A man from a savage tribe infiltrates a society of higher beings and brings about their downfall.
John Boorman, 1974
Um, okay, here we go. We are introduced to Arthur Frayn (Niall Buggy), a magician posing as a floating stone head, the god of the Brutals. The Brutals are essentially chattel, and they are kept in line by Brutal Exterminators, who rape and murder anyone who steps out of line (usually by breeding, which isn’t allowed unless it’s sanctioned). One such Exterminator, Zed (Sean Connery), sneaks into the floating head and finds his way to the Vortex, a highly civilised society of immortals called Eternals who are cut off from the Brutals by a force field. Zed’s memories are read by the Eternals, and they keep him alive to continue to experiment on him. He serves a man called Friend (John Alderton), who he eventually befriends, to the surprise of no-one who heard the guy’s name. Scientist Consuella (Charlotte Rampling) resolves to kill Zed as his disruptive influence begins to be felt throughout the Eternal society.
Wow. An awful lot of the plot as described above is stuff you don’t find out for a long time in the abysmal Zardoz, a film that mixes heady questions about existence (boiling down to “nobody wants to live forever”, hardly a new concept) with bizarre 70s musings on sexuality and a ponytailed Sean Connery in an orange diaper and suspenders. To say it’s weird is underselling its weirdness; to say it’s bad is underselling its awfulness. Sean Connery is terrible, totally blank as the borderline evil Zed. While he was manipulated into his actions by the even more awful Frayn (who has facial hair DRAWN ON, I’m not kidding), it doesn’t change the fact that we’re being asked to root for a murdering rapist. The whole movie has terrible sound mixing, all the dialogue echoing terribly. Zardoz is the only movie I’ve ever seen that makes no sense for nearly the whole first two acts, starts to make sense toward the end of the second act, and then completely falls apart in the third act. I laughed at the movie a fair few times, particularly at the very last shots. It feels like there’s a decent sci-fi novel somewhere in its concepts, particularly in the separated dystopian future and the misery of the Eternals, but wherever that story is, it isn’t here.
On top of all of this bad writing, plotting, and acting are some genuinely horrendous messages about human sexuality. We are treated to the visual of Zed raping a Brutal woman on a beach two or three times, and at one point he’s offered an Apathetic to rape, but actually throws her away like trash when she fails to respond to his attempted rape. This leads to her BEING ATTRACTED TO HIM, and a later orgy. It’s really, really, really gross and hard to watch. While the enlightened people seem to treat women and men the same, the message of the movie appears to be that this is actually the wrong approach and women should be treated terribly, confirmed by Consuella’s bizarre 180 on Zed in the last ten minutes of the movie. So if you didn’t already have enough reasons to avoid this ridiculous, terrible movie, that’s the final nail in its coffin.
Zardoz on IMDb