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The mind’s use of symbology plays an important role in The Holy Mountain, Santa Sangre and El Topo.

When I was a young person I went to the university for two or three years, and I learned a rational language, to think with the left side of the brain. But in the right side of the brain you have intuition and imagination. Words are not the truth; they indicate the way to go, but you need to go alone, in silence. Symbols have a language that kill the words. They kill the rational side of you, and you need to find the meaning of that symbol with your creativity and intuition.

"Every ego is a deformity. We are mutated by prejudice or religions, politics, economics –– our egos create them; we are like them."

Why does the Tarot feature so prominently in The Holy Mountain?

The Tarot is an optical language, and it’s like a meter: It says, “What do you ask?” Tarot is not speaking with words; it says you should think with dreams, with intuition. The unconscious is not a language we speak like the conscious; unconscience we speak with actors, with image, with sounds, with colors. This is the language of Tarot, and the movies.

You address so much in your films ­­–– spirituality, society, war, sexuality, art ­­–– with the purely visual and sonic; the explosion of imagery is a demonstration of film’s possibilities. Any message contained within can be a bit unclear.

Jodorowsky The Holy Mountain

But do you know, I never “get” music, for example. In order really to know a song, you need to listen to it a lot of times, it’s not enough one time. And with patience, you start to listen to the song, you know? So I think: Why show a picture you can see only time? I will make pictures you cannot understand only one time. You will understand the pictures you see a lot of times, like a song.

You have said that you were drawn to things that you can’t understand. In your films ­­there is much to not understand, or to misunderstand.

The first thing I didn’t understand was my life. It’s a mystery. And today I don’t understand economy or politics. I don’t know why politics or economy are destroying the world, I don’t understand. But I will understand after understanding. [laughs]

Do you understand what is a dollar? It’s a mysterious thing. What is the value of that paper? It’s a symbol. We need to discover what it is that moves our life. For me, movies are not to make money. Never I did that. I make movies because I want to express myself, to be honest, to make art ­­–– but not business. I regret to say that, but it’s what I’m thinking.

Your films strip away normal meaning, like a cleansing in preparation for, what, the Apocalypse?

Not the end of the world we think the world is, because the world we are living, it’s not the real world ­­­­–– it’s under construction, made by our limited mind. But the world does not have these limits that we are giving to him. We are not living in reality; we are living in a kind of dream, and this dream needs to be finished because we are coming to the end of one way to think. It’s not possible to continue to live like that; we need to go to a mutation now.

That idea is encapsulated in The Holy Mountain, which says one has to have an open heart in order to let in meaning.

I think the very same thing now. Because when I made my pictures, I tell you I was not trying to make or to have money, I was trying to face the shoes in the first layer of my own truth. And when I was doing that, I was really only facing the deep meaning of the deep soul of my self.

In your films there is much monstrosity and cruelty, blood and violence, excreting, vomiting, castration, amputation. Yet these films are funny, sensual and quite tenderhearted in turn. The “electric love machine” scene in The Holy Mountain, or at the “companions” factory which makes prosthetic butts, boobs and calves, are just ludicrous; even The Alchemist’s process of turning shit into gold is the blackest kind of humor.

[laughs] I was laughing at art, making it like a show. But all the philosophy and humor go together, because if you don’t laugh, you are terrified. In The Holy Mountain, when you go to the meeting of The Masters, there are two colors, one black, one white –– the symbol of the yin and yang.

Are reality and the imagination fused, or are they completely separate?

No no no, it’s the same. You know, after we finish this interview, two minutes later, this interview will be as far away as the prehistoric epoch. It’s like a dream.

Such core absurdity is central in all of your films. With the violence and bloodletting comes comedy or farce.

I discovered a kind of Buddhism in Mexico, with a Japanese Zen monk, the most important person I knew in my life. I was meditating with him and studying with him for five years, very important years. That saved my life. When you find something like Zen, and you make pictures, it’s true, it’s there, it’s by experience.

Growing up in South America, it must be hard to escape Catholicism.

Jodorowsky El Topo

Yes, because the religion is now mixed with politics, to kind of a Star Wars conquest effect. I believe in mysticism, with an interior goal, and you are your own temple and your own priest. I don’t believe anymore in religions, because you see today there are religious wars, prejudice, false morals, and the woman is despised. They have a pope, not a papist. Religion is too old now, it’s from another century, it’s not for today.

The Holy Mountain is in effect Part 2 of El Topo. What happened to you between the making of these two films? I’m told you had a vital LSD experience.

Only one time, after El Topo. But I was working and working, because I really wanted to discover myself. I didn’t want to have fun. And I discovered what is a human being, what’s underneath, what is inside you, what is inside your unconscious. Well, I made some progress, I believe.

First, you see, I needed to find a guru, a master. Because I was not a guru, I was not a master; I was an artist. And then I found a guru, his name was Oscar Ichazo [one of the creators of the Enneagram of Personality]. I brought him to Mexico to teach me what is a guru, and to dehumanize me. He gave me LSD, and I was initiated for eight hours. And this was an incredible resource; directed by the guru, I discovered images of my mind there, I discovered treasures inside me. That was a big revolution, I must say.

In subsequent films, then, do you feel that you did not create new images, rather brought out images that were already inside you?

Yes. It was like this: Always I live surrounded by a big library, because my house is full of books. And I have all the books I had from when I was a child right up to today. This library is full of books about imagination, and religions and mysticism and magic and Kabbalah, Sufism, Zen belief, symbology, all those kind of things. And then, when I was immersed in these initiation hours, I understood all these books for the first time.

What was your intention with El Topo?

In a business sense, I wanted to be understood in America. I was unrealistic, I might say, completely fanatico, but I wanted really to be free to work with a genre or form that could be understood by the people. So then I have cowboys and Indians, things like that, but in the inside I have Zen masters, [laughs] sushi masters.

Religion and spirituality –– belief systems –– are central themes in your films. In fact, you deal with all religions in El Topo, The Holy Mountain and Santa Sangre. Did your background in a religious environment guide you, or influence a repulsion for religious faith?

I was interested in a way for the person who faced faith, you know? The way when the mind is open. I don’t believe that religion is to close the mind. I think religion is to open your mind, in order to discover the treasure in yourself. In El Topo I was guided only by my own experiences, and I was discovering myself. In The Holy Mountain, I went más lejos, much, much farther than in El Topo.

The Holy Mountain takes as its theme the quest for immortality. Related to that, you once said that the quest for peace will always end in catastrophe.

And when you find love, real love, it’s like a catastrophe, like a tsunami. Like an earthquake, because all your individuality, all what you believed you are, it’s breaking. And you are completely another person. You never know what you were. And it’s a catastrophe –– but a good catastrophe, not a bad catastrophe.

The Holy Mountain and El Topo offer a Buddhist message of self-sacrifice and suffering toward a greater end.

In most religions you need to divide your self in the furthest step into your ego with your artificial image of your self created by the family, the society and the preacher, your nationality, your language, all that. You have an ego. But this is not you; it’s an image of you. And the second part of you is the interior extension of your unconscience and your supra-conscience, where you’re connected with the whole past and the whole future, you are there like an ocean. That is what you discover, and then what is destroyed is the ego –– not destroyed, but opened. It’s a sacrifice of the ego.

I don’t have a negative vision of the world and for the human being; to the contrary, I believe completely in the destiny of humanity, and in our world. But what I don’t love is the ego vision and the ego actions. For me, for example, all the movie industry of Hollywood is pure ego. They are nothing. There is nothing that is spiritual there.

Though you did make a “Hollywood” film eventually, The Rainbow Thief with Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif.

I did this because I wanted to know how it is to make a professional picture, with meaning, with money, and on The Rainbow Thief I had some millions. And I wanted to know what it’s like to work with a star. But I hated Peter O’Toole, he was impossible, I wanted to kill him. Because he was not an actor, he was a star, thinking he was the center of the world. How can you make an artistical picture with persons who think they are the center of the world? It was terrible. I hate him still today.

It’s an interesting challenge, because you are someone who works to control the ego, yet as a director you have to have a, well, robust ego to make the kind of films you want to make.

I need to be a monk. [laughs] When I make a picture I eat only rice. I don’t make love. I sleep five hours a day. I don’t see friends. Nothing. What I only do is the picture, because if I don’t do that picture, I die. I need to do it.

You have featured cripples and dwarves prominently in your films, with humanity and love. You said something very beautiful: You called deformed people the result of “genetic imagination.”

There is a long tradition in the history of painting where the dwarves are there; and big women are not just the property of Fellini [laughs]. An artist always says what is different. A real artist, you know, not a TV artist. It’s a human painting –– Goya, Rembrandt, Bosch, Breugel, they will say what is not normal in the way they say it –– with the escape of mediocrity.

All these persons who have a deformity for me are the symbol of the egos. Every ego is a deformity. We are mutated by prejudice or religions, politics, economics –– our egos create them; we are like them. So this involves the meaning of symbols. Also, you realize my pictures are not made with these stars who are so beautiful; they are made with monsters. So if you see a dwarf it is a real dwarf; if you see an amputee it is a real amputee, if you see a prostitute, she is a real prostitute.

Your portrayals of these “monsters” were very generous and good. In The Holy Mountain, for example, when the man has to throw his deformed dwarf friend into the water to drown, and it breaks his heart. Or the dwarf woman in El Topo that you carry around on your back.

When I knew this woman she was not an actor, but making pictures she discovered herself. And she now has a daughter who is a dwarf like her, and very beautiful, an artist, and she is happy. Every film I used a person without arms or legs, and they were so happy to do something, it was heaven for them to be shooting.

"The film industry is raping you. They are fucking us, and they are killing us. If you go to a picture and you’re already an idiot, you see the picture and have a lot of fun, and you come out as idiotic as you were. Unchanged."

In El Topo and The Holy Mountain, how much was planned, how much spontaneous?

In all of my pictures, even Santa Sangre, I write the script in order to make some kind of organization, you know? But when I am shooting, there are things that happen. In The Holy Mountain, we said we’ll go to that place to find The Master; we walked many, many miles, and the crew and actors would say, “Where is The Master?” I would say, “Behind there.” And then they would say, “You are crazy.” No. I believe in miracles. And then we went there, and every place I went to find The Master, some person was waiting for us. And they were really masters. When you see, in The Holy Mountain, the person making massage, it’s a real person who makes massage. I don’t know who they were, but after we shoot they disappeared. And I would say, “Why you are here?” And they say to me, “I came here to help you.” “Why?” “Because you are giving an image of our Mexico that is very good for the world.” That is what they say to me!

El Topo was reportedly a favorite film of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. They recommended that Allen Klein pick up the rights to it, and he did. And then for a long time you had a dispute with Klein over the rights to the film.

I don’t dispute with John Lennon or Yoko Ono, just Klein. El Topo was a big success, and then Klein was suddenly famous. Then Klein wanted to make a business and said, “You will make The Story of O, a very erotic picture. I have the cover of Playboy, we have the money, you will be rich.” And then I say, I will see…I escape! With my family I escape from New York, and he say to me, “No, don’t run! If you run then I will never show your picture!”

I understand that he wanted me to make a picture as a thinker, but I did not want to make an erotic picture, it was not my way. And then for 30 years we were fighting.

We are living in a time when artists give the people what the people demand, maybe not so much what artists believe the people need. When I see your films, I’m thinking you did only what you wanted to do.

At that time [laughs], industry was industry, and they fought us. It was a war, a real war. In Mexico they wanted to kill me. But today the young people are changing. I went to Turkey, Istanbul, Belgrade, Chile, in Europe, and the theaters are full of young persons seeing The Holy Mountain, El Topo and Santa Sangre, and I am astonished and happy. Because they need something different to the three dimensions.

The film industry is raping you. They are fucking us, and they are killing us. If you go to a picture and you’re already an idiot, you see the picture and have a lot of fun, and you come out as idiotic as you were. Unchanged. Or the film will be using subliminal politics ­­–– using you.

It’s very sad, but the young persons will make a difference, because now they have the Internet, they can show their films there. Do you know where they showed The Holy Mountain in Los Angeles? Near Rudolf Valentino’s grave in the cemetery. That is the best theater, in a cemetery [laughs].

Will you make another film?

Sure, I will make one other. For 20 years I put money in the bank to have the picture made and produced by me. And you know what? I will make a picture to lose money! Because all the industry is about money –– 500 million to make a film, it’s fantastic! But the quantity of money does not define the quality of something. It’s only business. We need to save movies from the business, from the industry, and then I will waste no time, I will make a very interesting picture –– but I will make it to lose money.

I have a feeling you’re going to live a long, long time.

[laughing] I can try! Every day I am aware that I have –– you know, my wife is 42 years less than me, I can make love, I am happy, but I can die from one day to the other. The film I need to make very quickly this year, and then I need to die. [He laughs.]

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