Saturday, 8 February 2020

El Topo (1970)

El Topo
It has been a poor period for my movies on the List and with “El Topo” that trend has reached a low point. In my opinion it just does not get much worse than this. I brought the movie to watch in the evenings while I am in Melbourne, but I wonder if that was such a great idea.

Going into this movie it looks like a western, but soon it became apparent that something was off. The music is weird and does not really seem to fit the pictures and what we are looking at gets strange, then ridiculous and then outright bizarre. The lead character whom I suppose is called El Topo (Alejandro Jodorowsky), is dressed in all black and looks like a super tough western character. Together with him on the horse is a small, naked boy. I am immediately worried that the child will get a bad sunburn, but soon I get a lot more to worry about. El Topo rides into a town where everybody has been brutally massacred, seriously “Wild Bunch” slaughtered, with pools of blood everywhere. When El Topo catches up with the culprits, it is the boy who shoots them. Seriously?

And that is just the beginning. It gets weirder and weirder and I realized that this is (again) one of those movies where the apparent narrative is secondary, even irrelevant, compared to the symbolic values. At that point I also knew that I should shift from enjoying a good movie to a highbrow analysis of all the clever symbols and messages. Since none of what I saw made any sense I went to Wikipedia, but I had to double check because the story described there seemed very different from the one I was watching and even that story made very little sense to me. Something about shooting people representing different religions…

Not understanding the symbolism (I am a bit stupid) I had to return to what I was watching, but I found no pleasure in that. Not at all. Random people got brutally killed. A western town ruled by a drag sheriff and a weird cult would kill off anything they considered degenerate although they were themselves freakish. An ultimate low was when a religious service developed into a game of Russian Roulette where every missed shot was praised as a miracle until a small boy grabbed the gun and shot himself in the head. El Topo himself becomes a monk who makes clown shows with a dwarf woman to raise money to dig a tunnel to set a group of handicapped people free. Only to see them all be killed when they arrive in town.

All this was terrible to watch. I felt disgusted and confused and angry and frankly could not wait for this horror show to end.

Among film scholars “El Topo” is considered a landmark movie, a masterpiece even. Obviously, I am not a film scholar.

My list of worst movies on the List has just gotten a new member.



  1. I last saw this on original release in an altered state. I just remember it as being very weird and surreal. I have blotted out all the violence. Thanks to your review, I don't have to watch this again!

    1. Save yourself the trouble. Unless you are really into high brow symbolism movies a la David Lynch, this is one to avoid.