Monday, September 2, 2019

Zardoz (1974)

Fresh from directing Deliverance (1972), John Boorman wrote, directed, and produced a sci-fi classic that is without a doubt his most unconventional film.

The movie takes place so far in the future that the location could only be described as specifically as that it’s in a temperate zone. There seem to be parallel realities, and a giant flying head travels between dimensions and orders around Sean Connery until Connery hitches a ride across the dimensional divide and ends up in a high-tech hippie commune. If that sounds like your thing, you may have a few screws loose.


This is a movie in which what goes on is rather interesting, yet what goes on is hard to describe in precise terms. Just as a despairing hermit retreats into delusional fantasies, the film’s (and Boorman’s) grasp on reality seems not-all-there. To put the film in context, Zed (the protagonist played by Connery) discovers an old book that is the namesake of the flying head and the film: The WiZard of Oz.

As in Oz, Zardoz features a “wizard” whose strings are pulled by the man behind the curtain. Zed is but a humble barbarian/exterminator tasked by the head with population control in the dystopian wasteland. Meanwhile, the bosses of it all live in a sister dimension where they can never die.

Zed doesn’t like the arrangement, and one day he does something about it: he climbs into the giant flying head, which he rides back to its home in the immortal dimension. There, he meets a guy with some facial hair drawn on in marker ink. The guy is Zardoz, the man behind the giant head.

You really can’t summarize the plot and expect it to make sense. I guess in that respect, Zardoz is the ultimate character drama; character triumphs over plot so thoroughly that the film is little more than weird characters doing interesting things. Unless you can get in the mindset, a fan might tell you.

The characters are for the most part well-characterized, with the exception of Zed. Zed, which is the European pronunciation of the letter “Z”, which is the first letter of the film’s title. Seannery plays a noble savage very well. Charlotte Rampling plays the seductress Consuella. She will also be appearing in the Dune remake next year. Niall Buggy plays the Zardoz guy, and most of his parts in the years since have been less stellar than those of his co-stars.

Zardoz is relentlessly engaging, up to and including the end when (spoiler alert) Zed and friends kill everyone. This a sci-fi masterpiece that’s fun for the whole [Manson] family.