El Topo (The Mole) is a 1970 Spanish language allegorical, cult western movie and underground film, directed by and starring Alejandro Jodorowsky. Characterized by its bizarre characters and occurrences, use of maimed and dwarf performers, and heavy doses of Christian symbolism and Eastern philosophy, the film is about the eponymous character - a violent, black-clad gunfighter - and his quest for enlightenment. For many years the film could only be seen at midnight screenings, in arthouses and via partially censored Japanese laserdiscs and bootlegged videos. Its official DVD release was on May 1, 2007.
The movie takes place in two parts. The first half resembles a western; albeit a surreal one. The second is a love story of redemption and rebirth.
The first half, set in an unnamed desert, opens with El Topo (played by Jodorowsky himself) traveling with his naked young son. They find a town whose citizens have been slaughtered and El Topo hunts down and kills the outlaws and their leader, a fat balding Colonel. El Topo abandons his son to the monks of the settlement's mission and rides off with a woman whom the Colonel and his outlaws had kept captive as a slave. The woman, whom El Topo names Mara, convinces him to defeat the four great gun masters to become the greatest gunman in the land. He duels each of them and during each duel, El Topo emerges victorious through trickery or luck.
After the first duel, an unnamed woman with a male voice finds the couple and offers to serve as a guide. Her involvement will prove El Topo's downfall. Ridden with guilt, El Topo destroys his own gun and revisits the places where he killed those masters. The unnamed woman then confronts El Topo and shoots him multiple times in the manner of stigmata. Mara then betrays him and rides off with the woman after shooting El Topo.
The second half of the movie takes place years later, after El Topo is rescued by a band of deformed outcasts. In their underground community he meditates on the "four lessons" and when he awakes, he is 'born again'. He decides to help the outcasts escape their subterranean prison and, together with a dwarf girl who becomes his lover, performs for the depraved cultists of the neighbouring town to raise money to buy dynamite for this cause.
At the same time, a mysterious monk arrives in town and becomes the new priest. It is revealed that the new priest is actually El Topo's own son. He threatens to kill El Topo, but decides to spare El Topo's life until he finishes digging the escape for the underground people. With the help of his girlfriend and son, El Topo digs an exit out of the cave. Just as the exit appears, the underground people flee the mountain and are massacred by the cultists.
El Topo helplessly witnesses his community being murdered by the cultists and is shot himself. He ignores his wounds and massacres the cultists in the town. After all are killed, El Topo takes an oil lamp and immolates himself. El Topo's son and girlfriend survive the massacre and make a grave for his remains, which becomes as much a beehive as the first gun master's grave. His dwarf girlfriend gives birth to their child at the same time as his death, and the son of El Topo, now dressed in his father's garments, the dwarf, and the child ride off on a horse in the same fashion that the Son of El Topo and El Topo had in the beginning of the film.
Phil Hardy, in his Encyclopedia of Western Movies (1985), wrote of El Topo: "Rather in the manner of Frederico Fellini, whose self-conscious conflation of the roles of charlatan and ringmaster of the unconscious Jodorowsky apes, the film is a breathtaking concoction of often striking, but more often ludicrous, images. The result is a movie that, though it impressed many at the time of its original release, in retrospect is clearly a minor, albeit often very funny work."
Noteworthy figures said to be fans of the film include directors David Lynch and Samuel Fuller, actors Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, comedians The Mighty Boosh, and performers Bob Dylan, Roger Waters, Marilyn Manson, Jarvis Cocker, Peter Gabriel and John Lennon.
Gabriel has claimed  that this movie was an inspiration for the classic Genesis concept album, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
John Barham re-recorded the score for release on Apple Records at the request of John Lennon. Goichi Suda cited El Topo as a key inspiration for his game No More Heroes. Similarities include having a woman asking the protagonist to defeat the gunmasters/assassins in order to be the best, and the protagonist completing several odd jobs for money.
There was no original intention to show El Topo in Mexico where it was filmed and produced. Ben Barenholtz, an owner of a local theater called The Elgin saw a private screening of El Topo at the Museum of Modern Art. Barenholtz recalled that despite several members of the audience walking out, he was fascinated by El Topo. On a failing attempt to purchase the American rights to the film, Barenholtz convinced the producer to have the film shown at midnight at The Elgin. Barenholtz chose the late showings of 1am on Friday and at Midnight during the week which would give audiences a sense of "self-discovery". The film premiered on December 17, 1970 and ran continuously seven days a week until the end of June 1971. The film was distributed across the United States with the assistance of Allen Klein, manager of The Beatles. The film was shown late at night like it was at The Elgin. It has been argued that without support from people like John Lennon and Allen Klein, the film would not have found a sizeable audience.
Since at least the early 1990s, Jodorowsky has been attempting to make a sequel to El Topo. In 1996, a teaser poster was released, but apparently, no shooting was actually done. The original working title, The Sons Of El Topo (Los hijos del Topo), was changed (sometime between 1996 and 2002) to Abelcaín, due to disputes over ownership with Allen Klein. Additionally, the name of the character El Topo (The Mole) was changed to 'El Toro' (The Bull). Jodorowsky said of this, "I am now working on a Franco-Canadian production called Abelcaín, which is a new version of the same project. The character El Topo has become El Toro. A single slash added on letter P changed a subterranean rat into a charging bull. For a true artist, difficulties become opportunities. And clouds become solid present."
A 2002 article in The Guardian stated that Marilyn Manson was attached to star in the film, but that Jodorowsky was having great difficulty raising money for the project. In an interview for The Guardian in November 2009, Jodorowsky stated that his next rumoured project, a "metaphysical western" entitled King Shot, is "not happening" and instead he is to begin work on Son of El Topo, in collaboration with "some Russian producers".