“The penis is evil.”
The Scoop: 1974 R, Directed by John Booman and starring Sean Connery, Charlotte Rampling and Niall Buggy
Tagline: Beyond 1984, Beyond 2001, Beyond Love, Beyond Death
Summary Capsule: Sean Connery explores some very odd ideas about sex in a future where diapers and red thigh boots are de rigeur.
Shalen’s rating: If you watch this and your eyeballs fall out, you have nobody but yourself to blame. I warned you.
Shalen’s review: There might be cyborgs. There might be killer diseases. There might be a bunch of clones of Tony Goldwyn. There might be, worst of all, a world of stultifying boredom and conformity in which people like me are forced to lose weight and pretend we like Oscar-winning films. The future is a scary idea. It is, however, much less scary than the future was during the sixties and seventies. Most of our contemporary ideas about the more distant portions of time from ourselves now involve leather, fancy guns, and the occasional omnipotent government conspiracy, rather than obsession with colored plastic, houseplants, and immobilized maybe-living-maybe-dead people behind glass.1
Zardoz is set in the year Way The Heck Far From Now, when the world has collapsed after nuclear apocalypse. There’s an opening voice-over, but we don’t learn that significant plot fact from it. All we learn is that the Floating Head of Oily Mustache Man wants to die and wants to tell us about it. At length. But, from what I was able to figure out by about viewing three, a few reincarnating immortal elites live behind an invisible force wall inside a community they call The Vortex. There’s logical purpose for this name that I was ever able to determine, since “it sucks” was not common in the vernacular at this point in history. Per usual for seventies-style utopia, all of the Vortex residents wear draped pastels. They spend time meditating, gardening, serving each other equally, and just generally boring each other completely to death.
Oh, and despite the rampant nudity and bizarrely erotic imagery throughout their community, they can’t have sex. Apparently living forever causes erectile dysfunction and the concept of something like Viagra was beyond aptly named writer/director John Boorman.2 Everybody who doesn’t live in a Vortex lives outside in complete caveman-style anarchy. The elites refer to them as Brutals.
Because he is far too manly to wear a toga, Sean Connery plays one of these. His name is Zed. He is something special in the hairy barbarian department due to his advanced intelligence, his thorough self-control, and his ability to get it up only when he wishes rather than when he is shown dirty pictures by the elites who caught him sneaking into the Vortex. This is one of the most incomprehensible and hilarious scenes ever, but it is definitely not for younger audiences – for the sake of all that is dear, do not ever show this film to a child. Even if the content wasn’t a problem, supposing it’s my American bias against sex and nudity in film,3 they will grow up so deeply scarred by its droning incomprehensibility that they will have no choice but to become a serial killer.
There are inflatable plastic globes with plants in them. Naked women riding horses. A pyramid covered with mirrors. Naked people in trees. Weird-colored bread being tossed to semi-comatose effetes as if they were ducks at the park. Naked people inside glass walls. Dead naked people shrink-wrapped in plastic. Are you seeing a common theme here? Good, because the visuals are the only remotely interesting or consistent thing in this movie, and those harp juuuust a tad too consistently on a single theme.
There’s a brief scene of total anarchy near the end that comes close to being interesting, as the Vortex is utterly destroyed and people run around surreally4 begging to be killed by invading Brutals, but of course it doesn’t actually end that way. It ends with Zed and the continually-thwarted Consuella sitting down in a cave and going through all stages of the life cycle from childbearing up through death at fast-forward speed, ending with two skeletons holding hands. I wish I was kidding.
You can watch the director’s commentary on the DVD, too, but it doesn’t help. The director says things like “We inflated plastic bags to make these,” but never answers the questions to which the viewer really wants answers (“WHY?????”).
1. Also see Barbarella and Logan’s Run.
2. His other film credits include The Tailor of Panama, which I have very successfully avoided seeing, and the 1981 version of Excalibur, which was fully as goofy as this but lacked some of its more horrifying qualities.
3. And any American who spends much time online had better be prepared to hear plenty of unsolicited opinions on that one. It’s worse than if you were to suddenly mention John Wayne.
4. Surreally is a real word. I looked it up.
- Your brain dribbling out your ears at the “the gun is good” line?
- Red… leather… thigh… boots. Why? Why?
- Sean Connery’s amazing ‘stache. See previous.
- People view their own deaths from a third-person perspective.
- Rape is just no fun if the victim doesn’t care. Apparently that’s why you have to wrap them in a fishing net first.
- When the exterminators on horseback are killing the brutals, tire tracks can be seen on the wet beach sand.
- The Pyramid of Mirrored Snideness, also known as a Tabernacle.
- Funny how quickly these advanced pacifistic folk decide they’re going to kill Zed.
- In the scene where Zed discovers the floating book, you can clearly see the strings suspending it in midair.
- The groovy names people have in the future. Star, Friend, May, and for some reason, Arthur Frayn.
- Naked horseback riding. Isn’t that kind of, I don’t know, itchy?
- For being so apathetic, those people apparently got up in that tall tree just fine. Naked, no less.
- Austin Gaskin is credited as “horsemaster.” I wonder if he’s ever bandied threats with a dwarf and an elf.
- Sean Connery starred in this movie and yet neither assassinated the director nor lost the will to live.
- To help keep the movie cost down, Sean Connery used his own car and drove himself during the production. John Boorman then gave him half the money that had been budgeted to hire him a car and driver. The idea was Connery’s, according to Boorman.
- According to Boorman, Connery found it incredibly difficult to get work when he abandoned the James Bond role a second time. Thus, Boorman was able to hire Connery very cheaply for this project.
Arthur Frayn: I am Arthur Frayn, and I am Zardoz. I have lived 300 years, and long to die. But death is no longer possible, I am immortal. I present now my story – full of mystery and intrigue. Rich in irony, and most satirical. It is set deep within a possible future…
Zardoz: The gun is good.
Exterminators: The gun is good.
Zardoz: The penis is evil.
Zed: What is it you want?
Friend: Sweet death. Oblivion.
Consuella: Penile erection was one of the many unsolved evolutionary mysteries surrounding sexuality. Every society had an elaborate subculture devoted to erotic stimulation. But nobody could quite determine how this… [points to a diagram of a male penis and scrotum] becomes this. [points to a diagram of an erect penis and scrotum]
May: I have my followers. Inseminate us all, and we’ll teach you all we know. Give you all we have. Perhaps you can break the Tabernacle. Or be broken.
The Tabernacle: Sleep was necessary for man when his waking and unconscious lives were separated. As Eternals achieved total consciousness, sleep became obsolete and Second Level meditation took its place.
Zed: Stay behind my aura!
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Logan’s Run
- A Clockwork Orange