Uncomfortable. That would be the best way to describe El Topo. From its opening seconds to its closing moments, director Alejandro Jodorowsky has created an uncomfortable movie. He often does. It appears he is quite good at doing so. Those untimely moments of sudden leaks of the right brain see Jodorowsky adapt his craft to the western genre. A weary traveller setting out to find someone or do something is the perfect backdrop for his vivid imagery, allusions to Christianity and the surrealist message that was so frequently linked with his work. A journey of self-discovery not just for the director, but for an individual sat in the audience, too. Works such as this influence and horrify in equal measure.
It all depends on how you view El Topo. Any film that wishes to present itself with incongruous imagery is bound to find love and hate in equal measures. Jodorowsky was so set on believing in the destiny that morphed him, and El Topo sees that shine through with all the spaghetti western qualities attached. His love for the genre is questionable, but everything Jodorowsky does is up for debate. His narratives are crammed full of fascinating pieces, allusions to his thoughts and secrets, but never clear enough to make a comment on. There is something rather mystical and fascinating about that state of being in a film, and while there are lulls in quality, the experience does open its arms to the audience. Whether they want to accept El Topo is entirely up to them, but challenging the audience has always been the intention of Jodorowsky.
This titular gunslinger (Jodorowsky) is no hero. He is dastardly and cunning, horrid, striking fear into the hearts of those around him. If it is meant to be a criticism of the anti-hero antithesis of the spaghetti western, then it presses too hard into the idea that these protagonists are totally unsalvageable. He carries around a boy known only as the Son of El Topo (Brontis Jodorowsky), but many of the most memorable scenes come from the cult inclusions, religious allusions and illusion of clarity. El Topo is presented as a man who knows where he is going, but he is more guided by some form of guilt than anything tangible or perceptible.
El Topo allows Jodorowsky to represent the weird side of the west. It is not as frantic and coordinated as The Holy Mountain but offers many of the stylish choices found in his later piece. He sets the foundation here, experimenting with what can be done when utilising the camera, without questioning why. It leads to a few scenes of extremely strange quality, and those are the moments not just worth clinging to throughout, but also the ones that desire the most clarity. They are the pieces that dabble in Eastern philosophy, the path for enlightenment for the black-clad gunfighter as he sifts through the sands of the Old West. Exploration with no aim in sight, El Topo is expressive and strange, no two ways about it. Quite the experience, though, one that will either enlighten or repulse through its extreme qualities and controversies.