Friday, June 3, 2011

Zardoz (1974)
UK --- science fiction / fantasy

Dir: John Boorman

The science fiction films of the 60's and 70's were all quite boring. Though they had great aestethic and often strong original introspective messages about . . . whatever, they often lacked the maschismo and child-like fun that later came in the wake of George Lucas' Star Wars movies. John Boorman's "Zardoz" is no exception from this trend. Made immediately after his controversial hicksploitation hit "Deliverance", Boorman delved into this more thought-provoking sci-fi adventure in a futuristic setting. Though the results are very mixed to say the least. "Zardoz" opens with a prologue of sorts of the floating head of a man named Arthur Frayn, who claims to be the titular character. With a penciled in mustache and beard, he proclaims to be immortal. We then see the beautiful mountains and a giant hovering sculpture-like head who is the god of a people called Exterminators, who are charged to kill the Brutals. They are a group of Anglo-Saxon men dressed only in orange straps and adorned with two-sided masks with the very same visage of Zardoz. From the head giant floating head, comes the voice of Zardoz who commands them to kill and to abstain from sex, and soon it emits guns and bullets.

Set in the year 2293, Sean Connery stars as one of these Exterminators, named Zed. He arises from some grain within the stone head, where he finds Arthur Frayn and shoots him dead. The stone head lands and Zed leaves searching his new surroundings. Zed stumbles upon Arthur Frayn's home, Vortex 4, where he finds a ring with images of Arthur and a computerized voice emaniting from it. He is soon found by a woman named May (Sara Kesteleman) who wishes to learn how he came to get inside the stone head. He claims to not remember, and he soon ends up on a table being mentally probed by May and another 'Eternal' woman named Consuella (Charlotte Rampling). We learn that Zed is basically a lower lifeform, and that those who live in the vortex are higher species called homo eternals. They are also a matrichal society where the women have more say than men, and while they all possess a psychic power and an erudite mentality, they lack many things. May takes on the task of keeping the Zed for scientific experimentation, while Consuella strongly adheres to its presence in the vortex. Zed, however gets a male guide through the vortex named Friend. Sarcastically calling him monster, Friend shows Zed that even their utopian society has its class system. He shows him the different parts of the Vortex, including the apethetic women devoid of feeling and the renegades, who much like Jonathan Swift's immortal struldbrug's grow ever older but never die, as a punishment. It's clear that Friend is becoming unhinged by the appearance of Zed, as he despises his own immortality and the female dominant society. Bringing a raw machoismo, Friend becomes envious of Zed's lack of not only immortality, but of a sensual freedom. The matrichial society is disturbed by Zed's presence, but Friend is more ambiguously inspired.

Both Friend and May defend Zed's presence in the Vortex as scientific research. However, Friend's impure thoughts and rebellious behavior lead him to being ostracized from the Vortex and marked a 'Renegade', to which the left side of him ages rapidly. May continues to probe Zed to find out what happened to Arthur Frayn. She eventually finds that he murdered Frayn, and that Frayn allowed him into the secret of how the outlands came to be. Frayn, however, is not dead, but has been regenerated and reveals that Zed is actually a superior "Brutal" through Frayn's eugnenics experimentation. It is also revealed through May's probing that Zed has learned the truth of the his god "Zardoz", being named after the L. Frank Baum book "The Wonderful WiZARD of OZ".

Confused? I won't ruin the ending, if you can call it an ending. Though the film is strange a little too heavy on its preaching and gratuitious nudity, it is a cult classic. "Zardoz", as Boorman admits on his dvd commentary, was much more ambitious than the budget allowed. The message was and is also lost. Though the film is an original piece, it features a hodgepodge of different myth references, but it's all too cerebral to catch in this package. The idea of genetic engineering was clearly ahead of its time. "Zardoz" is unique, as it is one of the very few scifi films you find an actual working utopia. However, as many utopian fiction, that is quickly unmasked as a dystopia.