James Stewart stars as a railroad man hired to secretly carry a payroll despite his suspected connections to outlaws
Sean Connery stars as the last man capable of an erection in an effete and decadent future. An anti-science dystopian vision that includes that astonishing maxim: "the gun is good, the penis is evil".
Boorman's finest film is a wonderfully eccentric and visually exciting sci-fi quest. It also affords the spectacle of Sean Connery in a red nappy, knee-high leather boots, pony tail and Zapata moustache.
For many years, Zed (Connery) and his band of Exterminators have rode the wastelands of Earth, killing and raping their genetic inferiors, at the behest of Zardoz, a giant floating stone head. The decades of brutal Darwinian development have gifted Zed with an uncommon intelligence, and one day he decides to investigate Zardoz.
Stowed away inside the stone head, he is flown to an isolated community of immortals, discovering that what he presumed was a god is infact merely the work of one of the community's scientists. Before he can fully process this shock, Zed is sucked into the decadent dinner party ways of this bourgeois gang (known as the Vortex), who have been rendered immortal by science, but also impotent from sheer boredom.
Zed's rude aggression and alarming potency is demonstrated in one howler of a scene. Vortex leader Consuella (Rampling) shows Zed old sex films (two women mud wrestling, more performance art than porno) and he fails to get wood. It is only when he casts his eyes over her fragrancy that his penis stands briskly to attention, garnering amazed looks and amused titters from the other Eternals, none of whom have seen a hard-on for a thousand years.
Only at the fag end of the 1960s could such a simultaneously ambitious and preposterous movie be made. Boorman's thesis - that the middle class hippies cannot retreat to their own bohemian idyll without descending into in-fighting and impotency - draws both from H.G. Wells' 'Time Machine', and no doubt his own observation of the Sixties communes. The film's closing massacre of the beautiful people is a dark echo of Charles Manson's killing of Sharon Tate in the Hollywood hills, with hairsute ubermensch Zed bearing considerable resemblance to the bearded madness that was Manson.
It's fair to say that Boorman is not fully in control of his material here. Rather he has stuck a few big wriggling ideas in a bag and just let them get on with it. And therein lies the allure of Zardoz, a one-off in the annals of sci-fi, directed with a wild-eyed associative imagination that would not survive a single minute in a test-screening.
Both insight and critique of the end of the 1960s, as well as a handy pin with which to prick Sean Connery's ego (for a supposed brutal killer, his Zed has the physique of an office clerk), Zardoz deserves reappraisal.
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