“Zardoz your god gave you the gift of gun. The gun is good. The penis is evil. The penis shoots seeds and makes new life to poison the Earth with the plague of men.” – God Zardoz
Set in the Year 2293
A landmark in flamboyantly awful sci-fi movies. Zardoz (1974) has Sean Connery running around in a loincloth in the debauched future of 2293, categorized as a Brutal. Having smuggled aboard the floating stone head that is the God Zardoz and defeated its Eternal ruler Arthur Frayn (Niall Buggy), the Brutal lands the flying aircraft that is the stone head into the Vortex (it’s an invisible dome city) which the privileged Eternals occupy. The Eternals are made up of a bunch of impotent men and flat-chested women, who have become bored with their monotonous existence. Connery, as prisoner Zed, is a welcome change-of-pace but is to be disposed of after they are done studying him. Some of them want him dead, but some of the other bored people realize Zed is their salvation, and reckon he is the only one that can change them into Mortals. Eternal life sucks, you know.
This description is conventional review writing, believe it or not. The key message I want to tell you is that this is among the most out-there, impossibly WEIRD movies ever made (How?? How?? Who let this happen??). Every now and then, I have found descriptions in film books that it was supposed to be a futuristic “Spartacus” but I’ve never been able to find the connection. I can’t find any coherent connections to anything, really. It’s some kind of fable of a virile adventurer overthrowing a totalitarian society that has grown ineffectual, I guess. To keep Eternals in line, the punishment is “aging” them if they offend their peers.
Until the infiltration into the Vortex, the hero Zed was a prototypical killing machine on horseback who exterminated undesirable men and women who populated the Earth. We see a flashback where he discovered books at a ruined library. Guy Montag discovered books in “Fahrenheit 451,” we recall, the discovery was that knowing books held truth about the deception of society. Zed discovers L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” and so learns that his entire society is built on a lie, a construction that came from that book’s plot.
Now amongst the Eternals, Zed becomes one of these outsiders who knows too much. Naturally, angry and fearful Vortex women want him dead. So why don’t they just do it? There seems to be a number of efforts to pummel him when pinned down under a plastic sheet or suffocated under a blanket, but Zed just shimmies out and runs again (often hiding in the Vortex museum, cue the symbolism). Consuella (Charlotte Rampling) leads the search party, but without legitimate story transition, she falls under a romantic spell. Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony is played on the soundtrack during the montage where the two ultimately spawn a child and grow old together.
Despite all the weirdness, only a few shots in the movie court excitement. Too much is stifled, the visuals coarse not cool, the ideas annoying not mind-blowing. The Tabernacle is an artificial intelligence that sucks Zed inside the “crystal” where odd memories play out on a projection screen. That’s just one among many story concepts that is introduced late and comes out of nowhere, and is there just to be annoying.
Please observe for a moment that “Zardoz” could have only been made and existed in one period in film history, the far-out and porn-content-as-mainstream experimentation period of the early 1970’s when radical hippies were attending movies that defied the status quo. Director John Boorman got creative license following his hit “Deliverance” (1971), a grown-up thriller worth seeing. But Boorman can’t even embrace the camp ludicrousness of his ideas. It’s not really a far-out adventure he’s going for, instead he intends his “Zardoz” to be a turgid cerebral allegory.
A few of you readers out there must see something like “Zardoz” at one time or another (or choose the less turgid “Barbarella” or “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai” if you must). When you see a movie like Tom Cruise’s “Oblivion,” about a futuristic earthling who also learns the world is built on a sham construction, you should be thankful that you’ve seen a movie that at least has a clear message and comprehensive storytelling. “Oblivion” is not a 5-star movie because it doesn’t achieve an enormous fresh impression, but deserves 3-stars because it has visuals worth seeing and has a comprehensive story with enough meat on its bones.
“Zardoz” is a movie to dread because you watch it haplessly with no idea what its’ director is trying to say with it. Once in awhile you need to see a movie so bad and suffocating that you realize how relatively decent others are in comparison.
105 Minutes. Rated R.
SCI-FI & FANTASY / MINDBENDER / BAD MOVIES WE HATE
Film Cousins: “Barbarella” (1968); “The Boy and His Dog” (1976); “Deathsport” (1978); “Kaboom” (2011).