Director Gone Wild: ZARDOZ

ZARDOZ is one messed up movie and you can’t make me not love it.

In a post-disaster world of $22.95, Sean Connery is Zed, one of the hairy guys who run around raping and killing using guns and ammo from a giant stone head. He sneaks into the head and finds there are human bodies sealed in plastic. The head lands in an Irish village where hippies bake green bed and don’t think about sex. The hippies are immortal but see, immortality sucks because we should all accept death as a part of life. After an hour of zero action but a lot of talking, the hippies embrace the death Connery’s hair guys have brought them. Sean Connery has sex with the criminally beautiful Charlotte Rampling. They grow old and die. The End!

Director John Boorman made this when he was coming off a success (DELIVERANCE) and a misfire (an adaptation of LORD OF THE RINGS). The direction comes closest to his vivid work in POINT BLANK, with its psychedelic visuals.

Here are a few of my favorite things about ZARDOZ. Do not judge me.

The opening with Zed and his merry band of killers is fit for a seventies dystopia flick. In the era of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and NO BLADE OF GRASS, cynicism and misery were considered keeping it real out in that field. All right? Zed turns from his weapon-gathering chores and in a boundary-breaking moment breaks the fourth wall and shoot the audience. Is Zed ashamed of raping and pillaging? Is his destruction of the viewer a signifier of his growing awareness of self?

We are coming late to the story though we won’t know that until later. Before the fade in, Zed found a library, where he learned the truth about the world before and that Zardoz is a fake god, created to keep people in line and feeding the head with grain.

The movie’s story would be improved by telling it in chronological order, but I bet Boorman wanted a big “Surprise!” for the middle of the movie. If we followed Zed to the library and THEN into the head, we’d know he was trying to learn the truth about the world. He stows away and is deposited in a hippie village, where people bake bread and don’t die.

Green bread! OMG, this IS the future!
Awkward.

The village in a bubble is run by a bunch of hippie immortals, led by the intolerably beautiful Charlotte Rampling.

Just groove on it.

The women want to mate with Zed and produce more Zedlings. Friend and a group of outcasts (who live down the street) want Zed to kill everyone and release them from horrible eternal life. Theme incoming!

You mean a rocket pack doesn’t pop out? Doesn’t squirt oil? No laser?

The theme is that old gem, Don’t wish for immortality, it’s bad, just accept the nothingness of death. Why am I explaining the plot to this insane movie?

Here’s where things get tricky.

I can’t say that ZARDOZ goes off the rails, because it’s never ON the rails, but for me the flashback hurts the film almost fatally. Without knowing that Zed has been disillusioned, he’s not a character with a goal, he’s just a rapist and murderer who wanders into the head of his god and goes where it takes him.

I guess the flashback was in keeping with the movie’s nuttiness. Like the torture that consists of waving people into submission.

The POINT BLANK echoes come fast when Zed is in the Tabernacle, the heart of the computer that keeps the Immortals’ little corner of the world going. A mirror scene, slow-mo, backwards-mo. Lotta mowin’.

And then there’s…this.

By means of waving, guns, exploding balloons and mayhem, the world of the Eternals collapses not-too-spectacularly. Ultimately, mortal human life is restored.

ZARDOZ is compelling because it’s what happens when a bunch of talented people get together and are led over a cliff. The cinematographer was Geoffrey Unsworth, who shot 2001: A FREAKIN’ SPACE ODYSSEY, CABARET and SUPERMAN, and he went nuts with the smoke and fog filters. I imagine Ridley Scott saw this and went “Whoah, easy on the diffusion, mate!” Some of the village scenes have a charming afternoon quality (when Zed is rummaging around the empty house). The art direction swings from interesting science fiction settings (the mind probe room with the big screen) to what-the-hell? wacky (the mind probe room with the naked bodies regenerating under an indoor rain storm).

See, this movie is messed up.

I have no idea what scene this is. I may have blanked it out.

Enough.

I could go on about ZARDOZ for hours, but I don’t want to completely spoil it for you, just in case you’re curious. The cheap costumes, the bad dialogue, the unmotivated characters–none of it matters if you, like me, like your science fiction movies with genuine strangeness. And the giant floating head is all you hope it’ll be.

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