What movie would Sean Connery choose to follow up his run as James Bond with? Well, it’s The Offence, but this was his second movie after. And it’s definitely the first film John Boorman did after Deliverance. What they created was a film that absolutely cannot be easily explained. I’ve watched it in the double digits and there are whole sequences that I can’t unpack.
In the year 2293, Earth has lived beyond the end of the world. There are two populations, the immortal Eternals and the mortal Brutals. The Eternals live in the Vortex, a country estate that affords them comfort at the expense of excitement. The Brutals live in a wasteland growing food for the immortals, yet face constant danger.
The Brutal Exterminators are the ones that keep the machinery running, as they are ordered by a giant flying stone head named Zardoz to kill other Brutals and exchange food for more weapons.
One of the Brutals, Zed (Connery) goes for a ride on Zardoz, even temporarily killing its pilot, Arthur Frayn. Zed goes to the Vortex, where he meets Consuella (Charlotte Rampling, The Damned, Asylum) and May (Sara Kestelman, Liztomania). They defeat him with psychic powers and use him for menial labor. Consuella wants hm destroyed, while May and Frayn want to keep him alive.
Zed learns that the Eternals are watched over by an artificial intelligence called the Tabernacle. Because they live forever, they have become bored and no longer have sex. Some of them have fallen into comas and are known as Apathetics. And despite their vast resources of knowledge, all they care about is making special bread, meditating and enforcing their social rules by artificially aging anyone who violates their byzantine rules.
The Eternals misjudge Zed — he is far more intelligent than he lets on. He learns that he is part of Arthur Frayn’s eugenics experiment and that Frayn is also Zardoz. He’s also learned to read, and once he discovers that Zardoz isn’t a god but a play on the Wizard of Oz, he becomes enraged.
Zed lives up to Arthur’s goal for him — to deliver death and freedom (one and the same) to the Eternals. He absorbs all of their knowledge as he leads the Brutals on a killing spree against the Eternals.
The film ends with still images of Consuella and Zed falling in love to the tune of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony — an ode to soldiers — and giving birth to a son before they age into skeletons. It’s complex and simple and moving and silly all at the same time. Kind of like the rest of Zardoz.
I didn’t even mention the animated scene of how erections work or Connery in a wedding dress or the weird outfit Zed and the Brutal Exterminators wear — knee-high boots and a giant red thong.
The film was inspired by Boorman almost making The Lord of the Rings. Although the project ended, he wanted to see if he could create his own fantasy world. A fantasy world that makes little or no sense, as evidenced by the spoken word intro that 20th Century Fox executives asked Boorman to create. The goal was to help the audience understand the film. But just look at this dialogue:
“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?”
There’s no way to really prepare you for this movie. Trust me when I say that there has never been a movie like it before or since.