70's Sci-Fi Week is almost over, so I decided that for the weekend I would do films that have been recommended to me. The first recommendation comes from my good friend Alex (who also recommended the majority the music I listen to while I write), and of course it had to be Zardoz. While it's easy to take the basics of its plot structure and say that this movie isn't all that different from many other films of the era, there's really not a lot out there that I've seen that can compare to the bizarro, pseudo-philosophical, drug-induced vision Zardoz brings to the screen. There's something unique about Zardoz, and while I definitely don't think it's for everyone, it does have the potential to offer both genuine laughs and head scratching alike. Judging by the tagline ("Beyond 1984. Beyond 2001.") it seems to be aiming more at being thought provoking than being an incredibly roundabout comedy, and to some extent it succeeds. In the end, Zardoz is so all over the place that the only thing I can say for sure if that I'm glad I watched it. So, thank you Alex. Maybe I can convince some of you that it's worth a try.
I'm going to be operating in full spoiler mode for this synopsis. It's hard enough to talk about this movie without pretending I haven't figured certain things out. If you think you might want to do a blind run of this movie then do it.
Zed (Sean Connery) is one of the chosen ones serving Zardoz, a sort of God-like figure who visits every now and then in the form of a giant head but who is actually just an eternal (I'll get to them later) with a fake mustache and a silly costume (I think he's wearing shorts on his head). Their mission has always been to slaughter basically anyone who isn't a chosen one, but recently Zardoz has asked the chosen ones to begin farming and Zed and some of his followers have become suspicious. Zardoz decides to take away Zed's "innocence" by spurring him to learn to read and not be such a ridiculous caricature of a barbarian. Zed reads The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, sees some similarities to his own role model Zardoz (wiZARD of OZ), and decides to take matters into his own hands by boarding the floating head and killing Zardoz/Arthur Frayn (don't worry, he's reborn).
|Iconic shot is... you know what? No. I'm done.|
The floating head crashes in a sort of gated community/paradise society (basically what we saw in Logan's Run on Wednesday except people live forever and are an interesting mix of farmers, hippies and scientists instead of lazy hedonists) populated by eternals, a group of people who found a way to keep themselves from aging in the hope of accumulating all the knowledge of the universe. The eternals decide to study Zed despite thinking that he is a lesser being, but unbeknownst to them Zed is conducting his own study (Zed's study drives the plot while the eternals' serves more as character development). It turns out all's not well in paradise, and not only have the eternals tired of their immortality, but the entirety of their civilization survives only because of the exclusion of Zardoz's chosen ones and the "brutals" they slaughter. With Zed's intrusion the society turns inside out and eventually Zed helps them regain their mortality. At this point the rest of Zed's followers show up and slaughter everyone except for Zed and his ladyfriend (Consuella) and a small group of others whom Zed warned. Zed and Consuella have a child, grow old, and die in a final timelapse sequence.
Reviewing this movie is a pretty unique challenge for me. While on the one hand (the serious hand) Zardoz clearly has some things it's trying to say. The problem is it's a little too scattered to make sense of in just one or two viewings. I'm sure if you watched it enough times you could make an argument about the movie, but I also have a feeling it would be just as easy to make the opposite argument. The movie is just so incredibly scattered thematically that it's hard to take seriously (not to mention the ridiculous costumes and set design). On the other hand, watching the movie as a sort of "awesomely bad" B-movie laugh factory misses some of what makes Zardoz great.
|Arthur Frayn, Zardoz, Merlin. Captain Funnybeard.|
Zardoz opens with a fourth-wall-breaking narration to the audience (almost but not quite as great as the one at the beginning of Schizopolis) which provides a possible framework for the movie.
I am Arthur Frayn, and I am Zardoz. I have lived three hundred years, and I long to die. But death is no longer possible. I am immortal. I present now my story, full of mystery and intrigue - rich in irony, and most satirical. It is set deep in a possible future, so none of these events have yet occurred, but they may. Be warned, lest you end as I. In this tale, I am a fake god by occupation - and a magician, by inclination. Merlin is my hero! I am the puppet master. I manipulate many of the characters and events you will see. But I am invented, too, for your entertainment - and amusement. And you, poor creatures, who conjured you out of the clay? Is God in show business too?
At the very least this quote shows how disorganized and rambling the movie is if you try to take it seriously. While it opens with pretty straightforward science fiction (the immortality bits) it quickly attempts to frame the story (irony and satire). After admitting to being a "puppet master" and manipulating some of the characters, he breaks what little might have been left of the fourth wall and confronts the audience with his constructed nature and then their own. The movie then abandons all of this except for the question of immortality, and the audience is left to make what it will of the chaos that follows.
The irony and satire angle is I think the most promising if we want to try to analyze the movie, but there's a problem here as well: so much of the movie (all of it) can be taken ironically. Zardoz can be seen as a satire of masculinity and heteronormativity, of science fiction as a genre, of religion as an opiate for the masses or as an empty fantasy, and the list keeps going. Maybe the movie's not as thematically scatterbrained as I think it is and simply requires more attention. Maybe if I get up the courage one of these days I'll try to make some sense of of this chaos, but for now I think the most convincing argument to go see Zardoz is that you've never seen anything like it before.
Also it has lots of women without shirts on, if that's your thing.