“In the desert you can remember your name, ‘cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain, la, la…”- America
The desert. A beautiful, but rough terrain for those who can’t hack the heat, the loneliness, the brutal sun, and the hallucinogenic effects of dehydration. Though the desert is at times bleak, it is also the home of spiritual awakening to some psychonauts exploring the fine lines of reality in search of enlightment. The Doors were known to venture into the desert to experience peyote. The Native American Church is known to partake in peyote as part of their sacred ceremonies. Now, combine the psychedelic culture of the late 60s/early 70s, the desert, and a violent western, and you will be discussing none other than the trippy, El Topo (1970) that was released today in 1971.
A mysterious traveler on horseback, El Topo, Alejandro Jodorowsky of Santa Sangre (1989), rides through the scorching desert with his naked young son, Hijo, Brontis Jodorowsky of The Dance of Reality (2013). The duo enters a town where they find all citizens and animals have been viciously slaughtered. El Topo leaves Hijo behind with local monks as he sets out on a journey of redemption before wasting the killers and their leader. El Topo frees slave Mara, Mara Lorenzo (only acting credit), who joins him on a violent spiritual journey in a showdown with four gun masters (each representing a particular religious philosophy). El Topo, though victorious in his duels, begins to be attacked by his consciousness and he destroys his gun. Now a shell of the brave gunfighter he once was, he is betrayed by Mara. She’s now experimenting and smitten with her new lesbian friend who shoots El Topo, abandoning him for dead, before he is carried off by dwarves (like the ones in The Safety Dance video, but not as cheerful).
El Topo’s second half now takes a drastic turn one year later; El Topo awakes in a cave and is Christ like as he is born again. His abandoned son, Hijo, is now a young monk and the two team up to wipe out cult-like gangs. Father and son rekindle their bond and get over their family drama of anger and abandonment issues. The final minutes include family traditions, bloody shootouts, birth, death, and beehives, (yes, I said beehives).
El Topo is an acid western written and directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky and filmed in Mexico on a budget of 1 million bucks (not pesos). El Topo is an extremely psychedelic, bizarre, violent western set up like a novel that has chapters which explore religion, especially Christianity, redemption and spiritual awakening. El Topo is a visually striking film that is one of the most unique westerns or films ever made.
El Topo was way ahead of its time and critics were divided as some absolutely hated it due to its violent portrayal of the death scenes while other critics absolutely loved it for its surreal nature. Eclectic film directors like David Lynch of Blue Velvet (1986), Sam Fuller of The Big Red One (1980), and Jim Jarmusch of Dead Man (1995), cite El Topo as a direct influence on their careers and how they observe the possibilities with telling a story. Musicians ranging from Bob Dylan to Marilyn Manson to Peter Gabriel have cited El Topo as an influence on the feel and imagery from the film. El Topo found worldwide distribution after John Lennon of The Beatles, was so impressed, managed to help expose it to the masses.
El Topo is one of the weirdest and coolest movies you will ever see bar none even after 44 years have passed since its release. El Topo will shock your senses as it is like a notorious Tortilla Western topped with magic mushrooms chased with a large serving of San Pedro cactus tea. El Topo is a must see for western lovers, psychedelic films or anyone wanting to blow their minds.
So, as you venture off to the exciting journey know as life, be safe out there, and remember what the public service announcement at Woodstock was, “Don’t eat the brown acid!” If you already did, later gator, and I’ll leave you with, “…la, la, la, la, la, la, la.”