|Copyright 1970 Producciones Panicas
| Reviewed by Andrew Borntreger on 29 November 2007
- In many cases, matching the names to the characters is dicey, because they do not address each other by name.
- El Topo - An expert gunfighter in search of meaning in a world that completely lacks any such thing. He is polite enough to suck on a beetle butt when circumstances merit, but, in the end, he takes the easy path of genocide and self-immolation. Yes, I know how strange that sounds. Have you seen this film?
- Hijo - The prodigal son of El Topo. After searching his whole life for the man who left him at the mercy of Spanish monks, he finds his father.
- Mara - This demonic woman tempts El Topo, causing him to cast away his only son and tear apart his own soul from the guilt of cheating to defeat the four Masters. Her only desire is to be possessed by the greatest gunfighter in the world.
- Mujercita - Dwarf who cares for El Topo during his long coma. She becomes his wife and bears him a child.
- 1st Master - His body is a perfectly homogenous mixture, meaning that bullets pass through without hitting anything critical to the health of the whole. El Topo sets a trap and then shoots him in the head.
- 2nd Master - His power is strength; might so great that he can handle a delicate object without breaking it. El Topo, not an engineer himself, cannot understand the beauty of using the perfect amount of force in the exact place it is needed.
- 3rd Master - He lives in a corral filled with cute bunnies. Both he and the rabbits become casualties of El Topo's search for greatness.
- 4th Master - A crazy old man with a butterfly net! Of all the Master Gunfighters, defeating him is the most difficult for El Topo. Finally, the demented Master says, "Am I too hard to kill? Here, let me do it for you." *BANG*
- Desconcida - An evil lesbian gunfighter.
- The Colonel & his Bandidos - Brutal, to say the least. I wonder if they were supposed to represent the Spanish Inquisition.
|Now and then, I do something really stupid. Usually whatever it is involves electricity, fire, or a sharp object, but this time my muse of stupidity is a movie. I am going to try to make sense out of "El Topo." It is a creative film, filled with memorable symbolism, scenes that confound the viewer, and characters who belong in separate asylums (to prevent them from ganging up on reality). I love it. I cannot, however, explain it. The story contains threads of Christianity, but it pulls heavily from Buddhism. If you started slapping me with a fish, saying, "This is Buddhism." I could not tell if you were serious or using it as an excuse to assault me.
I would, however, tell you to stop hitting me with the fish.
We are introduced to El Topo and Hijo as the pair rides through the empty desert. Dismounting, the father instructs his son to bury his first toy and a picture of his mother in the sand. He is now a man and must start his journey. What is really strange about the scene is that the young boy is completely naked. This probably represents his inexperience and innocence; it's still weird.
Continuing on, El Topo discovers a devastated town. The streets are awash in blood, while corpses are strewn about. Adorning his fingers with jeweled rings, the gunfighter rides into the desert and is quickly accosted by three bandits. Those are dispatched, but not before one of them is tortured (yes, shooting someone in the kneecaps is torture) and forced to reveal that the slaughter at the village is the work of a man called the Colonel.
The Colonel and the rest of his loyal bandidos are busy terrorizing yet another town. Actually, the villagers have it pretty bad, but the outlaws spend a lot of time abusing a quartet of Spanish monks. The Colonel spends his time being with a demure woman; eventually he casts her to his pack of loyal dogs as a reward for being so freaking nasty to the monks. Before you can say "gang-raped by a crowd of bearded men," El Topo busts in and catches the Colonel with his pants down. The first thing that the bandit king should ask his adversary is, "Why is your kid naked?" but the subject is never broached. The two men just face off for a duel, with the expected results.
Maybe you did not expect El Topo to shoot the Colonel's toupee off his head, then see the Colonel stripped naked, castrated, and stumble off, only to place his own pistol in his mouth and commit suicide. However, you did anticipate the evil leader of the bandidos would lose.
Unfortunately, El Topo does not recognize the greatest danger in the dusty village. That would be Mara. The woman comes between the gunfighter and his son. As the protagonist rides off into the desert, it is Mara, not Hijo, accompanying him. El Topo attempts to teach Mara how to survive in the lifeless wasteland, including digging turtle eggs out of the shifting ground and shooting rocks to bring forth water. No good, she cannot get the hang of it. To make the woman believe in him, the gun-wielding pilgrim rapes her on the burning sand. It must be difficult to not believe in someone who has done that to you, because Mara turns into an egg-finding and water-dowsing fool. The wonders are not enough. Unlike the unconditional love of the cast off progeny, the woman demands that El Topo become the greatest gunfighter in the world to earn her love. He must defeat the four Master Gunfighters.
The First Master lives in a simple tower, attended by a pair of servants who made me think of The Crippled Masters. The serene Master does not seek to be the best; he seeks personal clarity. El Topo realizes that the Master Gunfighter is superior, but Mara insists that he find a way to win, even if it requires devious methods. As it happens, a dirty trick lays low the First Master.
Desconcida appears around now and trails after El Topo, vicariously enjoying the pilgrim's victories and unsuccessfully trying to lure Mara away. The one thing she does that tempts Mara is to give the woman a mirror. Mara spends all of her time gazing at her own reflection, even when El Topo makes love to her. That finally gets on the gunfighter's nerves and he shoots the mirror.
Seven years bad luck? Not good for someone on a spiritual journey in the desert. Bad luck could mean getting lost, or worse (I wonder if the Israelites' problem was that they kept breaking mirrors).
The Second Master Gunfighter is less troublesome than the first. He is a pillar of strength (yet loves fragile objects), but also hopelessly devoted to his mother. El Topo spreads the shards of Mara's mirror on the ground and gets the drop on the Master after the mother carelessly steps on them. It never pays to be a mamma's boy.
The Third Master is my favorite. He lives in a large corral with hundreds of rabbits hopping about inside. After El Topo arrives, the rabbits begin to die. Out of the four Master Gunfighters and their themes, I like this strange litmus test of El Topo's tarnished intent the best. Could it be that the stress of having an unknown person among them is too much for the nervous little bunnies and causes their hearts to burst? I am not so sure. Growing up, we had rabbits. If a rabbit was ever going to die from hypertension, it would have been my nephew's pet bunny. Do not get me wrong, the animal did pass away, but I would blame that on Nick feeding it things like cookies, any number of noxious-appearing plants (I think he might have fed it poison oak at one point), and even hot dogs.
My rabbit was named Roger, but it turned out that Roger was, actually, a female. It was hard enough for a young boy to put up with owning a pet rabbit; having one that was also a girl was too much. Rogeretta had to go.
Again, the Gun Master is overcome through cheating, leaving El Topo in command of a corral filled with rabbit carcasses and one dead human. He piles the rotting bunnies on top of their master, effectively creating a cairn out of dead rabbits. I'm uncertain if this was a gesture of respect or an insult. If anyone buries me under a thick layer of lifeless rabbits, I will come back from the dead and be mighty riled.
The fourth Master is an old man who possesses nothing and covets nothing. He is happy having nothing. Defeating him is an insurmountable task. The venerable gunfighter easily avoids El Topo's wild punches, and when the questing protagonist fires at him, the Fourth Gun Master catches the bullet with a butterfly net. Even worse, once the old man realizes that El Topo wants to take his life, he simply picks up El Topo's gun and shoots himself.
If you ever want to have some fun, try telling a rabid capitalist, "I have nothing that you can take. That which you would take, you are unable, but it is nothing to me." They actually foam at the mouth.
Deprived of his ultimate victory, El Topo staggers through the desert. At the grave of each Master Gunfighter, he finds that his vanquished opponents, even in death, are still more than he. The rotting rabbit cairn bursts into flame, which is about the same thing that my vengeful spirit would do (again - do not pile dead bunnies on me after I die). Worse yet, El Topo is betrayed by Mara and Desconcida and left for dead, but rescued by a group of the forsaken and deformed.
The film often goes five or ten minutes without anyone speaking, the story continuing by the visual narrative. Now, this might sound irritating, but it is not. There is plenty going on to occupy the audience and the lack of dialog allows you to absorb everything. A complicated story like this would probably be an incomprehensible mess if a lot of spoken lines were included. The music is also amazingly well-tuned. Simple, but effective, and it feels like what we are seeing.
Best that I can tell, El Topo spends about three decades comatose, worshipped by the unique group which rescued him. Awaking, the man who was once a master gunfighter has changed. He is born again as a pious monk and partnered with the dwarf woman who has spent her entire life caring for his inert form. El Topo's only goal is to improve the life of the misshapen villagers. To do that, he will dig a tunnel between the cave and a nearby town.
The town that the misshapen want to reach seems to be America. Triangles decorated with the all-seeing eye are prominently displayed everywhere. Law is a fat sheriff. Men pretend to operate cozy saloons, but the real action takes place in secret speakeasy rooms that are filled with bimbos and moonshine. Meanwhile, the women are all hideous brutes that speak about decency, though they are little more than wrinkled old cesspools filled with sludge and lust. Last, but not least, African-Americans are slaves who probably wish that the American brand was just a simple triangle, without the all-seeing eye (I imagine that anyone being branded would pick a simple design over something elaborate).
That is a pretty whacked view of the United States, is it not? Before you get all up in arms, remember that everything in this film is portrayed in an extreme manner. Taken literally, Desconcida's character indicates that lesbians are all wicked girlfriend-stealers who can lick a cactus apart with their tongue. Oh, and pilgrims spend most of their search for spiritual enlightenment either contributing to the extinction of endangered species or shooting at random objects (people, rocks, birds) to discover if doing so brings them any closer to God.
With a combination of back-breaking labor and comedy skits to beg for money, El Topo and Mujercita work on the tunnel. What threatens to keep El Topo from realizing his goal is the sudden appearance of Hijo. El Topo's son is now the spitting image of what his old man was when the film began: a black-clad death-dealer. He is also angry at his father for abandoning him. Fortunately, a compromise is worked out. Hijo will kill his father after the tunnel is completed.
Unfortunately, finishing the tunnel results in the Americans shooting the onrushing tide of forsaken dwarfs and deformed villagers. El Topo goes nuts! Want to know what is more terrifying than a god-like being? A crazy god-like being. Just look at all of Lovecraft's stories. If Nyarlathotep wore Bermuda shorts and baked cookies, most people wouldn't be afraid of him. However, a huge thing with a tentacle instead of a head, howling its madness into the dark of night in a forsaken wood, is pretty freaking scary. Those Americans who survive El Topo's wrath flee into the desert as quickly as possible. The grieving protagonist reserves a special fate for himself.
Having written all of this, I feel like Don Quixote, except my windmill looks like a huge, multi-limbed Jesus (which would make more sense if the religious mix was Hinduism and Christianity). The next time you want to watch a mind bending film, see this movie. Whether you like it or not, "El Topo" is a memorable experience.
|Things I Learned From This Movie:|| |
- The problem with moles is that they do not know which way is up.
- When a man is sexually attracted to a woman, he will show her his iguana.
- Being spanked with a cactus is highly motivational.
- Circumcision is not recommended for any male over the age of fifty.
- The rare Jodorowsky sea turtle is endangered, because they insist on crawling hundreds of miles inland to lay their eggs in the Mexican desert.
- Anything shot by a holy man will turn into a water fountain. Pray that you never see a priest shoot a dog; the result is troubling.
- The UN resolution barring Jerry Garcia and Phyllis Diller from having children was a good idea.
- Hugging a dwarf is never easy.
- He who dies last is the winner!
- Gunfire is one way to reliably induce labor.
- 7 mins - RANDOM ACT OF VIOLENCE AGAINST SHOES!
- 10 mins - Well, I suppose that it is more effective than spitting on a fish.
- 21 mins - Marlon Brando also auditioned for this part.
- 48 mins - There is a "Mary Poppins" joke here somewhere...
- 55 mins - "Could you please teach me all of this without beating the shit out of me?"
- 62 mins - I can tell you one thing for certain: we will not be seeing the old "No animals were harmed in the making of this film" in the credits.
- 73 mins - Want to play a scary game? Replace Jodorowsky with Stevie Wonder and imagine that "We Are the World" is playing. Disturbing, no?
- 79 mins - Are those toxic waste drums? I think that I know why your people have a high birth defect rate.
- 86 mins - RANDOM GRATUITOUS BREAST SHOT!
- 92 mins - Please tell me that those are female impersonators. Ugly ones.
- 106 mins - RANDOM GRATUITOUS BREAST SHOT!
- 119 mins - Right now he is cursing the special effects technician for putting a squib that close to his genitals.
- 121 mins - What exactly are you protesting?
- El Topo: "You are seven years old. You are a man now. Bury your first toy and your mother's picture."
- Colonel: "Who are you to judge me?"
El Topo: "I am God!"
- Mara: "Do you love me?"
El Topo: "Yes."
Mara: "I don't! So that I may love you, you have to be the best. Four great gun masters live in this desert. You've got to look for them and kill them."
- 2nd Master Gunfighter: "You shoot to find yourself. I do it in order to vanish! Perfection is to get lost. In order to get lost, you have to love. You don't love, you destroy, you kill, and no one loves you."
- Hijo: "It's hard rock. We've tried it a thousand times and we can't do it."
El Topo: "Just a thousand times?"
| ||Click for a larger image||IMAGES||Scenes from the movie|| |
| ||Watch a scene||VIDEO||MPEG video files|| |
|It took me a little while to settle on a video clip. There are quite a few memorable scenes in "El Topo," but they take a little while to play out (and often roll into the next part of the story). This is where El Topo is confronting the Fourth Master Gunfighter. El Topo has a .45 revolver. The old man has a butterfly net.
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