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The First Psychomagic Movie: "El Topo" Review

Sam loves movies and enjoys science fiction, zombie movies, and pessimistic survival films.

What exactly qualifies as a full-on Western film? And is "El Topo" one?

What exactly qualifies as a full-on Western film? And is "El Topo" one?

El Topo: A Weird and Angry Movie

The first time I saw Alejandro Jodorowsky's El Topo, I was dazzled. It was my new favorite weird movie. At that time, El Topo didn't have an official DVD release, so the whole journey of finding it resembled its underground obscure 70s screening days.

The exaggerated avalanche of visual symbolism, the grotesque low-budget violence, the production value, and the amazing catalog of freak characters made El Topo the perfect midnight movie.

The critique of religion was one of the angriest I had seen in my life, and the experimental and daring way the film mocked masculinity and the role of the failed father captivated me.

What Is El Topo About?

The film begins as a surreal western. The protagonist, a cowboy dressed in black, is in an eternal search for gratification. Deeply hedonistic, he abandons his young son for a woman who sexually manipulates him into being the best gunslinger in the world.

In order to do so, he must face The Four Masters of the Desert. With each confrontation, El Topo receives different lessons ranging from humility, materialism, resignation, and the search for perfection.

Movie Details

Title: El Topo

Release Year: 1970

Director(s): Alejandro Jodorowsky

Actors: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Brontis Jodorowsky, José Legarreta, a.o.


In the second half of the film, El Topo awakens years later in a cave full of deformed outcasts. Above them, there’s a town governed by The League of the Dignified Women, a conservative and hypocritical group of old ladies that exudes racism and classism.

El Topo mutates to a sort of Tibetan monk with the sole purpose of re-integrating the socially excluded. The outcome is full of self-immolation, dwarf sex, and a bloody final confrontation.

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It was an amazing ride, for sure. But to say I understood what El Topo was all about, would be a huge lie.

Jodorowsky himself never had control over El Topo's themes. On one occasion he told Diego Moldes, an analyst of his work:

"I finally found a mind able to understand my images better than myself. Because I do not know for sure what I do and I really don't want to know. I step into the void, fully aware of how dangerous that exercise is."


El Topo: Memorable

El Topo is an honest film created not from the reason, but the feeling. That's why it doesn't follow any traditional narrative structure.

I recently rewatched El Topo, and it still remained an unforgettable film. However, this time, the experience was different. For example, it was impossible for me to ignore how misogynistic, homophobic and rape culture-promoting some of it sequences were. I deeply hated how unstable and unreliable the characters were. The corny/poetic dialogue even made me cringe at some points.

It was definitely a different film from the one I remembered, but it was still just as memorable, for different reasons.

And then it hits me. El Topo is one of those rare artistic works that functions as a mirror. It's one of Jodorowsky's first approaches to psychomagic, a technique he invented years later. Although it has no scientific basis, the premise of psychomagic is that the unconscious mind takes the symbolic acts as facts, so that a "magic-symbolic" act could modify the behavior of the unconscious and therefore, even heal emotional problems.

In simpler terms, El Topo is like a complex and extreme version of The Little Prince, a book which is said that needs to be read at different times of life, because with every approach, the piece has different meanings.

Truth be told, I don't know if Psychomagic even works. But I cannot wait to watch El Topo 10 years from now.

That wonderful new film will certainly be unique.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2019 Sam Shepards

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