Zardoz (1974) from The Realist

Zardoz is a futuristic fantasy with a 60's feel, in which the entire future lifestyle choice comes down to either a failed hippie commune or a brutal recreation of Taras Bulba.
You have to love any movie which starts with a disembodies head talking to the audience, followed by a giant stone head floating down from the sky, soon to be worshipped by various people in red panties or cheap Eastern European suits. The head is named Zardoz, and he speaks only to the Panty-Men, who are apparently in charge of population control. Zardy says, "the gun is good, the penis is evil, and I think the blender and the gall bladder could go either way", at which point he spits out guns and ammo enough for the panty men to kill some more Eastern European refugees. The panty men also wear droopy moustaches and red bandoliers to match their panties, making them look like the dream sequence dance numbers from a Broadway musical version of Viva Zapata. 

But one of the Panty-Men (Bond, James Bond) stows away in the stone head, and uses it to penetrate the dreaded Vortex, a sheltered bubble in which the inhabitants have advanced beyond homo sapiens, and are now immortal. Although they are advanced beyond comprehension, they grind wheat into flour with a technology from the first millennium. I guess it's a whole hippie organic thing, because they all meditate together and dress up like a Peter Max nightmare of hippie existence, complete with beaded curtains and blacklight posters. They also live in an English country mansion and sew their own clothing, since the last GAP was closed hundreds of years earlier.


Charlotte Rampling is seen topless, breast-feeding an infant, in the film's final sequence. There is another scene in which Connery briefly rips off her top.

Sara Kestelman is seen topless on her back in a scene in which she penetrates Connery's mind.

Another woman, presumably Sally Anne Newton, is seen topless several times, on horseback, then tending to Connery's wounds, then finally dead on her back in a pond.

Many anonymous topless women are seen fleetingly.

There is no male nudity, although Sean Connery plays the entire movie in a diaper.

This effete ruling class has taken political correctness to an extreme, to the point where any non-correct thoughts are punished with "aging". In a world where everyone lives forever, there is no death penalty, so the ultimate punishment is to doom people to living forever as senile codgers. The codgers, called "renegades", live in their own part of the vortex, where they spend every minute of every day and night dancing to old Jimmy Dorsey songs in a forlorn ballroom. There is one more Immortal group in the vortex, the "apathetics", who have fallen prey to the ultimate disease of eternal life - no, not the possibility of watching re-runs of The Nanny forever, but rather boredom. Imagine if you had to live with the same 25 hippies, baking organic green bread and sewing your own clothes, every day for the rest of eternity. I know I'd become an apathetic.

When the brutal outlander penetrates the Vortex, things get really screwed up. The Immortals want to study him because he can die, and his penis works, while theirs doesn't. They're really into the whole penis thing, and they keep showing him nude mud wrestling movies in order to watch the effect on Sean Connery's dick. After 300 years of The Nanny, this must seem like major entertainment to them. Finally, some of the women come up with a rather self-serving way to impart to Connery all the knowledge of mankind. They do this by "osmosis", which is their term for making a mind-link download to Connery's brain, while he is making a penis-link download to them elsewhere. Remember these women haven't seen a hard dick in 300 years.

  • It later turns out that Connery is not really the savage he appears to be. The Immortals begin to think something may be amiss when the brutal savage starts quoting T.S. Eliot from memory and playing Rimsky-Korsakoff on household appliances.
  • Then it turns out that Connery is a super-being who has developed an intricate plan to penetrate the vortex, destroy it, and let his fellow Pancho Villa Panty-Men inside to kill the Immortals.
  • Upon further unraveling, it turns out that Connery himself was actually genetically engineered over generations by some of the Immortals, as part of their long-term plan to end their infinitely boring immortality. At one point, some of the immortals, who engineered the plan, help Connery escape from the other immortals by dressing him up in a bridal gown.
  • In a final twist, when the ultimate Trickster tells Connery that he engineered the whole thing, Connery replies "but I have looked into the life-force that put the idea in your head". Whatever that means. The trickster, Arthur Frayne, begins the film in a preface, as a disembodied head narrating to the audience, saying "I am Arthur Frayne, and I am Zardoz". Then the camera zooms in on him and he has a moustache, goatee and eyebrows painted on with magic marker.

Poor John Boorman, the writer and director, was asked to do a commentary for the DVD, and even he finds it embarrassing now. He comments on some of the scenes, "yes, well, it's all rather absurd looking at it here, isn't it?". Most of the time he can't think of anything at all to say, so he just rambled on about how Connery stayed at his house during the shooting, since it was only ten miles away from the seedy mansion that played The Vortex. Apparently, Connery was an exemplary guest who always played his music very low, brushed his teeth after every meal, and never left any of those dried toothpaste stains on the sink. I'm not making this up, by the way. Boorman really doesn't seem to have any sense of what might make for interesting commentary.

There are some good things to say. The film has some imaginative visuals, and this DVD represents the first time that the full 2.35 theatrical aspect ratio has been seen since the film was actually in theaters. For some reason, the widescreen laser disc was cropped to 1.85. Strangely, the trailer is still in a 1.85 aspect ratio! I did enjoy seeing the full framing in the feature.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1

  • Full-length commentary by John Boorman

  • the trailer, various production stills and advertising art. 

I also enjoyed the cerebral aspect of the movie. It is cheesy, and pretentious, and dated, and a lot of other unflattering things, but it also comes from an era when people used to come out of movies and talk about the ideas they presented. This film is filled with interesting ideas about the nature of immortality, and how it wouldn't be quite as good as it sounds. Think about it, how would you keep from being bored? How would we punish people? How would we control the population? The world is overpopulated now, although we die. Imagine how crowded the planet would be if we all kept living forever. The basic ideas behind the movie were interesting, and the intricate multi-layered plot was clever and thought-provoking.

Unfortunately, Boorman got lost somewhere on the road that led from good ideas to a good movie. At one time he must have hoped for profundity, but looking at it now, it's nothing but snicker fodder for the undergrads. To paraphrase Churchill, never has it been so sad that something was so funny. 

The Critics Vote

  • Maltin 2/4.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 5.4, but it has a very solid core of devotees (one out of every six voters scored it 10/10).  
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. OK genre pic, although probably Boorman's worst film. Whether you think it is good or not, I predict it will entertain you.

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