Holy Mountain terrifies in Shadow Play screening

Holy Mountain. I don’t even know where to start.

You may have been to previous screenings in the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center’s Shadow Play series. Some of the movies they’ve shown in the past have been Dead Man, Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Tarsem Singh’s The Fall. These were all excellent; I went to and enjoyed all three. Holy Mountain, however … some EMPAC shows, performances, etcetera, have been criticized in the past for being too weird, too “out there.” That’s where Holy Mountain falls for me.

The movie was first released at a French film festival in 1973, where it reportedly caused a riot. I can certainly understand why. The movie is filled with shocking and horrifying imagery which could very well offend more conservative viewers—for example, a mass of maggots chewing their way through a copy of the Bible, or a group of men mass-producing plaster Christs. Nudity is everywhere in the film as well. I tried to keep telling myself that all this was meant to be artistic and not horrifying and disgusting, but that was hard to keep my mind on.

The movie seemed to be divided into three parts: The first half-hour or so sort of followed (in between moments of insanity) the journey of a man who looked suspiciously similar to Jesus, who travels to a tall temple-like building, where he meets an old mystic/teacher figure who seems to be collecting pilgrims like him.

The second part of the movie tells the stories of seven other pilgrims, who apparently are supposed to represent each planet in the solar system except Earth and Mercury (I suppose the Jesus lookalike was Mercury and the teacher was Earth, or perhaps vice versa—no other reason makes sense for their exclusion). These include a man who manufactures extremely creepy and lifelike masks to let people look as they desire instead of how they actually look; a woman who runs a weapons company and produces propaganda to train children to hate “the enemy of tomorrow’s wars;” an architect who designs a “city” consisting of a bunch of coffins stacked on top of each other, which serve as minimal shelters, and advertises it as the “City of Freedom,” where you can be “free” from a family and other modern conveniences; and the captain of a police force—Axon.

Axon was by far the most disturbing character in the movie, at least to me (as a man). He is the chief of a police force whose initiation ritual we get to witness: Being tied to a slab while Axon removes his genitalia with a giant pair of scissors. He then takes the young man to his “Temple of a Thousand Testicles” (actual movie dialogue) to place a jar containing his severed genitals in the one empty space on shelves containing the other 999 jars. All the while, the rest of the “policemen” (whose uniforms are more reminiscent of BDSM fetish wear than law enforcement) worship Axon as some sort of shirtless, testicle-taking man-god.

After being introduced to the other pilgrims, the final part of the movie begins. The teacher and his eight followers, accompanied by a naked acolyte woman, begin a quest to replace nine “immortals” and claim eternal life for themselves. Though the fact that there are nine immortals (one for each planet again) is apparently important to the plot, the group’s number starts at 10 and varies between 10, nine, and eight people during various points in the journey. This inconsistency was the least of the trip’s problems, as later on the pilgrims encounter horrifying temptations and faltering wills, which are overcome via some … interesting solutions. One such solution was one of the women grinding against and making love to a mountain mid-climb.

Once Holy Mountain was finally over, I was left sitting in my seat, stunned, thinking “What in God’s name did I just watch?” Any possible artistic value was lost amid the movie’s constant attempts to shock and horrify me, which succeeded beyond belief. The plot was confusing and impossible to follow, not to mention seeming to be completely absent for large parts of the movie. Stay far, far away from this one, friends.