I love John Boorman’s Zardoz for the same reason I love Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession: I always forget the killer ending. Both movies have a couple of huge twists, or at least twisted turning points, not in the same forced way as the Saw films or any giallo, but something so out of the blue it becomes brilliant. I’m very aware that few people use the word brilliant in the same meaning as Zardoz, but it’s hard to deny it actually works very good. It delivers the magic, the magic of absurdity - and therefore it’s a successful movie. But let me get back to that later.
In the year 2293, a post-apocalyptic future, a god named Zardoz is feeding the people with what he claim they need - in order to make them produce food for the rich. One day an exterminator, one of the soldiers - Zed (Sean Connery) - climbs aboard the floating stone god Zardoz and discovers it’s a ship, and it takes him back to a society which lives in overabundance - but also uses a form av terror to keep their people in control. If you disobey you’re aged and therefore loses your youthful attractiveness, growing slowly senile. Zed wants to change this, and soon the rich and powerful sees their community crumble by the hands of a brute.
Alright, back to the magic of Zardoz. On the surface a childish, strange flick with Connery wandering around in Scotland wearing silly clothes. But what make it work is that it’s constant. Like Logan’s Run it has a constant quality, which might be silly, but the constant silliness makes it very, very even. You know what to expect and it never bores you. Zulawski’s Possession don’t have that silliness, it just makes a sudden turn of events after teasing it for two hours. Zardoz takes the same form of absurdity and twists it a little bit more, referencing one of the most famous children’s stories ever written (which I won’t reveal here, spoilers you know) and that reference is there in front of us all the time, just like the killer in Deep Red. I love stuff like that.
In 1974 Sean Connery found himself in difficulties getting hired. After Bond he just didn’t get the quality parts he wanted, and he had to take on some weirder films. Zardoz is probably the most bizarre film in his filmography, but even odder is the director; John Boorman. Just coming from his biggest success ever, Deliverance, a gritty and modern thriller set in the wilderness of American - and suddenly he’s making a cheesy, wild, slightly pretentious sci-fi fantasy in the north of the British isles.
If it only had been an ounce more subtle, it would have been considered to be a modern classic instead of the mentally unstable cousin from the country, but ignoring that fact it still works very good. The idea of a bunch of unhappy elitists, living in some fucked-up countryside dream home, feeding the wild masses with an imaginary god who gives them food and weapons - and someone discovering this, crawling aboard the giant floating god - is fucking brilliant. The drama that unfolds afterwards is like a kinder version of Saló, but without the teens getting sexually molested and instead Sean Connery fucking his brain out on a Scottish farm.
What’s dated is of course the sets, the clothes, the use of mirrors and sometimes the very British theatrical acting. But because it’s there all the time you accept it. I wish Boorman would use more of the darkness and grittiness he gave us so brilliantly in Deliverance, or maybe the super-stylish beautiful Excalibur some years later. Zardoz is a wicked movie, but also chaotic and never really sure what leg it should stand on. So it’s one of those films that easily could alienate the viewers, and it’s done that a lot.
Maybe we, the viewers, needs to distance ourselves from the age it was made in, see it as a separate entity, a strange being of its own. One thing is for sure, Zardoz will stay with us, to the other side of the rainbow.