John Boorman’s Zardoz

Today I watched John Boorman’s Zardoz (1974)


This film begins with a floating head who introduces himself as Arthur Frayn who is also Zardoz, god to a race of post apocalyptic humans whose chieftain is Zed, played by a confused Sean Connery.  Zardoz is represented by a flying head which vomits guns in return for grain, one day Zed decides climb into the head to find out if this god Zardoz is really all that, he isn’t and Zed shoots Arthur Frayn.  The head is on autopilot though, and it takes Zed to a place called The Vortex which is sealed off from the outside world and in which live a race of Immortal humans with psychic powers.  These Eternals, as they call themselves, are suffering a serious case of the immortality blues and many of them have turned renegade, wishing to die.  They study Zed for a while, then use him as a house pet and slave all the while arguing amongst themselves as to what is to be done with him, meanwhile Zed has his own plots and may be more than he seems.  This whole plot sounds at least somewhat followable right?  Quite complex to be sure and I am of course leaving out many essential little details but this is nothing too ridiculous, a rather interesting concept really.  But then I watch the film and this narrative is buried beneath layer upon layer of obfuscation and attempted parable.

This movie is completely absurd as a viewing experience, the plot is all out of order and once details that should be revelations are brought to light it is often too late for them to retain their relevance.  You could tell exactly the same story and make it a completely different movie if you actually tried to make it understandable to any but the most astute viewer.  And other than making me feel smart for figuring out the narrative, what end goal does all the misdirection and confusion of this film serve?  I would argue that there is none beyond that little bit of ego stroking, if the writer/director had really wanted to show people an imaginative new world or a thought provoking theme,  would he not have phrased it in a way people can understand?  Look at 2001: A Space Odyssey for comparison, also a heady sci fi with intense themes and difficult to understand sequences, why is it a classic?  People can understand the basics of the setting and the story with HAL 9000 is very easy to understand and invest in.  Because it is relatable the audience actually wants to know more, about the deep themes and heady concepts behind the solid narrative.  This film is not relatable and thus whatever themes there are get forgotten while the audience instead muddles over the incomprehensible plot and absurdly campy imagery.

Another big issue of this film is that while it presents itself as daring, imaginative, and intellectual, it looks like a cheap 50’s serial in colour.  To be fair the film had a fairly low budget, but in a few years Mad Max would make a much more convincing apocalypse with less than half of this budget.  It is all diaphanous robes, adult diapers, and bad public art in some palatial villa somewhere.  Now I am not being all fair here and credit should go to those moments when this film does hit on some incredible imagery, usually when it is going for kaleidoscopic psychedelic effects.  It is also a really well shot film, cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth really does know what he is doing and his craft is only hampered by having to film such inane things.  Since this movie is rather high minded in it’s attempt at a deeper meaning, so that the art style is only a step above Fire Maidens From Outer Space and even lower than some other B-movies does absolutely no favours in terms of inciting intelligent viewership.

Hippies just have not gone together with sci fi very well in almost all cases I can think of.  This film’s art design looks like a bad episode of Star Trek, another work that struggled with attempting to include those free spirited young folk before inevitably giving up.  Sean Connery is perhaps one of the few highlights of this film, his complete perplexity mirrors that of the audience so it really is like all he knows is violence.  If understanding the narrative were less taxing maybe I would have the energy to invest emotionally in his story.  This is a goofy flick and probably not intentionally so, but it is plagued by confusing storytelling that obfuscates theme and narrative equally.  2/5


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