Monday, April 30, 2012

Zardoz

If nothing else, Zardoz (1974) is a daring movie. Directed by John Boorman, who was coming off the success of Deliverance, it is chock full of ideas about the social class system, human sexuality, and mortality, and it contains ambitious special effects in creating a most unusual and certainly unforgettable world. However, Zardoz is memorable for all the wrong reasons, dragged down by an unintentional level of hilarity that destroys any dignity of the cast and crew. Only completely sincere people could have made a movie as bad as Zardoz.

In the year 2293, Zed (Sean Connery) is an Exterminator, a merciless killer who hunts down Breeders, people who spread the seed of life poisoning the earth. Zed also worships Zardoz, a giant floating stone head that declares, "The gun is good. The penis is evil." One day, Zed sneaks inside of Zardoz and ends up in the Vortex, an encased society of immortals known as the Eternals. As a "Brutal," Zed threatens the very existence of the Vortex.

Look at that picture of Connery. Gaze at it. Take it in. That man to many is the definitive James Bond. Now consider this, while he spends most of the movie dressed like this, it is not the least dignified costume he wears. Do I need to continue? How is anyone supposed to take this movie seriously when the hero looks like ... that? Doesn't that picture tell you enough about what to expect? 

Maybe Zardoz would have worked better as a novel like Brave New World or 1984. The ideas are certainly intriguing enough, but the way they're realized is ridiculous. Consider this: 1984 had at its center Winston Smith, a relatively normal guy we could relate to or at least understand. Brave New World begins with essentially a history lesson explaining this weird new society. Zardoz has neither; it just flings us right into the swing of things without bothering to properly introduce us or get us acclimated.

We meet Zed and already he's defying the order of things by climbing into Zardoz, but we don't learn this (or his name) until much later and in flashback. We open in the hilly countryside with a party of horsemen dress similarly like Zed, praying to Zardoz and receiving guns. Five minutes, we leave this cast of characters and are dropped literally into another strange section of society. Very little of the narrative or the background is explained in a coherent manner or given a proper context. To the audience, it's just a lot of weird shit.

Consider the Apathetics, a sub-sect of the Eternals who are so bored by immortality they have literally stopped interacting with the world and merely stand in place not reacting to anything. Zed's first response to learning this is to grab a woman's breast and throw her on a pile of straw to ravish her in full view of a room full of people. When she still does not respond, he picks up a barrel, runs across the room, and smashes it. Describing the act in print makes it sound creepy and uncomfortable, but to see it played out is unintentionally funny.  It's like, really, that's the first thing he thought to do? Later, we discover Zed's ultra-masculinity somehow stirs the Apathetics from their malaise or something like that. The Eternals also exert psychic powers by extending their arms out and humming; all they have to do is say ooga-booga.

I liked some of the ideas present in Zardoz. We learn the Eternals were originally the elite of society who shielded themselves with mankind's intellectual achievements when the  world went to hell in a hand basket, and they use a false idol, Zardoz, to control the rest of humanity which has descended into barbarism, a rather interesting take on The Time Machine's notion of two opposite societies. Eternals who rebel are aged into senility forever because they can't die, and I've always been a fan of stories in which the "uncultured" outsider clashes with the established order. But seriously, when the leaders of the Vortex start going on about the evil of Sean Connery's erection (no joke), any seriousness or credibility vanishes.

Zardoz is unlike any other sci fi movie I've ever seen, and it's memorable, albeit for all the wrong reasons. Today, most bad sci fi movies are terrible in all the same safe and commercial way, but Zardoz is bad in a way all of its own. For that reason alone, it's actually worth seeing.

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