Zardoz (1974) | Directed by John Boorman
UK | Ireland | USA | Colour | 105 Minutes
Written by John Boorman | Starring Sean Connery, Charlotte Rampling, Sara Kestelman
Director John Boorman’s cerebral and eerily dystopian sci-fi tale Zardoz was released in 1974, not long after Boorman’s iconic Deliverance, and saw the director team up with Sean Connery, three years after his final official appearance as James Bond and light years away from anything either had done before.
In a post-apocalyptic 2293, Zardoz, a colossal stone head, floats over desolate plains, pausing to receive grain from masked horsemen, vomiting weapons as payment from its grimacing mouth. Barbarian Zed (Sean Connery), self-educated from scavenged children’s books, hides as it glides away and eventually becomes the first of his kind to enter the Vortex – a detached civilisation seemingly at a higher evolutionary stage than his own. With heavy nods towards Dorothy and the Wizard Of Oz’s phony façade, Zed finally sees through the absurdity of the current social structure and the ruling class who control the workers with violence and false religion.
Yes, ladies and gents, John Boorman’s Zardoz is BONKERS! Quirky, camp and psychedelic, it’s virtually impossible to imagine acid-coated tongues weren’t firmly in cheeks during its inception. Its premise is so out-there, and visual style so wacky, that you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled upon a rejected, sinister Monty Python sketch, yet many of its other elements seem so straight-faced and obsessed with delivering a warning about ‘modern’ society that it’s hard not to feel slightly overwhelmed.
The flick’s many themes, such as technology numbing human instinct and consciousness, female superiority, upheaval over ignorance and stagnation, slavery, class systems, etc – while current and valid – are slightly bewildering given the madcap setting. But if you start to feel the symbolism and awkward self-importance is becoming a tad patronising, try looking past its philosophical messages and you will definitely get something out of this entertaining, inventive head-masher. Even Boorman himself seems uncertain whether to take the majority of his own concepts seriously, with his strange, seemingly tagged-on prologue alerting the audience that this could all be a big joke. The whole thing may have been easier to digest and more accessible to a larger audience if they’d opted solely for frolicking, fun sci-fi instead of trying to blend it with sermon-like set-pieces and forced enlightenment, but that’s not necessarily a criticism, as I for one like that they tried something completely different.
That being said, Zardoz looks every inch the extravagant, bleak epic, and is stunningly beautiful thanks to the photographic flair of Geoffrey Unsworth. Also, the effects (mostly perspective optical illusions) are elegant and smooth – I mean, come on, a massive rock noggin soaring over an army of masked, Y-front-wearing savages could’ve looked SO bad! Instead, it’s eerily breathtaking.
90% naked throughout (apart from a wonderful pair of red undies and chic thigh boots), Connery and his luscious ponytail seem bemused for the majority, as he’s stimulated by futuristic pornography, tackles tricky super ‘computers’, and shows his Bond-like sexual prowess on immortal madams. Quite obviously an exercise in self-indulgence after Boorman’s success with Deliverance, it may be that ol’ Sean signed quickly on the dotted line without reading the screenplay, but I like to think he just dug the costume.
As a thoughtful and profound messenger, Zardoz is flawed and may come across to many of you as pretentious and crass, but if you can get past all of that and enjoy the visuals, score, and Bond dressed as a twat, this mind-bending campy sci-fi romp is hugely entertaining.