Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Boorman|
|Produced by||John Boorman|
|Written by||John Boorman|
|Music by||David Munrow|
|Edited by||John Merritt|
John Boorman Productions
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$1.8 million (US/ Canada)|
Zardoz is a 1974 science fiction movie written, produced, and directed by John Boorman. It stars Sean Connery, Charlotte Rampling, and Sara Kestelman. Zardoz was Connery's second post-James Bond role (after The Offence). The film was shot by cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth on a budget of US$1.57 million.
In a future post-apocalypse Earth in the year 2293, the human population is divided into the immortal "Eternals" and mortal "Brutals". The Brutals live in a wasteland, growing food for the Eternals, who live apart in "the Vortex", leading a luxurious but aimless existence on the grounds of a country estate. The connection between the two groups is through Brutal Exterminators, who kill and terrorize other "Brutals" at the orders of a huge flying stone head called Zardoz, which supplies them with weapons in exchange for the food they collect. Zed (Connery), a Brutal Exterminator, hides aboard Zardoz during one trip, temporarily "killing" its Eternal operator-creator Arthur Frayn (Niall Buggy).
Arriving in the Vortex, Zed meets two 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. The innovative nature of the film extends to technology as well, where a precursor to a search engine (in combination with voice recognition) is shown for the first time in film. One of the characters requests information & all results are displayed in a way recognizably similar.
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 led 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 skilful manipulator rather than an actual deity. He becomes infuriated with this realisation 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, 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 (snatches of which are heard throughout the film). 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.
- Sean Connery as Zed
- Charlotte Rampling as Consuella
- Sara Kestelman as May
- John Alderton as Friend
- Sally Anne Newton as Avalow
- Niall Buggy as Arthur Frayn / Zardoz
- Bosco Hogan as George Saden
- Jessica Swift as Apathetic
- Reginald Jarman as voice of Death
The film received mixed reviews. Roger Ebert called it a "genuinely quirky movie, a trip into a future that seems ruled by perpetually stoned set decorators... The movie is an exercise in self-indulgence (if often an interesting one) by Boorman, who more or less had carte blanche to do a personal project after his immensely successful Deliverance." Whilst Jay Cocks of Time called the film "visually bounteous", with "bright intervals of self-deprecatory humor that lighten the occasional pomposity of the material." Nora Sayre, in a 7 February 1974 review for The New York Times, called Zardoz a melodrama that is a "good deal less effective than its special visual effects"... a film "more confusing than exciting even with a frenetic, shoot-em-up climax." Decades later, Channel 4 called it "Boorman's finest film" and a "wonderfully eccentric and visually exciting sci-fi quest" that "deserves reappraisal". Despite being a commercial failure and mostly panned by critics, Zardoz has since developed a cult following and found success on the home video market.
- Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p257
- Solomon p 232. Please note figures are rentals.
- Review of Zardoz from Channel 4
- Ebert, Roger, "Review of the film", Sun Times.
- Celtic Twilight, a 18 February 1974 review from Time magazine
- Review of the film from The New York Times
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