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The 70s was a great period for sci-fi, offering us movies like A Clockwork Orange, THX-1138, Soylant Green, Silent Running, Logan’s Run and Star Wars, just to name a few. Zardoz does not join those ranks, being very bizarre and notorious movie from Sean Connery’s filmography.
In the year 2293 the mortal Brutals roam the land, killing and raping people and following their doctrine of a floating stone head called Zardoz. However one of the Brutals, Zed (Connery) breaks into Zardoz and ends up in the Vortex, a seeming oasis of peace where an immortal race of people called The Eternals live. They make Zed the subject of their scientific experiments. But Zed’s presence can lead The Eternals to finally being able to die and he could show the women the magnificent gift of his erection.
Zardoz was directed by John Boorman, a man who made Point Blank and Deliverance beforehand followed by Excalibur and Hope and Glory. He is a man with obvious talent. But Boorman made Zardoz after his attempt to make a Lord of the Rings adaptation fell through and was given carte blanche to make any movie he wanted after the success of Deliverance. Boorman acted as Zardoz‘s writer, director and producer, resulting in a movie where his head is deep up his own arse and his talent is nowhere near as evident here.
Zardoz does have some interesting ideas and concepts, such as an advanced civilization playing God to a primitive people for their own needs, the civilization experimenting on the primal people and looking at how an immortal society would function. One small idea the movie touches on is The Eternals have no need to procreate so have lost interest in sex, a similar idea was explored in P.D. James’ novel The Children of Men. But it is the execution that is lacking as Boorman becomes more interested in making an art-house piece than a sci-fi film. There are some nice little touches like the punishment of The Eternals by aging people which could lead to a horrific existence of permanent senility and other Eternals, known as The Apathetics, just become husks who barely exist.
The little touches of Zardoz are outweighed by Boorman’s desire to be bizarre. Other sci-fi movies during the era had a tendency to be bleak and surreal, but they were also coherent and told a compelling story. Zardoz seems to have no real rules, it starts with a floating head talking to the audience, bouncing around the screen, telling us he is a false god and goes meta when he questions if God is toying with us. The movie continues with this surreal tone by having characters with psychic powers; the Eternals marvelling at Zed, particularly his manhood, where the ladies get hot under the collar and Connery having to wear red underpants, a porn star tash and wedding dress, ensuring that the man who played James Bond, Indiana Jones’ dad and The Highlander’s mentor can lose his dignity. By the third act, Zardoz goes completely off the boil, giving up on any sense of logic.
When writing and directing the movie, Boorman seemed like he had read a load of radical feminist theory. The film proper starts with a stone head saying ‘The gun is good, the penis is evil’, the leaders of the Eternals being women and one of the ruling women gives a lecture about how an erection and sex with men getting aroused by violence. Yet this theme is undermined by the fact that all The Eternal women are sexually aroused just by Zed’s presence, surrounding and touching whenever they are near him and even awakening The Apathetics because of his sexual prowess. It takes the idea of Connery having animal magnetism to its extremes.
Zardoz has over the years, become a cult classic with opinions ranging from the movie being so-bad-its-good to being an underrated sci-fi classic. The reality is Zardoz has some interesting ideas and concepts, but it is ruined by its own lack of logic and rules and serves as an example that even the best directors can make a bad movie.
Special Features: Though the quality of Zardoz is questionable at best, Arrow Films have put a lot in the Blu-ray release. The Blu-ray comes with a director’s commentary with John Boorman and interviews with many members of the crew, including Boorman and actress Sara Kestelman. Kill List director Ben Wheatley also provides a 15 minute appreciation for the movie, explaining how he came across it, why he likes it and how Zardoz influenced him.