image that is actually beautiful and hopeful. Revenge, guilt, power, lust, jealousy, pride, honour, racism, love, homosexuality, Eastern philosophy, Christianity, are just a few topics touched on throughout the film.

The characters are a pretty eccentric bunch, particularly the four masters. One of the masters has a Jesus vibe and can let bullets pass through him without harm. He lives in a bunker guarded by a man with no legs who sits on the shoulders of a man with no arms. Another master lives out in the middle of the desert with his mother who is gifted with the ability to see the future. The master’s weapon is pure strength but he spends his days making delicate little objects. The third master lives in a corral filled with rabbits, which apparently sense bad mojo that results in their death. Rabbit masters finale is particularly memorable. And the final master is a nutty old guy who can catch bullets with a butterfly net. Then we have Mara. I hate Mara. The woman is a complete narcissist and acts accordingly. She has no problem kicking a seven-year-old boys hand off her foot as he tries to prevent his father from abandoning him in the middle of the desert. Along the way Mara and El Topo meet a woman in black who begins trailing them. The woman in black aggressively pursues Mara for her own. She gives Mara a mirror which she gazes into every waking hour, even when she is having sex with El Topo. This eventually gets on El Topo’s nerves and he shoots and shatters it.

There are plenty of bad guys in the film, and they are a strange lot themselves. One of the Colonel’s men collects high-heel shoes to smell and caress and then uses them as target practice. The Colonels banditos are hurting badly for some female affection. So bad in fact, that they dress up four monks like women and have themselves a dance party. El Topo’s travels take him to a town full of hideous hateful bastards with even more hideous and hateful wives. The exception being the town Sheriff, a chubby homosexual whose hobbies includes cross-dressing, executions and banging his deputy. The entire town is adorned with a symbol represented by an eye inside a triangle much like the one on the U.S. Dollar bill. I assumed this town was supposed to represent the United States. El Topo also encounters a group of unfortunate souls who have been forced to live underground due to their physical abnormalities. I can’t explain their role in the film without a major spoiler but they help to connect El Topo’s story and bring it full circle.

El Topo is a fantastic film to look at with countless amazing and unforgettable images. The violence in El Topo is plentiful. Numerous people are shot and there is a significant death toll by the time the final credits roll. There are literally rivers of blood! El Topo has long stretches with no dialog and you’ll be thankful that you were given the opportunity to absorb what you’re seeing. The spare dialog is perfectly accompanied by an excellent soundtrack. El Topo is an extraordinary film. It is complex and simple, ugly and beautiful, wicked and sweet. It evokes an array of emotions and it is all rapped up in this surreal and strange package that makes for a genuinely unique experience. I absolutely love this film and it gets my highest of recommendations.

Dungeon Rating: 5/5

Directed By: Alejandro Jodorowsky

Starring: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Brontis Jodorowsky, Mara Lorenzio, David Silva, Robert John, José Antonio Alcaraz, Felipe Díaz Garza, Paula Romo, Bertha Lomelí, Juan José Gurrola, Jacqueline Luis

23 Responses to “EL TOPO (1970) – The Dungeon Review!”

  1. I have never seen this movie, but reading your review, I cannot help but think that Stephen King did and it helped inspire his Gunslinger books.

    • Candace: I’m getting the feeling you have some issues with Mr. king!

      Kai: Do you ever check out the search terms used to get to your site? Other than “cannibal” and “holocaust” one of the more common searches to find me is “nude” with any number of female celebrity names. “nude” and “caroline munro”, “nude” and “lina romay”, “nude” and “adrienne barbeau”. There are about a half dozen others too. The funny thing is I don’t think I have a single nude picture of any of these woman on my site! But if the film contains nudity I try to include a pic. The best search ever though had to be “pervert” + “nutcracker”. What the?!

      Rodrigo: El Topo is poetry in motion! I love Santa Sangre too. It has been a number of years since I’ve watched The Holy Mountain, but I plan on giving that one a re-watch before the end of the year. So many movies, so little time!

  2. I think this sounds cool. I got stopped at the boobies……. and I’m going back to them now!

  3. Great in detail review. Agreed with all the adjectives.
    Maybe it hasn’t the symbolism of “Santa Sangre” but has a powerful and unique surreal and wicked atmosphere.

  4. Issues…hmm That’s a loaded word.

    1) He’s one of my mother’s favorite writers
    2) He’s retired like three times now but he’s still writing
    3) He’s one of the most popular plagiarists of our time (Simpson movie/Under the Dome for starters), much like Shakespeare was in his, and what do you want to bet he’ll be remembered just as long for his appeal to the masses.

    I may be just a wee bit jealous of his success, but he needs to retire (like he promised) and make room for everyone else’s books is what I’m getting at. The horror section is rarely much larger than the combined RPG and western sections of any store. Heck, the poetry section is usually twice as large and hardly any one reads poetry these days. Considering he’s at a point in his career where he’s begun repeating himself (Christine/Buick 8), and he can’t see well enough to check his typos nor does he seem to feel a need to hire someone to do it for him… well, yes, I guess issues is the right word.

    😛 lol

    If I met the man, I’d probably shake his hand, pull him in close and tell him he’s a hack. But since he called himself a hack in the tail end of the Gunslinger books… that’s right, my final issue with him is that he’s so vain he wrote himself into one of his books… I guess he already knows.

  5. ALWAYS wanted to see this! I once heard that John Lennon bought the rights to it so that he could give it a larger distribution because he loved the hell out of it. Sounds so bizarre, but that’s exactly why I gotta jump on the bandwagon.

  6. The Film Reel Says:

    I think every year at Toronto After Dark this film has been playing in the background during our drinking binges after all the movies every night yet I still haven’t seen it. I’ve heard lots about it but this is probably the most information I’ve ever read about the actual plot of the movie.

    This is just one of those movies that I know I need to watch and never seem to get to.

  7. Tony Hicks Says:

    A copy of the movie can be downloaded for free from here


  8. […] El Topo is one of my all-time favourite films. This review is swimming with complimentary adjectives, but it is completely from the heart. I’ve included some great stills too. I also posted a piece of music from the film on my Youtube channel with a ton more awesome images (to check it out click HERE). It admittedly pleases me that this is one of my most hit reviews. El Topo review HERE. […]

  9. I love El Topo, just saw this review on here from your nomination. I think Jodorowsky makes art with his movies. I actually like The Holy Mountain more than El Topo, but both are incredible films

    • goregirl Says:

      I love Holy Mountain…Santa Sangre too for that matter! I was beside myself with excitement when I read about Jodorowsky’s King Shot a few years ago. It featured Nick Nolte, Marilyn Manson, Asia Argento, Udo Kier and David Ness. Interesting cast….to say the least! Hess died last year, but the project was a no go well before that and was removed from Jodorowsky’s IMDB info. What a shame!

      • did you know he was supposed to do Dune? His version was 17 hours long 🙂

        • goregirl Says:

          No I did not! Dune should actually be a mini-series, actually I think it was, wasn’t it? I bet his Dune would have kicked some serious freaking ass! I’m a big fan of Lynch’s but Dune is the one film of his I really don’t care much for.

          • I love Lynch too, but agree about the movie. It’s got good stuff in it, but doesn’t function as a whole. Dune is such a huge world and idea that I would totally be down for a great miniseries (the one they did was awful).

          • goregirl Says:

            There are “moments” in Dune that work. I barely knew the name David Lynch at the time, I think I went to see Dune because I had a mad crush on Sting at the time. I never seen the mini-series, but friends who are bigger fans than I, told me it blew, so i took their word for that.

          • My mom (who was really influential in my love of film) was very open to having me watch what I wanted to and to introduce me to film. I believe I was around 11 or 12 when she first rented ‘Eraserhead’ for me to see

          • goregirl Says:

            My dad was the same. My dad was a hardcore fan of 50s and 60s monster flicks and Hammer films and a big fan of film in general. We went to the theatre and the drive in TONS when I was a little kid and when VHS/Beta came out my dad bought and rented obsessively. The only weird thing is we never watched kids movies. Ever. I missed seeing so many popular kids fare that I have still never seen to this day.

          • My mom loved that too. We would watch MST3K together all the time because I loved monsters. I was never into Transformers or GI Joe, it was Godzilla and Dracula and on and on haha

          • goregirl Says:

            Gi Joe was my barbie’s boyfriend. Even though he was shorter than Barbie he was still a lot manlier and cooler than Ken. I hated that bastard. You think that fancy car impresses me KEN? I’ve got my own fancy car, AND a plane AND a dreamhouse!

          • Joe, unfortunately, had more in common with Ken than he wanted to admit…

  10. I’ve seen Santa Sangre, El Topo, and The Holy Mountain all several times. And I have no problem admitting that I’ve mostly watched the latter two (especially The Holy Mountain) with Jodorowsky’s commentary on. What I love most about him as a director (along with The Holy Mountain) are his intentions; what he tries to do. As someone who writes fiction, even though I love all kinds of stories and movies, I really love the kinds with ideas to play with, and then some—not necessarily to recycle. I actually dedicated the funnest story I’ve ever written (for now) to Luis Buñuel and Jodorowsky: http://mykindofstory.wordpress.com/2011/09/17/i-am-a-rock-for-luis-bunuel-john-zorn-and-alejandro-jodorowsky/

    By the way, if you like his movies, I highly recommend checking out his work in comics, like Son of the Gun: http://www.humanoids.com/profil/Alexandro%2BJodorowsky

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