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EL TOPO (1970) – The Dungeon Review!

Posted in Mexico, movies with tags , , , , , , , , on November 17, 2010 by goregirl

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

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