El Topo  

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"Blood and gore flies everywhere, with exploding faces, chests, and backs, with occasional lying animal entrails just for contrast. Occasionally, Jodorowsky's visuals are reminiscent of Dali surrealism, but only and unfortunately, in two or three shots in the entire film. An early shot, of a photograph and a teddy bear in the sand in the foreground, and a horse with El Topo and a little naked boy walking away in the background, is quite stunning, as well as a brief shot of a nude girl, waist - up" --Cinefantastique

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

El Topo (The Mole) is a 1970 Mexican allegorical, cult western movie and underground film, directed by and starring Alejandro Jodorowsky. Characterized by its bizarre characters and occurrences, use of maimed and dwarf performers, and heavy doses of Christian symbolism and Eastern philosophy, the film is about the eponymous character - a violent, black-clad gunfighter - and his quest for enlightenment.

Contents

Midnight lovies phenomenon

"In December 1970, Jonas Mekas was organizing one of his periodic festivals of avant-garde films at the Elgin Cinema, a rundown six hundred seat theater, not unlike the Charles, on Eighth Avenue just north of Greenwich Village. Although the program was laden with major avant-garde figures, the most widely attended screenings were those on the three nights devoted to the films of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The Elgin management took advantage of the hippie crowds to announce an added feature-Alexandro Jodorowsky's El Topo to be shown at midnight because, as the first ad announced, it was "a film too heavy to be shown any other way."" --Midnight Movies (1983)

Plot

The movie takes place in two parts. The first half, in an unnamed spaghetti western inspired desert, opens with El Topo and his naked son riding a horse. He tells his son that he is now seven years old, and must bury his first toy and a picture of his mother in the sand. The movie starts as El Topo plays his flute.

Part 1

During their journey, they find a lifeless town with all the inhabitants killed and mutilated (including the farm animals). El Topo avenges the town by hunting down and killing the outlaws who butchered the townsfolk. They find out that the outlaws are under the command of a Colonel who has taken another small town with a monastery and its inhabitants as hostage. El Topo rescues the town from the Colonel and his outlaws, only to abandon his son with the monks. He rides off with a woman whom the Colonel and his outlaws had kept captive as a slave, and names her Mara after the bitter water they later drink from a pond. Mara convinces El Topo to defeat the four great gun masters to become the greatest gunman in the land. He duels each of them at Mara's prodding, and during each duel, El Topo either cheats or gets lucky.

The first duel is with a blind man with the voice of a woman, dressed in only a thong and guarded by a man with no legs riding a man with no arms. The man claims to be impervious to bullets, stating that he offers them "no resistance", and even demonstrates this ability. El Topo slays the man by setting a man hole trap for the master so that he loses concentration, and Mara kills the remaining two half-men. An unnamed woman with a male voice finds the couple and offers to lead them to the next gunslinger. The mysterious female gives Mara a mirror, which she becomes enamored with. The gunslinger is frustrated by her vanity and shoots the mirror from her hands. After desperately trying to reform the mirror, she quits and gives him the shards, which he places in his pocket.

The second gunslinger is some sort of a traveling gypsy, accompanied by his mother and a lion. After initially beating El Topo in a duel, the large man shows El Topo how he came to be so powerful. He tells El Topo that he strengthened his fingers by working with copper and later on by creating delicate objects like toothpick pyramids. He also tells El Topo that the reason he is alive and powerful is because he has his mother whom he loves and takes care of, while El Topo, unlike him, is all alone in this world, only living to destroy others. Afterwards the man decides to give the black gunslinger one more chance. While walking away, El Topo places Mara's mirror shards on the ground. The massive man's mother, whom the man is obsessed with, gives El Topo his revolver and then steps on the mirror shards. Concerned with his mother, the brute forgets about his duel with El Topo. The man in black then shoots the gypsy gunslinger in the back of his head.

The third gun master is found at a rabbit farm. The rabbit shepherd is rather unconcerned with the man in black and his mission, and tells him that as soon as he arrived at the rabbit farm, the rabbits began to die. They both shared a moment of peace together by playing music to each other, because music can tell a person's character more than word the master says. They then compared to each other the way they shoot by shooting at crows. El Topo's bullet hit the crow's head while the master shot the heart of the bird. Afterward, they start the duel, and the master shoots El Topo in the chest knocking him down. However, El Topo stands up, laughing, unfazed from the bullet. He then shoots the defenseless rabbit farmer, since his gun can only fire one bullet at a time. El Topo then pulls a copper plate from his coat—a gift from the previous gun master. Although El Topo won the duel by cheating, he starts to question his own morality. In an act of respect for the master, he makes a grave for him out of the dead rabbits.

After more traveling through the desert, El Topo comes to the last, and most spartan, gun master. The man wears only a small loin cloth and his ghost gray hair comes down to his waist. Next to him is a butterfly net. El Topo wishes to duel him, but the man says that he has no pistol, having traded it away years ago for the net. The two then get in a fistfight where El Topo is unable to connect a single blow. Frustrated, El Topo attempts to shoot the man, who catches the bullets in his butterfly net and throws them back at the man in black. Realizing that he finally was beaten as he couldn't kill the last master, El Topo gives up in frustration. In tears, the master then asks El Topo if his life is really worth taking. The master then takes the pistol away from El Topo and kills himself in a demonstration of the unimportance of life, declaring, "You have lost!"

El Topo, ridden with the guilt of cheating, destroys his own gun and revisits the places where he killed those masters. The rabbit master's grave is turned into flames, the gypsy master and his mother are entombed with a large toothpick pyramid around them, and the blind master's grave is covered with honey combs, while his two servants' grave has become a shrub.

The unnamed woman then confronts El Topo and shoots him multiple times, giving him a series of gunshot wounds on his hands and feet, much like the wounds of Christ. Frustrated with his failure, and perhaps in love with the woman stranger, Mara then betrays and shoots him. They both ride off together, leaving El Topo to his own fate, similar to when El Topo abandoned his son. It is implied that these two women will destroy each other one day [1]. The first half ends with the gunslinger being taken away by a band of strange, deformed people.

Part 2

The second half of the movie takes place years later, after El Topo is rescued by a band of deformed outcasts, saving him from death. The outcasts take El Topo to their underground community, where he, comatose, meditates on the four lessons for many years. When he awakes, he is 'born again,' and shaves off all his beard and hair and wears light, simple clothing (similar to Buddhist clothing). He decides to help the outcasts, and, together with a dwarven girl who looked after him while he was comatose, goes on a quest to free them from their subterranean prison.

However, it turns out that the citizens of the neighbouring town are corrupted cultists who enjoy killing for bloodsport, treating slaves as animals and indulging in sexual pleasures. El Topo is by now starting to doubt whether it was a good idea to escape the mountain; however, since he promised the underground people to help them, he decides to do various odd jobs in town -- from pantomiming to cleaning storefronts -- to buy dynamite.

At the same time, a mysterious monk arrives in town, who, in short order, becomes the new priest for the failing local Christian church (which had been replaced by the town's own pagan religion). This new priest carries a gun, though he is never seen to use it, using a bystander's live ammunition and the current priest's gun during the town's scam Russian roulette sermon (in which the local "priest" told the mysterious monk that the bullet is a blank). He appears to be a pacifist, attempting to break up a barbed-wire boxing match when he first enters the town.

While earning money for various low-level jobs, El Topo and the dwarven girl are forced at gun point to have sexual intercourse in front of a crowd of drunken cultists. This is when the dwarven girl reveals that she is in love with El Topo. The dwarven girl is ashamed of herself, however, and El Topo convinces her that she is beautiful. To show that he really appreciates her, he decides to marry her, heading to the town church. It is revealed that the new priest of the church is actually none other than El Topo's own son. In a fit of rage, his son threatens to kill El Topo; however, he was stopped by the dwarven girl because she needed El Topo to save her people.

The son of El Topo, dressed in black similar to his father in the past, decides to spare El Topo's life until he finishes digging the exit for the underground people. However, he will follow El Topo's every step. For a while, the life of these three is working hard and living together happily as a family for once. Some time passes, and the dwarven girl is shown to be pregnant.

With the help of his dwarf girlfriend and his son, El Topo digs an exit out of the cave. Just as the exit appears, the underground people start to run out of the mountain.To which El-Topo ominously cries "they are not ready for you". The son of El Topo also could not kill his father/master, and decides to let it go. Sadly, just as the underground people near the town, the cultists are waiting for them with guns. El Topo helplessly witnesses his community being murdered by the cultists and is shot by the cultists himself. In a fit of rage, as if El Topo was possessed by God, he ignores the pain from several fatal bullet wounds and proceeds to take a rifle and start to kill all of the cultists in the town, men and women, old and young. Some townspeople begin to abandon the town en masse including the slaves. After everybody in town is killed, El Topo takes an oil lamp and then pours oil on himself and sets himself on fire, an act reflecting the self-immolation of Buddhist monks and others that were protesting the Vietnam War, which was still going on at the time of the filming.

El Topo's son and girlfriend survive the ordeal and made a grave for his remains, which becomes a beehive full of honey, as the first gun master's grave became. Since his dwarf girlfriend gives birth to their child at the same time as his death, the ending may lead some to believe that the child is the reincarnation of the gunslinger-turned-monk (borrowing the Buddhism idea). The Son of El Topo, now dressed in his father's garments, the dwarf and the child ride off on a horse in the same fashion that the Son of El Topo and El Topo did in the beginning of the film.

Trivia

  • John Lennon had named El Topo his favorite movie. John Barham recreated the score for release on Apple Records at the request of John Lennon. Another notable fan is David Lynch.
  • According to Jodorowsky's commentary for the DVD, the film was shot on sets left over from the production of another Western, The Day of the Evil Gun, and not The Wild Bunch, as is often claimed.
  • Goichi Suda cited El Topo as a key inspiration for his game No More Heroes. Similarities include having a woman asking the protagonist to defeat the gunmasters/assassins in order to be the best, and the protagonist completing several odd jobs for money.
  • Artist Steve Ellis cites films like High Plains Drifter, Django, and El Topo as influences in the werewolf western comic High Moon.

Sequel

Since at least the early 1990s, Jodorowsky has been attempting to make a sequel to El Topo. In 1996, a teaser poster was released, but apparently, no shooting was actually done. The original working title, The Sons Of El Topo (Los hijos del Topo), was changed (sometime between 1996 and 2002) to Abelcaín, due to disputes over ownership with Allen Klein. Additionally, the name of the character El Topo (The Mole) was changed to 'El Toro' (The Bull). Jodorowsky said of this, "I am now working on a Franco-Canadian production called Abelcaín, which is a new version of the same project. The character El Topo has become El Toro. A single slash added on letter P changed a subterranean rat into a charging bull. For a true artist, difficulties become opportunities. And clouds become solid present."

A 2002 article in The Guardian stated that Marilyn Manson was attached to star in the film, but that Jodorowsky was having great difficulty raising money for the project. No information has been publicly released about the project since then, and it appears to have been put on hold indefinitely for lack of funds.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "El Topo" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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