50/50: Zardoz (1974)
Greetings, and welcome to the newest segment on my site called 50/50. This is a special undertaking for the year 2020, where I pick apart fifty films that I consider engaging, intriguing, and fun to discuss. All in the span of fifty weeks.
This is not a countdown where one film on the list is pitted against the other in hopes of seeing which film is the best. No, these are just insights into movies that act as food for thought. So cutting back on the chit-chat, I hope that you will enjoy this cinematic buffet with me!
“Sean, come here, I need to sit down with you for a minute—we need to talk. How did you go from James Bond, suave and cool, to retired Chippendales dancer? You look like Frank Zappa, and Emiliano Zapata had a baby together!”
That is what I was saying in my mind while watching Zardoz, a weird and wild science fiction movie from 1974 written, directed and produced by John Boorman. Boorman is no stranger to making the audience feel uncomfortable, just look at Deliverance and Exorcist II: The Heretic. But Zardoz is uncomfortable in a different way. It is a mess of a movie! Complete with cringe-worthy costume designs (just look at the picture above), a nonsensical jumble of a plot, and so many “what-the-hell-am-I-watching” moments. But if there is one thing that Zardoz has going for it, it is never a dull moment. And I don't hate bad movies, I hate lazy and boring ones!
Right out the gate, Boorman lets us know what kind of motion picture we are in for. Set in the distant future of England in the year 2293, the film starts off with a gathering of mostly men with guns wearing stone masks that look like angry Easter Island heads with hipster beards. Then, a giant stone head with the same face appears floating in the sky, it is the god Zardoz telling his followers that “The gun is good” and that the “The penis is evil!” I don't know about you, but any religion that tells me my magic stick is inherently evil is not a religion that I want to have a membership with. But I do like their defense of the second amendment. Confused yet? Don't worry, because after Sean Connery—who plays Zed, our main hero—shoots us in the face, the credits roll, and then things will become clear.
Only they don't, not for a long while until the end of the film. Even then, the plot points and what the overall message of the film is as opaque as a swamp. I could spend a while talking about the series of events of this seventies sci-fi trainwreck, but most of us would prefer to maintain brain cells. Fortunately for you, I nitpick media for amusement, so in my opinion, Zardoz is whatever it needs to be to the audience watching it.
Is it a feminist film? One could take that stance.
Is it an anti-classism movie? I can see that argument.
Is it a warning of science gone wrong? Perhaps.
Or maybe, it is a screed against blind faith, a cry for us to use our minds and question the beliefs that have been hoisted upon us. I would be open to any and all of these interpretations if the film was not so damned silly in its presentation!
Just the costume designs alone will make even the most stone-faced (pun intended) moviegoer snicker with derisive laughter. When Zed meets the Immortals, the upper echelon of this futuristic English society, everyone looks like a pagan goddess retreat attendee. Either that or a failed interpretative dance class at a community center, doing jazz hands exercises.
So why the derision? Why even watch this film?
Because there is nothing quite like it. Despite the nonsensical plot and idiotic costumes, Zardoz is precisely the kind of film we need today. For a movie that is almost fifty years old, filmmakers could learn a thing or two from it about originality. This motion picture is not based on any book, any old TV show, or pre-existing piece of media. It is a goofy creation unto itself. While the film itself earns a less than stellar grade, Zardoz earns an A for uniqueness. And in an industry where remakes and redo's have become the bread and butter of entertainment, it is refreshing to see a film like it.
So strap on your butch mustache, lace up those kinky boots, grab a revolver and praise the stone head!