Zardoz (directed by John Boorman, who also made the better-known Deliverance) was not only Daniel Rathbun’s first film at Cinema 1544, but I think it was the first film to be shown outside of the conference room – we hadn’t yet held a marathon at Phong’s house, and if I have my recollection right, this was the first film to be shown during the renovation of the original room. This would mean that we held this showing over at the (much smaller) Annex conference room. Fortunately, this wasn’t exactly the film to draw a huge audience. (Wow. That’s exciting. I’m sure you care! )
Fortunately, having just reviewed this week’s Under The Skin I think I’m in a perfect frame of mind to live-review the very skinful Zardoz.
It is a future (2293 to be exact) where a floating head, wearing boxer briefs as headgear and sporting a badly-drawn-on moustache and goatee claiming to be both Arthur Frayn and Zardoz bemoans being immortal, wishes to die, but at the same time mocks the mortals of today watching the film’s opening. Hint to movie: sometimes it is a bad idea to start out your film by insulting your audience.
It is also a future where a floating head, carved out of rough stone, comes down to warrior tribes, claiming to be the god Zardoz, vomiting guns on the brutal clans of barbarians living in what would appear to be England, and exhorting them to go forth and kill with the catchphrase “The gun is good. The penis is evil.” There are rifles aplenty strewn upon the ground. Sean Connery (“Zed”) gets a revolver.
Somehow Zed shows up stowed away in a grain offering which must have been heaped into the mouth of this great floating god, and he emerges inside the stone head to find, well, plastic shrinkwrapped naked people. This is EXACTLY what your parents said would happen to you if you insisted on playing inside that dry-cleaning bag. For no apparent reason he shoots boxer-brief head dude Frayn, who falls out of the flying head terribly slowly before the head comes to rest in an idyllic village called the Vortex (idyllic relative to the barbarian ways) nestled in a hidden valley. Sorry, no ranch sauce. There are, however, mills and green stale bread and bubbly hydroponic greenhouses, as well as conspicuous tubes with useless moving liquids. Oh, also, there’s a periphery shield, which Zed discovers later.
When the often-topless and generally heavily-freckled residents of the Vortex, who rightly fashion themselves “Eternals”, discover the “Brutal” Zed within the Vortex they probe his memories to figure out what has occurred to Arthur Frayn. Frayn apparently had been running the Outlands as it seems nobody else wanted to do it. Zed becomes a point of contention among these immortals, who when they die rehatch themselves out of the dry-cleaning bags in the walls, but Consuela’s faction (which wishes to kill him) loses the vote, and Zed is spared for three weeks for the scientist May (leading the other faction) to study him.
It turns out that the Vortex is not so idyllic as it might have seemed. For one, Eternals are punished by forced aging – though seeing as they can’t actually die and imprisoning an immortal for a few months seems a bit pointless, this may be a decent option. For another, the Eternals have flying stone heads and magic projector rings and a centralized talking disembodied computer called a Tabernacle that can read their minds, but still they are forced to perform manual labor such as milling and baking. On top of this, there are some immortal-style diseases spreading through the society – Zed’s keeper Friend shows him the Seniles and the Apathetics, whose names tell the whole story. These useless members of utopia must be fed at great social expense, which is why the Brutals are being forced to farm grain.
Also, the Eternals are total wankers.
After 200 years of having to do the dishes, Friend gets a bit sick of it and refuses to “go to second level” – a sort of collective meditative mental communion – with the others, and he is declared renegade, aged, and placed amongst the Seniles. The Seniles wish for death, and set Zed off to learn how to destroy the Tabernacle and thus allow them to die. But for some reason, instead of going off to accomplish this task, he gets sidetracked and allows his mind to be read by May. This psychotherapy session reveals that Frayn had selected Zed specially as a leader of the Brutals and taught him to read. Unfortunately, Zed encountered L. Frank Baum’s “The WiZARD of OZ”, and figured out that Frayn had tricked them into thinking that he was a god. This is why a bitter Zed killed Frayn – in a plan to infiltrate the Vortex and find a way for his Brutal compatriots to get in.
Things get a bit weird, as if they weren’t already. Zed destroys some indestructible plastic wrap, and then the homeopathic essence of his sweat bleeds life into the apathetics. He eats a magical coca leaf given him by a sympathetic Eternal which does apparently exactly nothing, and escapes the Eternals to hang out with the Seniles. He is given the privilege of donating his seed to May and all of her followers and is in return given all of their knowledge through osmosis. With this knowledge, Zed determines that the Tabernacle, the identity of which has been hidden by its founders, is in fact a hand-sized diamond crystal, and he somehow manages to penetrate inside the crystal, finding himself in a funhouse hall of mirrors where he shoots a copy of himself, an act which somehow breaks the magical scientific spell and all of the Eternals become mortal. That’s right – the secret to destroying the immortality of the Eternals is to enter into a crystal that fits in your hand and arbitrarily fire a gun at a phantasm. When this sort of thing happens, you can be certain that the director wrote the script, because anybody who is as much as one step removed form the creation of this universe would immediately say “That’s stupid” and fix it. Anyhow, the strains of Beethoven’s Seventh play as the Brutals storm the Vortex and shoot nearly everybody indiscriminately as they all beg to be killed, the only exception being May’s faction who for some reason are the only ones around to not disdain their lives after a few centuries of immortality. And you know, I have a hard time with that. Let’s be real here. Friend implies pretty strongly that they’ve only had about 200 years of immortality. That’s like three pretty decent lifetimes – all of it spent in a perpetual youth. That’s barely enough time to get through Finnegan’s Wake. How can they truly be bored of life already?
But, it is what it is. Zed is the Liberator.
Oh, also: Consuela, who hated Zed for the entire film and was the leader of the anti-May faction, magically changes her mind and decides that she loves Zed, so they procreate then grow old and die in a cave together. The end.
You know, there’s not much more to say about this movie, so I think I’ll just end with this.