Baphomet Mountain opens with two paths crossing, whether by arbitrary accident or providential design. In his cowboy hat, Country Boy (Austin Burnette Mitchell) sits on a dusty roadside, playing guitar and singing a country song – with a blues lilt – whose lyrics (“Mama, daddy ain’t coming home tonight”) mark him as a man on an odyssey that is not yet complete. He is in the foreground of a fixed wide shot that shows the desert behind him, and beyond that a mountain range, as a white van (at first so distant that it is a mere speck) steadily approaches. Stopping to give Country Boy a ride, its driver Jesus Boy (Jeremy Reyes) is an intense, otherworldly Bible basher who, having established his new passenger’s credentials as “a righteous man”, recruits his help on a determined if abstract mission to rescue his own brother from a demonic cult.
“Have you ever heard the name Baphomet?” First posed to Jesus Boy by a homeless girl (Alexa Shackelford) who growls and farts and speaks in a distorted male voice before running off barking like a dog, this question will recur many times in Baphomet Mountain, and will even be asked by Jesus Boy himself (whose voice will in another scene be similarly distorted, as though he too were a beast). The deadly serious preacher sees the devil in everyone he meets, even in another street preacher (Dante Graves) not unlike himself (certainly just as angry and damaged), and in the leader (Cruz Castillo) and patrons of a wholesome, welcoming Bible Study group in Las Vegas. With his buttoned-up white shirt and ever-present Bible, his aggressively judgmental sermonising and his uncompromising if somewhat impenetrable moral code, Jesus Boy is marked instantly as other, lost equally to a strange world of sin and Satanic values that he cannot understand or abide, and to the visions that God sends him, or (more probably) to the hallucinations of mental illness. Meanwhile happy-go-lucky Country Boy, whose “heart ain’t got nothing but love in it”, is on a quest to recover or at least exorcise his feelings for the cousin (Hilary Wetherington) who loved and left him, and finds himself, for a time, riding a parallel road with Jesus Boy.
Both these ‘boys’ – the one serene and secular, the other sincere to the point of psychosis – make for a decidedly odd couple whose “righteous roads”, as Jesus Boy will later put it, “converged for this moment.” Yet their destination – and destiny – remain hazy at best. Jesus Boy imagines that Country Boy is, like him, “God’s warrior”, and that their task is to confront Baphomet on the desert mountain. Yet the devil could be in either one of them, or in both, as much as in everyone else whom they encounter, or in no-one at all. For here, Baphomet might be actual demon, or mere delusion, or metaphor for the uncertainties of the world, and it remains unclear whether Jesus Boy’s brother was really abducted by a cult, or just willingly bade goodbye to the ‘lie’ of God and to Jesus Boy’s messianic fervour. Place and time too get confounded, as this road movie flip-flops between the sinful streets of Las Vegas and the desolate landscapes beyond, and between present experiences and past traumas (not to mention freaky dreams of torment).
Filled with loss, these two men are struggling to reconcile the needs of the spirit and of the body. Jesus Boy tries to place himself above the world where everyone farts and fucks (the former is often heard, the latter implied), even as he seeks to suppress his own desires, and denies his own part in his brother’s disappearance. Jesus Boy’s unworldliness and detachment from everyday commerce is made clear in a scene where we see him wandering, confused and disoriented, through the aisles of a supermarket. Meanwhile Country Boy drifts through that same world with openness and acceptance, but with no faith (with)in himself, and seems unable to settle anywhere, or to find his way home.
Baphomet Mountain is an experimental ‘buddy flick’ of long takes and conflicted souls, anchored by lengthy dialogues (more often monologues) between its two central characters that evoke the emotional dislocation of Wim Wenders’ similarly desert-set Paris, Texas (1984). These scenes were almost entirely improvised by Reyes and Mitchell, who also wrote and directed, produced and (with Franz Salvatierra) shot, while Mitchell edited and scored the plaintive guitar soundtrack. It is a strange trip, in which Jesus Boy tragically reprises his relationship with his brother, and Country Boy keeps pursuing the same fleeting, elusive love. The elevated structure of the title, much like the one in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain (1973), is all at once rocky reality and symbolic space, a peak insistently there, tantalisingly close and quite possibly insurmountable. Somewhere in all this bare sand and wind, in this arid zone of allegory and archetype, on a road that never ends, the human condition resides.
strap: Austin Burnette Mitchell and Jeremy Reyes’ Biblical buddy movie sets an unlikely pair on a road to redemption – or to nowhere
© Anton Bitel