Zardoz (1974)
Zardoz (1974)

Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 45 min.

Release Date: February 6th, 1974 MPAA Rating: R

Director: John Boorman Actors: Sean Connery, Charlotte Rampling, John Alderton, Sara Kestelman, Sally Anne Newton, Niall Buggy, Bosco Hogan, Jessica Swift, Bairbre Dowling

 


 

“I

am Zardoz. I’ve lived 300 years,” exclaims the Puppetmaster (Niall Buggy), a false god who laments his own immortality. Death is no longer possible, thanks to the technologies of the future – specifically set in 2293. As the narrator explains, the following story will be rich in irony and most satirical, detailing a possible future – one that might not come to fruition, depending on the whims of Zardoz himself.

Zardoz appears to his chosen ones as a floating stone head in the sky, which dispenses massive amounts of firearms as it hovers above the outlands, providing weapons to his fanatical servants, who will be rewarded with a version of heaven called the Vortex. “The gun is good! The penis is evil!” Reproduction is sinful, as it fills the Earth with more people, who tend to defile beauty and drain resources (though the outland killers are allowed to torture and rape in the name of Zardoz). So it is up to these faithful warriors to purge all the brutals who multiply rampantly and needlessly.

Zed (Sean Connery) is one such obedient exterminator, who awakes inside the Zardoz golem, pistol blazing. He spies mannequin-like humans wrapped up in airtight packaging (as if action figures in clamshells), before venturing out into a nearby city, where plants are similarly encased in translucent sacs. As a primitive, nearly caveman-like being, Zed is in for a shock when he investigates his new surroundings, which include decorative flowers; a topless woman on a horse; and superior humanoids who don’t age, don’t require sleep (they meditate instead), can control minds, and can view the memories of one another.

Virtually singlehandedly helmed by filmmaker John Boorman (who writes, produces, and directs), “Zardoz” is, if nothing else, approached with an admirable seriousness. It’s instantly difficult to take seriously, what with all the visual oddities and Connery clothed only in belts of bullets and a red loincloth (and a braided ponytail), but the intentional comic relief is minimal, and the actors refuse to betray their own disbelief at the pervasive weirdness. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 also helps with the unexpected sincerity.

But nearly every artistic component of “Zardoz” is unpredictably and outrageously bizarre. Set decorations consist of nude people cocooned in plastic bags; costumes hang loosely and regularly slip below the bust to reveal nipples; and set designs are a mix of mirrored prisms, white temples held up by massive stone pillars, and desert wastelands that border onto beaches. Even language is distorted on occasion to impart extra strangeness, while food is primarily green bread. When Zed is sentenced to three weeks of menial labor by the advanced inhabitants of Vortex 4, he learns of further kooky and kinky customs, such as their failure to understand the nature of erections; their treatment of the diseased “apathetics,” who behave like zombies, and the “renegades,” who refuse to conform to the standards of civilized immortality; and a series of studies conducted upon him to determine how he managed to enter the vortex.

As all of these eccentric ideas play out, mostly unsuccessful at appearing as part of a sensible, fictional society, several moments accidentally grow to laugh-out-loud-funny proportions. When Consuella (Charlotte Rampling) makes Zed watch pornography for scientific purposes, when Friend (John Alderton) is forced into the shared consciousness of a second-level meditation, and when Zed engages in a tug-of-war battle beneath a bedsheet, it’s tough not to chuckle at how uncomfortable and aberrant and nonsensical the customs of this sci-fi mess become. Curiously, the plot is so spectacularly offbeat that it’s never boring, though it’s routinely idiotic (and, perhaps, dreamt up in a haze of psychedelic drugs). And this is even before a courtyard orgy, Zed disguising himself with a wedding dress, and the rebellious masses touch-teaching liberator Zed in exchange for his seed.

– Mike Massie

  • 2/10