Friday, March 05, 2010

The Holy Mountain

As I mentioned last night a group of us got together to view Jodorowsky's film The Holy Mountain, along with some excellent soup made by Benjamin, and Liz's bread was delectable.

One of the original trailers of the film says that nothing in your experience can prepare you for this film. But apparently a decent course of study in Religious Studies and mythology is pretty good preparation. Admittedly it is a well textured film and I don't think I got all the nuances and various symbolism.

The film begins with a man (who we soon realize is the protagonist of the film) lying spread eagle on the ground in a desolate landscape empty bottles of liquor strewn about him, his face covered with flies. Another man most of whose limbs have been amputated but who also has a certain shamanistic air chases away the flies from the protagonists face and begins to nurse him. Then naked children rush out from the landscape and they and the "shaman" carry the man off and while he is still unconscious hang him on a sort of cross and begin to throw stones at him. He comes to and chases of the children and then takes the shaman with him. This opening sequence is unsettling and as the beginning of a movie about the path of enlightenment makes a good deal of sense. Well in that one can get stuck and over think, attempt to figure out what the children mean, when the scene itself is one of the unenlightened soul, awakening to an unpleasant reality of the self mired in the world.

We then follow the protagonist through a puzzling and grotesque world that is similar to and very different from our own. But it in outlandish and disorienting ways presents a world of the passions and suffering and violence. In this world we find Christ crucified as a trinket to be bought and sold, by a nun/St Mary (a man in drag) and portly roman soldiers. Our protagonist is made drunk by these and then make a plaster cast of him in cruciform and they make hundreds of life size Christs and the protagonist awakes to hundreds of himself as Christ. He smashes them, all but one. then takes that one and carry's it. If one is not keeping up we have the awakening to the self through self denial and dying to the self, all while passing through and in some sense emerging from the world of the passions, violence and suffering.

Actually there is a great deal going on beyond this in terms of Jodorowsky's depiction of the world, including a reenactment of the conquest of Mexico with toads. and also a depictions of what Irigary called the homosexuate structure of patriarchy. But to get into all that would be to write a book on this film, and I am for now focusing on its main theme - enlightenment.

After passing through the world he finds a tower in which an alchemist lives who will be his guide up the Holy Mountain, bringing him to enlightenment. In the tower he goes through various initiations and purification, and then is joined with a number of the powerful in the world he has just left all of which are on a journey to enlightenment and to gain immortality. Each of these powerful are associated with a planet. It should be noted that Jorodowsky plays with the astrological as he has played with and will play with all the religious and mystical symbolism in ways that aren't necessarily consistent with the symbolism as they would function in their originating systems. Once this group seeking enlightenment and immortality has been formed by the alchemist we are taken upon various ordeals and our protagonist must give up anything that he has taken from earlier, his Christ consciousness, his shaman who firs awakened him. But a prostitute with an ape whom he met while carrying his plaster Christ follows him and those on the path up the holy mountain.

Just as all are going to make the final ascent, the alchemist says that they no longer need a guide, and leaves. The protagonist follows him and the alchemist tells him that he must cut his head off and he ends up cutting in two a lamb and not cutting off the alchemist's head. Then the protagonist is sent back to the world, to love and make a better world. meanwhile the powerful people make it to the summit to take on the 9 immortals, who turn out to be manikins and the alchemist, and then we are told that this all is an illusion and are shown that this is just a film and the shot pulls back to reveal the film crew and equipment.

The ending puzzles me in terms of what the film might tell us about enlightenment. Perhaps it presents a plethora of understandings of enlightenment and Jodorowsky simply makes the viewer choose. And that might be most telling. Where I went immediately was that Jodorowsky was saying that enlightenment is not enlightenment in the sense of Nirvana or the complete dissolution of self but an awakened engagement with the world based in love. But this as we talked after the film this was an unsatisfactory answer and there were elements of the film that certainly could make one discomforted by this conclusion. Another take is that enlightenment is just another way to seek power over others and the world, and as such, is as much an illusion as the the world of passion, violence and suffering. These two sort of make the film's theme as being about the impossibility or the unreality of enlightenment. A third meaning is that the path to enlightenment is still part of the illusion of self, that the path itself must be abandoned, to achieve enlightenment but in so doing one is perhaps left without away of knowing if enlightenment has been achieved. And lastly in my own reflection in the past 24 hours is that while the film has outlined a path of enlightenment, the film will not bring one to enlightenment, nor is it a proscribed path, in the end we the viewers must decide what to do with the film, its vision of the world, reality and illusion. At the end of the film we are at best only at the beginning of awakening.
(edited for clarity 3/6/2010, LEK)