Zardoz is a difficult thing to get a read on. It could be a surreal exploration of the meaning of life. It could be a meditation on the Nietzschean ideal of the Will to Power. It could be a muddled piece of exploitative trash. A tough call. And to be honest I don’t think I disagree with any of these interpretations. In fact there are several more that could be added to the list. And that is what makes this film so intriguing.
Is it an artistic masterpiece or is it a ridiculous piece of crap? It straddles the line between the two so well it is hard to know the difference. It is fair to say that I fall on the side of artistic masterpiece but with full understanding that this is flawed to say the least. If you continue to read this feature the one overarching theme you will notice that I will always fall on the side of the flawed masterpiece. I will always side with the interesting failure over hum-drum pseudo-perfection. There are many films (and books and TV and etc.) that technically do nothing wrong, the stories are solid, the execution is exactly how its supposed to be, there is nothing you can really point to to say this is bad. But they can also be boring and soulless. By the numbers, no chances taken. I say go full out and try something new and extravagant and weird and against the norm and if you are going to fail…fail spectacularly.
Zardoz fails spectacularly. Or it succeeds spectacularly. Like I said It is hard to get a read on.
Now if you were to Google Zardoz the first this you will probably encounter is Sean Connery in a red diaper, knee-high boots and double bandoliers across a carpet of chest hair. and your reaction will probably be something along the lines of, “what the hell is that?” And that I must say is the correct reaction. But keep in mind that this will be the least of the WTF moments you will have. If you watch the film you will encounter a giant floating head that vomits guns and a discussion on what makes a penis hard. There will be people entering a prism and psychic attacks. And rape. There is an inordinate amount of rape that everyone seems to be okay with. But honestly it all makes sense in a weird sort of way.
Okay, okay I feel like I’m not doing justice to the film and just confusing things. Let’s just talk about the plot.
What It Is
It is a post-apocalyptic Earth (of course it is, this is 70s scifi) and the world is separated into the immortal Eternals and the mortal Brutals. The Eternals live in the Vortex, a sealed off sanctuary where they lead a life of leisure and aimlessness. The Brutals in contrast live in a wasteland ruled over by a giant, floating stone head called Zardoz who dishes out wisdom like, “the gun is good, the penis is bad” and distributes weapons for the more aggressive Exterminators to go on vicious killing sprees.
One of the Exterminators, Zed (Sean Connery) hides in the stone head and seemingly kills its operator. When the head eventually flys back to the Vortex where it originates Zed is taken in by the population and treated as a welcome curiosity. The Eternals we find are listless and apathetic, an immortal life has robbed them of all motivation. Some, actually called Apathetics, have simply stopped doing anything and stand around in a catatonic state. They are also psychic. But again it’s the 70s, everyone was psychic.
Zed eventually is befriended by two Eternals, Consuella (Charlotte Rampling) and the aptly named Friend (John Alderton), who find he is more intelligent than they thought. Turns out that he is result of long-running eugenics experiments devised by Arthur Frayn – the man who controls the Zardoz flying head – in order breed a superman who will eventually invade the Vortex and bring the Eternals the sweet embrace of death. Frayn had been encouraging Zed to read and eventually led him to a copy of the Wizard of Oz (Zardoz, get it?) revealing to Zed that there has been an elaborate manipulation and enraging him to the point of wanting to break into the Vortex and deliver to the Eternals the sweet embrace of death. So that worked out.
Zed does actually figure out how to make the Eternal mortal but can’t actually bring himself to kill them. Not a problem because the Brutals enter the Vortex and do that for him.
Zed and Consuella escape, fall in love and have a time-lapse life until they are skeletons holding hands. The End.
Believe it or not the film is much. much weirder than that synopsis would indicate.