El Topo, or The Mole, is undoubtedly the most bizarre western I have ever come across. Written by, directed by, and starring Alejandro Jodorowsky, this film is just so freaking weird that the film community at large has called this the first “acid western”. I can see why; watching it, you really feel like you are on some sort of hallucinogenic substance, or that the filmmakers must have been to put this together the way they did, because there’s just no way that what we’re seeing could really be reality. Of course, that is the film’s main selling point, but for me, it didn’t do a very good job of selling itself on me.
Jodorowsky himself plays the titular El Topo, an apparent gunman who is traveling the desert landscape with his young son. Indeed, the film starts out with the two of them riding up to a stick in the sand, where the son is made to bury his personal possessions in order to become a man. It’s quite the iconic opening, but from there, the film takes a different route, opting instead for some of the weirdest imagery and narrative I’ve seen in a western. It’s not all-out crazy like many other films I could name, but it goes about its business without a care as to actually going about its business; the film mostly consists of things happening, regardless of whether they mean anything or not, and on occasion we are thrown a piece of plot or two, and then more things related to these new bits of plot happen, and so on. There’s a limited narrative line about El Topo setting out to duel and beat four gun masters of the desert, but this is pretty much a scaffold to hold up the weird mood that seems ever-pervasive throughout the whole picture. And what makes it even weirder is that the film is basically two different films, with the same characters; the first part is as I’ve described it, and is much more a western, albeit a very atypical western, but then, a little over an hour into the film, it suddenly jumps forward a number of years, changing into a morality play that is simply set in a western town, where El Topo must beg and entertain for money to buy dynamite, in order to dig a hole through the side of a mountain to free a band of disfigured villagers who have come to revere him as a god. Yeah, it is just as weird as it sounds. The fact that El Topo’s hair changes color (and then he ends up shaving all of it off) is just the first marker that we’ve experienced a dynamic shift, but really, the whole film is pretty much a dynamic shift in what we would expect to normally appear on the screen, given the type of film it looks to be at first glance.
I can’t begrudge the film for what it does, and even less so for ultimately doing it successfully, but I just didn’t find it all that entertaining. It was so offbeat that that’s all it ended up being; an offbeat film, and nothing more. There was no deeper meaning to any of it, or subtext to imply that there is more going on than what we see at first; it was just really weird for the sake of being really weird, and in all fairness, I don’t think I can condone a film doing that for the hell of it. Others may disagree, and I certainly won’t argue this film’s placement on the list, especially if it gets more people to potentially try this one out for themselves, but it just wasn’t really my flavor.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10