Sunday, 6 February 2011

Zardoz - A film by John Boorman



The gun is good. The penis is evil. The penis shoots seeds, and makes new life to poison the Earth with a plague of men, as once it was, but the gun shoots death, and purifies the Earth of the filth of brutals. Go forth ... and kill!

In the year AD 2293, a post-apocalyptic Earth is inhabited mostly by the Brutals, who are ruled by the Eternals. Eternals use other Brutals, called Exterminators, as the Chosen warrior class. The Exterminators worship the god Zardoz, a huge, flying, hollow stone head. The Zardoz god head supplies the Exterminators with weapons, while the Exterminators supply it with grain.

Zed (Sean Connery), an Exterminator, hides himself within Zardoz for an initially unknown purpose. He shoots and apparently kills its pilot, Arthur Frayn (Niall Buggy), who has already identified himself as an Eternal in the story's prologue. The stone head containing Zed returns to the Vortex, a secluded community of civilized beings, protected all around by an invisible force-field, where the immortal Eternals lead a pleasant but ultimately stifling existence. Arriving in the Vortex, Zed meets two young, attractive female Eternals — Consuella (Charlotte Rampling) and May (Sara Kestelman). Overcoming him with psychic powers, they make him a prisoner and menial worker within their community. Consuella wants Zed destroyed immediately; others, led by May and a subversive Eternal named Friend (John Alderton), insist on keeping him alive for further study.

In time, Zed learns the nature of the Vortex. The Eternals are overseen and protected from death by the Tabernacle, an artificial intelligence. Given their limitless lifespan, the Eternals have grown bored and corrupt. The needlessness of procreation has rendered the men impotent and meditation has replaced sleep. Others fall into catatonia, forming the social stratum the Eternals have named the "Apathetics". The Eternals spend their days stewarding mankind's vast knowledge, baking special bread for themselves from the grain deliveries and participating in communal navel gazing rituals. To give time and life more meaning the Vortex developed complex social rules whose violators are punished with artificial aging. The most extreme offenders are condemned to permanent old age and the status of "Renegades". But any Eternals who somehow manage to die, usually through some fatal accident, are almost immediately reborn into another healthy, synthetically reproduced body that is identical to the one they just lost.



Zed is less brutal and far more intelligent than the Eternals think he is. Genetic analysis reveals he is the ultimate result of long-running eugenics experiments devised by Arthur Frayn — the Zardoz god — who controlled the outlands with the Exterminators, thus coercing the Brutals to supply the Vortices with grain.

Zardoz's aim was to breed a superman who would penetrate the Vortex and save mankind from its hopelessly stagnant status quo. The women's analysis of Zed's mental images earlier had revealed that in the ruins of the old world Arthur Frayn first encouraged Zed to learn to read, then leading him to the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Zed finally understands the origin of the name Zardoz — Wizard of Oz — bringing him to a true awareness of Zardoz as a skillful manipulator rather than an actual deity. He becomes infuriated with this realization and decides to plumb the deepest depths of this enormous mystery. As Zed divines the nature of the Vortex and its problems, the Eternals use him to fight their internecine quarrels. Led by Consuella, the Eternals decide to kill Zed and to age Friend. Zed escapes and, aided by May and Friend, absorbs all the Eternals' knowledge, including that of the Vortex's origin, in order to destroy the Tabernacle. Zed helps the Exterminators invade the Vortex and kill most of the Eternals — who welcome death as a release from their eternal but boring existence. Some few Eternals do escape the Vortex's destruction, heading out to radically new lives as fellow mortal beings among the Brutals.

Zardoz ends in a wordless sequence of images accompanied by the sombre second movement (allegretto) of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. Zed and Consuella, dressed in matching green suits and having fallen in love, then sit next to each other in the cave-like stone head and age in time-lapse. A baby boy appears, matures and leaves his parents. The couple eventually decompose into skeletons and finally nothing remains in the space but painted hand-prints on the wall and Zed's Webley-Fosbery revolver.

Directed by John Boorman. Produced by John Boorman. Written by John Boorman. Starring: Sean Connery, Charlotte Rampling, Sara Kestelman. Music by David Munrow. Cinematography: Geoffrey Unsworth. Editing by John Merritt. Studio: John Boorman Productions. Distributed by 20th Century Fox. Release date: 6 February, 1974. Runtime: 1 hr 45 min (105 min). Sound Mix: 4-Track Stereo. Country: United Kingdom.


Further information here, here & here.

1 comment:

  1. Good article about a film that has been written off too easily, but is actually full of many levels of meaning, which you've managed to capture in your post.

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