The Holy Mountain (1973 film)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

La MontaƱa Sagrada (The Holy Mountain, reissued as The Sacred Mountain) is a 1973 cult film directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky who also participated as actor, composer, set designer, and costume designer. The film was produced by Beatles manager Allen Klein of ABKCO after Jodorowsky scored an underground phenomenon with El Topo and the acclaim of both John Lennon and George Harrison (John and Yoko Ono put up production money). It was shown at various international film festivals in 1973 and limited screenings in New York and San Francisco. However the film was never given wide release until 2007, when a restored print toured the United States, screening with El Topo, and released in DVD format from May 1st.



The film is based on "The Ascent of Mt. Carmel" by St. John of the Cross and "Mount Analogue: A Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing" by Rene Daumal, a student of G.I. Gurdjieff. In particular, much of Jodorowsky's visually psychedelic story follows the metaphysical thrust of "Mount Analogue" such as the climb to the Alchemist, the assembly of individuals with specific skills, the discovery of the mountain that unites Heaven and Earth "that cannot not exist" and symbolic challenges along the mountain ascent. Daumal died before finishing his allegorical novel, and Jodorowsky's improvised ending provides a clever way of completing the Work (symbolic and otherwise.)


The central members of the cast were said to have spent 3 months doing various spiritual exercises guided by Oscar Ichazo of the Arica Institute. The Arica training features Zen, Sufi and yoga exercises along with eclectic concepts drawn from the Kabbalah, the I Ching and the teachings of Gurdjieff. After the training, the group lived for one month communally in Jodorowsky's home before shooting began.

Jodorowsky was also instructed by Ichazo to take LSD for the purpose of spiritual exploration, and he administered psilocybin mushrooms to his actors during the shooting of the death-rebirth scene.


A man (later identified as a thief) representing The Fool, a tarot card typically depicting a young man stepping off a cliff, lies face down on the ground, having fallen from the cliff. He is befriended by a footless, handless dwarf (representing the five of swords: defeat) and goes into a city to make money from tourists. The thief's resemblance to Christ inspires some to use his likeness for the crucifixes which they sell. After a dispute with a priest who rejects the thief's wax likeness of himself, the thief eats off the face of his wax statue and sends it skyward with balloons, symbolically eating the body of Christ and offering "himself" up to heaven. Soon after, he notices a crowd gathered around a large tower, where a large hook with a bag of gold has been sent down in exchange for food. The thief, wishing to find the source of the gold, ascends the tower; finding the alchemist (played by Jodorowsky).

After a confrontation with the alchemist, the thief defecates into a container. The excrement is transformed into gold by the alchemist who proclaims: "You are excrement. You can change yourself into gold." The thief is introduced to seven people who are said to be the most powerful but who, like the thief, are mortal. They are related to the planets in astrological terms and portrayed with broad-brush satire, each personifying the worst aspects of his or her planet's supposed characteristics. The seven consist of: a cosmetics manufacturer, a weapons manufacturer, a millionaire art dealer, a war toy maker, a political financial adviser, a police chief and an architect. They are gathered together by the alchemist who instructs them to burn their money and wax images of themselves.

After several scenes wherein the characters are led by the alchemist through several death/rebirth rituals, they all journey to Lotus Island to gain the secret of immortality from nine immortal masters who live on a holy mountain. Once on Lotus Island they are sidetracked by the "Pantheon Bar", a cemetery party where people have abandoned their quest for the holy mountain and instead engage in drugs, poetry or acts of physical prowess. Leaving the bar behind, they ascend the mountain and each have personal symbolic visions representing each characters worst fears and obsessions. Near the top, the thief is sent back to his "people" along with a young prostitute and an ape who has followed him to the mountain. The rest confront the cloaked immortals who are shown to be only faceless dummies. The alchemist then reveals the film apparatus just outside the frame (cameras, microphone, lights and crew) and instructs everyone (including the audience for the film) to leave the holy mountain. "Real life awaits us," he says. The screen fades to pure white.

Popular culture references

The Holy Mountain is referenced in the following works:

  • The music video for Santogold's L.E.S. Artistes is a homage to The Holy Mountain. Reproducing the crowd execution scenes where blood and guts are replaced by other items.
  • The opening track on experimental rock group Man Man's album The Man in a Blue Turban with a Face, is named after a comic book in the film called "Captain Captain Against the Peruvian Monster."
  • The scene in which money is pushed into the fire in the center of a round table, and the scene in which the adventurers stand at the top of an Aztec or Mayan temple, are referenced in the music video for Time to Pretend by MGMT.
  • The film is also referenced in the music video for Late of the Pier's song "Heartbeat".
  • The album Mutations by the artist Beck references the film in the songs "Static" (with the lyrics, "Holy Mountains, they look so tired") and "We Live Again" (with the lyrics, "Over the hill, a desolate wind, Turns shit to gold and blows my soul crazy," which references the scene where the Thief's excrement is turned into gold by the Alchemist)
  • A quote from the film appears at the end of the track "Wising Up" by Misty's Big Adventure on their album The Black Hole.
  • Samples from the film appear in the track "Lune TNS" by Company Flow on their album Funcrusher Plus.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Holy Mountain (1973 film)" 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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