Looking at the reviews on the IMDB many people still haven’t got this film: it’s most certainly not in the “so bad it’s good” category nor any kind of guilty pleasure that is laughably flawed. Indeed some commentators now rate it one of John Boorman’s best – just this month it made number 5 in Rolling Stones top science fiction films of the seventies.
Good science fiction is never about the gadgets on show, the flimsy clothes or the society of the future – these are just ways of looking at contemporary culture. So it is that Zardoz is about the world of 1973-4, the way it was and the way it could have been heading by 2293. How far away were the intellectual classes from a detached existence happy to arm a select group of “Brutals” in order for them to control the rest outside of their safe enclave? How far will we go to deny the external suffering that wars, famine and disease keeps away from our delusional comfort?
So, ignore the psychedelic sense of humour, the giant flying heads and the strange orange nappies of the Exterminators and focus on the Boorman’s messages about freedom, responsibility and the need to act… now. As the film’s writer, director and producer he surely meant every aspect as they are presented and this film addresses some of the same truths as his previous work, Deliverance.
The film is introduced by the disembodied head of Arthur Frayn (Niall Buggy) who outlines the story in the manner of a medieval mummer… we are all the constructs he tells us looking straight into the camera: all made by our own Gods.
|Brutal by name and nature|
|Zed in the head...|
Zed and Zardoz come to ground in the well-kept gardens of what appears to be a paradise, brightly garbed young people mass around, well fed and full of almost childish wonder at the new arrival in their community: the Vortex. Two women lead the investigation Consuella (Charlotte Rampling), who’s instinct is to have Zed exterminated and the more considered May (Sara Kestelman) who wants him examined. Even in paradise there is disagreement…
|Sean Connery and Sara Kestelman|
The people are nearly immortal with some living so long that they simply become Apathetics with no will to do anything other than just wander around whilst others break the rules and get aged as a punishment and there is a colony of such creatures who, dressed in dinner suits, wait in the hope of annihilation.
|Trouble in paradise|
|Zed helps Friend with the artefacts|
May continues to test Zed’s memory and capabilities and full marks to all concerned for keeping a straight face when all manner of visual stimuli fail to arouse Zed until he focuses his gaze on Consuella… But then Zed is increasingly looking to be as smart as his captors…
Zed becomes a political issue and is used by Friend in an attempt to overthrow the existing order. Friend is caught and aged whilst Zed tries to escape only to find that a force field keeps him trapped in the Eternals’ land.
Returning to the community he finds May willing to show him their shared history of how an attempt to protect the last of humanity ended up dooming them to lifeless sterility under the control of an artificial intelligence, the Tabernacle. It gradually becomes clear that Zed is no chance invader but part of a deeper plan by Arthur Frayn to make or break what is left of society…
Dusty verdict: Detailing the plot of Zardoz is pretty pointless (sorry) as the story is so complex and, open ended with multiple interpretations. The actors carry so much of the meaning with Sara Kestelman being especially impressive. I saw her recently at London’s Donmar Warehouse theatre and she has lost none of her ability to express powerfully-deep thought.
|Sara and Charlotte|
|Zed learns the truth...|