Sean ConneryCharlotte RamplingJohn AldertonNiall Buggy
Medium: film
Year: 1974
Director: John Boorman
Writer: John Boorman
Keywords: Wizard of Oz, SF, dystopia
Country: UK
Actor: Sean Connery, Charlotte Rampling, Sara Kestelman, John Alderton, Sally Anne Newton, Niall Buggy, Bosco Hogan, Jessica Swift, Bairbre Dowling, Christopher Casson, Reginald Jarman
Format: 105 minutes
Website category: SF
Review date: 1 August 2010
It's one step up from gibberish. It's also high-minded and I'd guess was meant as a serious statement of something, although I've no idea of what. In its own way, it's almost immune to criticism. It's just... Zardoz. More specifically, it's an SF film set among a colony of effete British immortals in a French peasant village in the Irish mountains. What they need is a manly man! Who you gonna call? Answer: Sean Connery in thigh-high leather boots, red bandoliers and a nappy!
We begin with the film's trippiest imagery. It's SF, but it's more like fantasy in the way it's hooking you with weird stuff. We begin with a sub-Shakespearean prologue from a flying head that breaks the fourth wall and says he's a 300-year-old immortal. The film's set in the year 2293. Hmmm. We now switch to pretty mountain scenery, over which is flying a stone head the size of a lorry. It explains that the gun is good and the penis is bad, then tells savages to go forth and kill. It even vomits up guns and ammunition for them. One of these savages turns out to be Sean Connery, who introduces himself to us by picking up a gun and shooting at the camera.
This reads like a reflection of James Bond, which it felt to me as if the movie went on playing with for a good hour. Connery is a rapist and killer who's spent his entire life shooting people because Zardoz said so. The immortals call him an "it" and think sex with him would be bestiality, but equally some of them find images of his violence exciting. "Think of the suffering." "You can't equate their feelings with ours." For those people, he's just entertainment.
That apparent theme fades away, though. The movie instead turns out to be fascinated by the nuts and bolts of being a village immortal. If they die, they're reborn. They have "apathetics" and "renegades", both of whom have Night of the Living Dead resonances. They have psychic powers and a puritan hippy ethic, in which people are expected to everything themselves and crime is punished by being allowed to age a few years. There's no progress. Television, industry and so on are absent. The only motive to do anything is peer pressure or boredom. They don't even have sex because they've lost the ability to get an erection, so they've got all sniffy about that too. Now the impressive thing about all this is that normally I laugh at claims that immortality would suck and you'd end up yearning for death, especially only after a few centuries, but these losers make it nearly convincing. They're not stupid or even bad people, but they've locked themselves into a neo-18th century hippy lifestyle that wants to be painted by Constable.
In the middle of all this is Connery. He's rather unusual, actually. He's got almost nothing to do for most of the film and most actors would have disappeared into the background... but he's Sean Connery. You keep watching him even when he's just walking scenery, despite the ponytail and the seventies porn star moustache. I'm not sure acting talent is what he's bringing to this role, but even so he never stops being a presence even when he shouldn't be.
The story is... let's say un-selfconscious. The main thing I've learned from this film is that topless women can keep a film alive even when it's being stoned and arty. Don't worry, the breasts are artistic too. It's straight-faced and sincere, rather than "tits out for the lads" stuff. Oddly the film gets more experimental and weird in the third act, despite the fact that it should theoretically be getting more accessible because Sean Connery's worked out what he's here for and is going for it. In the end you've almost got to admire the way it's so determinedly refusing to give us anything that might resemble a dramatic climax. That's not a failure. The film's not even interested in going there. It's just ever-more trippy stuff that would probably seem really deep if you were stoned, making circles of life, death, savagery, civilisation and incomprehensible hippy behaviour.
There's a Wizard of Oz link, but it's about as tenuous as you can imagine. The nearest similarity I can find is that Dorothy goes to Oz and kills witches. No, seriously. In fact, it's got stronger links to The Wizard of Mars.
I don't know if it's possible to be that critical of this film. You could pose all kinds of baffled questions about it, but the answer to them all would be "because it's Zardoz". Preferably intoned by a giant flying stone head. John Boorman had just made the hugely successful Deliverance, so it looks as if Twentieth Century Fox just trusted him on this one and signed the cheques without asking questions. Maybe he's better directing someone else's script than he is as a writer-director? After this he did Exorcist II: The Heretic (whoops), then Excalibur. Anyway, I wouldn't recommend Zardoz and I certainly won't ever be watching it again, but I suppose it might be quite entertaining if you're with a bunch of like-minded friends with a taste for the absurd and/or SF with British accents. It's unique, at least.
"The gun is good. The penis is evil, the penis shoots seeds."