Written and Directed by John Boorman
Starring Sean Connery as the Sexiest Man Alive
You are a movie business guy
You got accountants who supply
The necessary figures
To determine when you fly
Where all your friends go
We must watch the stuff you make
You have let us eat the cake
While your accountants tell you Yes Yes Yes
You make EXPENSIVE UGLINESS
(How do you do it? — Let me guess…)
Frank Zappa, THE MAN FROM UTOPIA
You won’t enjoy ZARDOZ for the plot.
You won’t enjoy ZARDOZ for the acting or special effects.
The only way to enjoy ZARDOZ is to watch it and keep repeating to yourself, ‘someone MADE this. Someone MADE this”
The way to enjoy it is to watch it and imagine how ZARDOZ went from being an idea to a script, to a full-scale production. . . all the way to distributors and theaters, and no one thought to say, ‘Ummmmm.. . . . no.’
Imagine a science-fiction film where the entire special effects budget was spent on cocaine. Not just for the director and script-writer, but also enough cocaine to make the producer and studio heads COMPLETELY UNAWARE of the film’s content.
That’s the only way this film could possibly have been made.
On the other hand, I’m sure this could be said of lots of films!
But what’s unique about ZARDOZ is that it manages to be simultaneously jaw-droppingly horrific and AT THE SAME TIME really boring and pretentious.
Just when you think that you’re about to fall asleep, the director shows you something so absurd that you wake back up. And you think to yourself, ‘there’s no way he can top this. There’s just no way.’ And yet, he always does.
You’ll say: “Oh, there’s a giant stone head flying around the sky, yelling in a reverb-y voice, ‘THE GUN IS GOOD! THE PENIS IS EVIL! THE PENIS SHOOTS SEEDS TO PRODUCE THE HATED HUMANS! WHILE THE GUN SHOOTS DEATH TO CLEANSE THE EARTH!’ and then the giant stone head vomits a huge cascade of rifles out of its mouth. For three minutes. he can’t top that.”
Unless the next scene features a 40-year-old James Bond, (Sean Connery), as a barbarian, wearing nothing but bright red underoos and stowing away inside the stone head HIDING INSIDE A PILE OF WHEAT. No, he can’t top that.
But wait, James Bond has been captured by asexual, immortal female scientists who are showing him scientific movies of female mud wrestling to make him pitch a tent in his red underoos. Well, it can’t get any better than this, can it?
Not unless Bond has to discover the ‘evil underside’ of this perfect, immortal utopia. (I mean, what’s an immortal utopia without a dark underside? Or an unthinkable price to pay? Or, say, secrets that man was not meant to know?)
Apparently the immortals are telepathic, and if they catch anyone thinking bad thoughts the transgressors are forced to age until they become senile. These ‘Renegades’ are locked up in a greenhouse wearing tuxedos and forced to SwingDance for eternity. This is supposed to tell us that the Immortals are just as corrupted as the ‘Brutals’ that live outside the ‘Vortex zone’. But all it really tells us is where all the cocaine went in 1973. But, how do you top that????
Well, you have to have Brutal Bond enslaved by the Immortals and forced to drag a rickshaw full of bread around, while being whipped by some guy that looks like Barry Manilow. That alone would be enough to kick the ass of most other films. But what makes this scene better than the scenes above is this: the bread is going to a warehouse full of Immortals who have become so bored with immortality that they can’t be bothered to move or react to anything. Did I mention that this utopian paradise has a dark side? These people are called Capital-‘A’- Apathetics. And Brutal Bond has to shove bread in their mouths. Eventually his barbarian instinct takes over and he tries to have sex with an Apathetic woman, with Barry Manilow egging him on. But when she doesn’t try to escape, he gets mad and hurls her body across the room onto a pile of straw!!!! Jesus.
Well, obviously the way you top that is to have a ‘telepathic battle scene’ (did I mention that the Immortals are telepathic?). Where does this telepathic battle scene take place? At the dinner table, where the Immortals eat their usual meal of baguettes grown by the Brutals in their slave-labor camps. But because this is science fiction, the baguettes are BRIGHT GREEN. And one Immortal keeps yelling ‘NO, I WON’T GO INTO TYPE B MEDITATION WITH YOU!! I WON’T I WON’T!!’ and this sets off the battle. But because, as I may have noted, ALL THE SPECIAL EFFECTS MONEY WAS SENT STRAIGHT TO COLUMBIA, they had to indicate the telepathy by having the dinner guests wave their fingers at the guy. For five minutes. While chanting ‘renegade, RENEGAAADE!!!!’ and the guy (who looks like Eric Idle in a Rennaissance Fair costume) jerks spastically and chokes on his green baguette-of-the-future.
Then one of the female scientists does some DNA testing on James Bond and confides to him that he’s not a sub-human Brutal at all. In fact, he’s a mutant that’s superior to the Immortals. He was genetically engineered by the swing-dancing, senile, Renegade Immortals to have superpowers so he could come back and kill all of them. Because humans weren’t designed to have immortality and they’re all going insane anyway and want to kill themselves but can’t. What with the Immortality and all. So, to help him defeat the Non-Renegade Immortals, the science babes have to do a ‘mind meld’ type of thing where they telepathically teach Bond all their advanced knowledge. But because of the lack of special effects, they have to indicate the ‘mind meld’ by having group sex with him. While some hippy projects ‘scientific’ slides over their copulating bodies. For ten minutes. And Bond is still in his little red underoos with his hairy chest, and his little middle-aged man-teats. So, how can anyone top this, you ask?
Well, you can’t. I mean, the director tries. He tries to be spectacular. He reveals that the secret of the Immortals’ power is an extraterrestrial computer called THE TABERNACLE that lives in this tiny golf ball, and has Barbarian Bond use his newly-discovered mutant superpowers to do psychic battle with the tabernacle and unlock its secrets. (Apparently battling a psychic alien computer looks a lot like running around a funhouse full of mirrors, in your underwear, looking really concerned). But that scene can’t really compare with flying stone heads or scientific mud wrestling.
So, he tries even harder. . . He stages a civil war among the Immortals. The premise of the civil war is that half of the Immortals are pro-Bond and half are anti-Bond. The anti-Bond forces think he’s a Brutal barbarian and will bring chaos and destruction. Actually, the pro-Bond forces think the same thing, but they’re so fucking bored with immortality they think chaos and destruction are exciting. So, while Bond is turning from this Brutal barbarian into this enlightened superhuman mutant, the Immortals are busy turning from decadent rich people into savage warriors. This is the ‘irony’ that’s supposed to make this movie all ‘existential’ and ‘philosophical’ and ‘not like an average sci-fi movie.’
Somehow this movie is supposed to be an allegory for the utopian ’60s liberalism, or an allegory for man’s freedom of choice, or something heavy like that. But the ‘civil war’ is basically half a dozen transvestite Rennaissance Fair refugees galloping around on horseback, yelling ‘GET HIM!!’ while Superhuman Mutant Bond uses his new superpowers to awaken the Apathetics from their slumber and turn them into sexual zombies whose massive orgy blocks the path of the vengeful horse riders. Which is of course totally absurd and disturbing, but somehow anticlimactic.
Eventually Superhuman Mutant Bond uses his superpowers to paralyze the anti-Bond forces. The Pro-Bond forces are begging him to kill everyone, because that’s what they genetically engineered him to do. But the irony is (did I mention this film is full of irony and it’s supposed to be really heavy??) The irony is, by this time he’s so ‘highly evolved’ he can’t revert to his Brutal ways and commit cold-blooded murder.
Just when things look really bleak for all the suicidal Immortals, a further irony occurs: the rest of Bond’s Brutal tribe, who have been absent for 90% of the film, suddenly show up and kill everyone. The end.
So, as completely jaw-droppingly fucked up as this film is, at least give it credit for killing everyone. I mean, how many times have you watched a lame film and wished that a meteorite would hit everyone, or the Plague would just strike everyone down, and you could leave the theater early? Well, this film actually does it. “Shit, this film is 6 hours long already, and no one can figure out the plot, and we’re almost out of cocaine!!” “Well, let’s just kill everyone!” “OK, cue barbarian horde!”
If the barbarian hordes could kill characters in OTHER films as well, then ZARDOZ would have a good excuse for having been made. As it is, you should only watch it if you think I’ve been making all this up. Jesus.