ZARDOZ is a film that had avoided me for some long time. Being something of a fan of the weird and unusual in cinema it had always been floating around on the periphery of my viewing list without my ever committing, the thought of spending an hour and three quarters watching Sean Connery running around in nothing but thigh high boots and hot pants probably had a lot to do with this. However I finally relented and this week my DVD player played host to one of the most bizarre and mind boggling movies ever to have crawled out of the seventies. Made in 1974 by John Boorman, critically acclaimed director of Deliverance and Excalibur and set in a distant post-apocalyptic future the film opens, after a short monologue, with a giant flying stone head that lands in front of a group of scantily clad, jeering, behorsed "exterminators" and says;
"You have been raised up from Brutality, to kill the Brutals who multiply, and are legion. To this end, Zardoz your God gave you the gift of the Gun. The Gun is good! Penis is evil! The Penis shoots Seeds, and makes new Life to poison the Earth with a plague of men, as once it was. But the Gun shoots Death and purifies the Earth of the filth of Brutals. Go forth, and kill! Zardoz has spoken." and then proceeds to spew hundreds of shotguns from it's mouth to the obvious joy of the assembled crowd.
.....and that's only the start of the weirdness!
Connery plays Zed, one of the exterminators, who hitches a ride in the giant head and finds himself in the Vortex, a sealed bubble populated by immortals with psychic powers who had long ago separated themselves from the rest of humanity to live in a state of peace and harmony which was now becoming a state of ennui and decay. Having long ago discarded all notions of sex and violence the immortals are intrigued by this visitor and perform a series of interviews and experiments on him that begin to highlight the cracks and imperfections in their own society.
Zardoz contains all the classic ingredients of seventies post-apocalyptic sci-fi; wildly unsuitable clothing, more bare breasts than you can shake a big stick at, a hefty dose of nihilism and the liberal application of transparent plastic and mirrors to make everything look suitably futuristic, but there is also much more.
There are scenes that are sheer brilliance with well thought out dialogue that offer real food for thought, there are scenes that are just laughably bad (such as the sexual experiments performed on Zed) and then there are other scenes that are so outright bizarre and psychadellic that you can only assume Boorman spent large portions of the preceding decade performing experiments of his own with various illicit substances. There are many films of which it is said "you have never seen anything like this" and on most occasions it's usually bumfluff, but in the case of Zardoz I think I can safely say you have never seen anything quite like this before. It is a hard film to describe without giving too much away, think The Wicker Man crossed with The Omega Man crossed with Planet of the Apes crossed with The Holy Mountain and you're half way there.
It's a love it or hate it movie that usually gets lumped into the "so bad it's good" category. The story goes that Connery was struggling to find work after ditching his role as James Bond so Boorman was able to hire him cheap and it's hard to think of any other reason why someone who had shot to mega stardom as a suave super-spy would choose to play a role like Zed, but beneath all the silliness, dated imagery and Sean Connery's chest hair lurk some interesting ideas on sex, mortality and the emasculation of society that are perhaps more relevant today than they were at the time of it's release. I personally loved it and if you're willing to set aside your disbelief and place your tongue firmly in your cheek I think you might too.