Zardoz

Spirit fingers CAN KILL
★★
☆☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1975
Director: 
John Boorman
Starring: 
Sean Connery, Charlotte Rampling, Bosco Hogan
The Setup: 
Mortal man penetrates the village of a group of immortals. A giant floating stone head is involved.
Discussion: 

I used to be totally obsessed with Sean Connery, and once had a mission to see every movie he was in—I even had a checklist. I had also determined, through careful research, which movies he looked best in, given his various looks. For the clean-shaven look, I chose Thunderball [Marnie is also acceptable]. For the mustache look, The Molly Maguires is your film. For the older Sean with beard, his look in The Hunt for Red October is unsurpassed. I pass on this knowledge to you free of charge, part of my commitment to bettering the world through the dissemination of my wealth of masculine knowledge.

Anyway, during my years of rigorous study, people would always say to me, “Have you seen Zardoz? ‘Cause he spends the entire movie running around in a loincloth.” Of course I did make immediate arrangements to see Zardoz, and was of course bewildered and appalled, and not even that thrilled with the way Sean looked, as yes, he’s naked, but he doesn’t do all that much that’s sexy. And then the movie itself….?! But now I am older and wiser and whatever and am ready to open myself to Sean, and this movie, in a way I wasn’t before.

We begin with this floating head of a man. This is different from the giant floating stone head we will see in a few minutes, but actually the man who controls the stone head. He introduces the story, like the prologue in a Shakespearean play, and lets you know right off the bat that “I am a false God. I long to die.” One suspects that this bit was tacked on later to help audiences understand, and yes, we find out from the commentary, this bit was tacked on later because no one could understand the movie. We also learn that despite this bit, no on could understand the movie. The floating head looks at the audience with an oh-so-clever expression and says; “And you, poor creatures… who conjured you out of the clay?” So one could be forgiven for considering this a bit on the pretentious side.

So then there’s this old blasted heath, and this giant stone head floats through the air and lands, greeted by this race of guys in loincloths and masks that look like the stone head. It is the year 2293. The head says “Zardoz speaks to you… the gun is good. [guys below: “The gun! The gun!”] The penis is evil. The penis shoots seeds.” The stone head then issues a bunch of guns and ammo to the guys, who, by the way, are exterminators. They are sent forth to kill the brutals. I don’t think we see a whole lot of the brutals throughout the movie, but they’re out there, oh yes. There is then much majestic flying head footage, accompanied by Beethoven’s Symphony #7, which you will have pounded into your head 1,700 times throughout the movie. While this happens the credits play, which feature a credit for “inflatables,” and let us know that this film includes the thespic contributions of someone named Bosco Hogan.

Anyway, so Sean wakes up inside the flying head, which is apparently filled with grain [ballast?] and has these naked people inside plastic bags, the freshness sealed in. The guy who delivered the speech at the beginning is there, and Zed [that’s Connery] shoots him, whereupon he goes flying out into the air. Then the head lands in this village, and Sean spends some time looking around before he meets a woman on the beach who scans his brain a little bit and hurts him with her eyes. She says “You know the phrase ‘if looks could kill?’ Here, they can.”

Now at first there would be a certain shot of Sean and I’d think “Boy, is he handsome.” Then a while later I’d think “Damn is he handsome.” Then a little bit later I’d think “GOD DAMN is he handsome.” This pretty much continues throughout the movie. It makes for a very pleasant viewing experience, as when the movie gets boring, you can always just look at the hot naked man. This is a feature I think should be increasingly included on DVDs… the option to open a smaller window with a hot naked man or woman that you can direct your attention to when the movie grows boring or stupid.

So Sean is forced to stand in the middle of this group of people as they review his memories via viewscreen, then debate on whether to let him live or not. These are the Eternals—no, NOT a 70s soul group, but a bunch of immortals who can neither die nor make babies, and are stuck within the confines of their once-paradisiacal community that they are now all totally bored with. Sean is the first outsider to get in there, and so they debate whether he should be studied or will “pollute them.” They decide to let him live for a while, but make him do manual labor and treat him like an animal.

In here we also learn that the guy in the floating head that Sean shot was Arthur, who used the floating head as a way to control the outside population through religion, and that he did this kind of as a personal hobby, for his own amusement.

We meet a new group of people called the Apathetics, who grew so bored and tired with living forever that now they can barely move. There’s also the renegades, those who rebelled against the system, and as punishment were aged, but not allowed to die.

So now it’s on to erection class. You see, the eternals are so bored that they’re unable to get erections, and furthermore, don’t understand HOW guys get erections, despite “intensive study.” They want to give Connery a boner so they can study it [I know I want to study it], so they play porn for him, but it doesn’t work. They switch the video, still doesn’t work, and finally it turns out that Sean gets a boner [not shown] from looking at Charlotte! She is all flummoxed, especially because she hates Sean because of the disruption he represents the community, so she doesn’t offer to “help him with that hard problem” as any other rational being would do. For those of you who think that I am always looking for sexual content in movies where it doesn’t exist, I invite you to consider the following photo:

So then this guy named “friend” has Sean serving soup at the big round table o’ immortals and of course this sends Charlotte into a snit. Then for some reason they get pissed at Friend and decide to take him to second level, which will prematurely age him, which they accomplish by all standing around the table with arms out and making spirit fingers at him while shouting “Renegade! Renegade! Renegade!” It’s ridiculous, obviously, but so is so much in the movie, that you kind of give this one a pass. UNTIL it starts going on. And on. And on. I listened to large parts of the director commentary because I was dying to know WHAT he could possibly have to say about all this [the commentary falls notably silent during KEY sequences of the film], and about this scene he says: “If you don’t enter into the spirit of the thing it can all be quite ludicrous.”

Uh… YEAH.

SPOILERS > > >
Anyway, so here’s the whole deal. It seems that guy Arthur [the one who Sean shot while in the floating head] created the head and the myth of Zardoz as a false religion as a way to amuse himself. He has been controlling Sean’s life all along, and one day led him to a library, where he showed Sean the book of The Wizard of Oz. Now get THIS, bitches: Take off the “Wi” and leave out the “of” and you’ve got: Zard Oz.” Is your mind COMPLETELY BLOWN? And now you’re thinking: “oh yeah, false God, giant head that is controlled by just some little guy…” Holy shit, man, I need another hit!

Now here’s the deal with The Eternals: formed during the late '50s, in the Freeman Street neighborhood of the Bronx, the quintet scored big with “Rockin’ in the Jungle” before… Oh, you mean the ones in this movie. Okay, so there was there was some undescribed apocalypse, referred to only as the “dark time,” whereupon the rich and powerful took all “the good things” and secluded themselves in this little village. Then the scientists created “the tabernacle,” which froze all of the people in eternal life, and, in order to protect themselves from themselves, erased all knowledge of the tabernacle so they could never destroy it. But the effect, over time, was that they got so bored they lost all interest in life or sex or emotion or anything. So now they offer to “touch teach” Sean in exchange for, well, his semen. They will teach him everything he needs to know to destroy the tabernacle, and he will impregnate all the women. Hmmm, maybe I could just throw a shawl over my head and do one of those M. Butterfly things and just hope he won’t notice.

By the way, continuing some of the highly Freudian stuff here, some Eternals one day shoot someone, and, having discovered violence, they suddenly find renewed interest in sex. Oh, and there’s a moment in here where Sean is wearing a wedding dress.

So Sean holes away in this large storehouse where the masterpieces of world sculpture are stored, and he’s looking into this crystal ball which will supposedly tell him everything. So Charlotte comes up behind him, ready to kill him, but finds she can’t. So obviously they fall in love. No, I mean, they fall in love RIGHT THEN, and agree that when it’s all over, they’ll live together forever [I think we’ve all had nights like that, right?]. Then Sean is tested by God or whoever, and God says “when you see into the crystal ball, then you will be ready,” and one second later Sean says: “I see it! I’m ready!” Well, that was a stiff learning curve. And I’m not kidding, we ARE talking about crystal balls in the old-time fortuneteller sense.

But wait, there’s another crystal. There’s this crystal that’s been cut, and the refractions of light in this crystal ARE GOD. Then somehow Sean enters the crystal, and there is this LONG sequence of running around in this sort of hall of mirrors kind of thing while there are projections of various eternals going “WoooooOOOOooooo…” and such. Must be seen to be believed. Then Sean sees half himself / half his old, exterminator self in the mirror, and shoots it, whereupon he dies.

So the pissed-off Eternals, lead by Charlotte, have destroyed all the sculpture in the massive sculpture warehouse, and they find Sean, and lift him up into their shoulders like the God he now is, and then Charlotte comes in and kisses him and poof!—he’s back to normal. But not normal, because he now has the power to reverse time, and does so enough so that he and his Eternal buds can escape. They are now freed of their immortality, and to prove it, they promptly run off to kill an old man. Then all of Sean’s former exterminator buds come looking for him and kill almost all the Eternals, who are only too happy to die by this point.

Sean and Charlotte escape and she has a baby and then they sit in one spot until they grow old and die [hello, bedsores!] while their kid gets up and walks away at one point. It’s very much like the wedding music video in Ken Russell’s Crimes of Passion. And that’s the end!
< < < SPOILERS END

One thing I would not be surprised to hear is that this film was one of the many influences on The Matrix, mainly for the scenes at the end in which Zed enters the mind of the crystal, and has a confrontation that is only really happening in his mind. While he’s in there, he learns that while the people on his plane are making up Gods to control others, someone [or something] else is making up Gods and controlling THEM. And then when he returns to the normal world of the film, he sees through the structure of his world and is able to wield powers based on his enlightenment. The scene where he reverses time—accomplished through the old stand-by ‘footage run backwards,’—is very Matrix-like in the way it’s shot, with Zed wielding his powers simply by holding out his hand. Does any of this change anything? No, but it’s kind of amusing.

The first time you see this movie, it can be a shock just HOW out there it is. We’re talking long, expressive scenes that come from the same place interpretive dance originated from, that strain or unbridled “creativity” that, as Boorman says, “if you don’t enter into the spirit of the thing,” can just seem SO INCREDIBLY STUPID. Like, so stupid that you’re embarrassed for the people on screen. Poor Sean. Apparently Sean took this because he was unable to get any kind of job after he dropped out of James Bond—and apparently Boorman’s first choice was Burt Reynolds! So apparently the mustachioed alpha-guy with a hairy chest was precisely what he was looking for. Having seen it once, I was prepared for most of it [though some of the massive cheese still managed to surprise me], and this time I was able to concentrate more on the ideas… which are still kind of… well, not DUMB, but something a stoned undergrad might find interesting. “Dude, what if, like, WE created GOD…”

Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed it on this go-round, and never really got bored. You have to just get into it for what it is. And of course, then there’s Sean. If I find this cheap enough, I would buy it just to look at him. Anyway, if you want some heady sci-fi that isn’t afraid to make a fool of itself… or if you want to gape open-mouthed at something really sprinting whole-hog into the bizarre… or if you enjoy looking at naked hairy middle-aged men with mustaches… this movie has a lot to offer.

Should you watch it: 

Sure, if, after reading this, it still sounds appealing, go for it.