Alexandro Jodorowsky stars as the Man in Black in "El Topo."
EL TOPO — ** 1/2 — Alexandro Jodorowsky, Mara Lorenzio; in Spanish, with English subtitles; not rated, probable R (violence, gore, nudity, vulgarity, sex, torture)

The bizarro Western "El Topo" went over the heads of many moviegoers when it was originally released in 1971. And it hasn't gotten any easier to understand over the years.

However, in the period following its original theatrical release, Alexandro Jodorowosky's surrealist film has gained a huge cult following, thanks to repeated midnight movie showings on the art-house circuit.

And it does have a certain mesmerizing quality. There are obvious nods to the popular spaghetti Westerns of the late '60s and early '70s, cobbled together with quasi-religious symbolism and often grotesque imagery. To say it's an acquired taste is a real understatement.

The Chilean-born Jodorowsky wrote, directed, designed and scored the film, and he stars as the title character, a mysterious gunfighter in black who is wandering in a Mexican desert.

For the early part of his travels, El Topo is accompanied by his young son (played by Jodorowsky's real son, Brontis). Needless to say, the boy learns several harsh lessons about growing up. Among other things, the boy witnesses the El Topo brand of justice, as his father deals with a corrupt Mexican Army colonel (David Silva) who's been terrorizing local villages.

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From there, things really get weird. El Topo leaves the boy with monks and travels into the desert with Mara (Mara Lorenzio), a woman he rescues. He also has a series of duels with other warriors — and encounters a mysterious Woman in Black (Paula Romo), who might be his female aspect in the flesh.

Again, this is definitely not for everyone. At times it's so head-scratching that it may remind some of the works of David Lynch.

But as perplexing as large parts of it are, the film certainly isn't boring. And it's kind of fun trying to figure out what it's all supposed to mean.

"El Topo" is not rated but would probably receive an R for strong scenes of violence (shootings, stabbings, explosive mayhem, a disemboweling and some violence against women), gore and blood, full female and male nudity, vulgar sexual references and other sexually suggestive language, simulated sex and sexual violence, and a scene of torture. Running time: 125 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com