ZARDOZ! Yes, that's right... Zardoz. I went out and celebrated American Independence by staying home and watching what is possibly the most epically stupid Allegory of Man ever put to film. I grew up under the impression that Logan's Run and Silent Running were the silliest films ever to emerge from the Crotch Decade, but I was unqualifyably wrong. So frigteningly bad and self-important is every scene in this movie that laughter dies on the lips, snarky comments dry up in the throat and the rubber plant by the window slowly dies. I had dreams of attacking this film from a fresh funny angle, but no angle is funnier than this endless story of people who live forever but long for death.
It is the year 2239, and as usual mankind has wrecked everything and transformed itself into the horrific fulfillment of all its utopian urges. Far-future politics have become refreshingly simple. Instead of a world of nation-states, the Earth is divided into two territories: The Outlands and The Vortex. The Outlands, played handily by a stretch of beach and a couple of hills, is a primitive wasteland populated by Brutals, a well-dressed but hapless bunch who spend their time running in terror from the Exterminators, gun-wielding middle-aged men in red loincloths, crossed bandoliers and thigh-high boots. And great big droopy mustaches. And long black braided hair. Picture it this way: on Ziggy Stardust's homeworld, these guys would be pirates. Their leader, Zed the Exterminator, is played by Sean Connery, who looks less fetching as a glam pirate than you'd imagine.
"Say Charles, have you seen Zardoz yet?" "Indeed I have, James. Frightful piece of shit, isn't it?"
The Exterminators take their marching orders from their god Zardoz. We all know that Zardoz is a false god, because: a) a man wearing a grease-paint goatee and blue silk boxers on his head tells us so at the beginning, and b) Zardoz is a gigantic flying stone head. I don't know much about gods, but a flying head whose theology consists of "The gun is good, The penis is evil" can't be better than a pretender in my book. I will tell you this: you will probably never see another movie featuring a flying stone head that booms out "The penis is evil" and then pukes up a bunch of old revolvers and double-barreled shotguns. It's fairly clear that the people of 2239 put all their energies into flying-head technology at the expense of religious doctrine and arms manufacture.
This false god plaguing the Outlands from 5000 feet up is the agent of The Vortex, an identikit dystopian paradise of '70s films in which everyone is bored, noone gets laid and the apparent harmony is only the attractive surface atop a tyrannical and somehow snobbish hive mind. Populated by immortals who preserve the best that has been thought and said (but not worn), the Vortex lives off the fruits of the Brutals' labour. In other words, the Vortex is a liberal arts university town run amok. Meditation has replaced sleep, bickering appears to have replaced sex, and punishment is meted out with theatre warmup exercises.
Because the citizens of the Vortex are so much more sophisticated than the benighted Outlands folk, their society is divided into three layers instead of two. Atop this simple pyramid cluster the functional few who keep things running, distinguishable by their Renaissance kink outfits and bitchy tone of voice. The rebellious are deemed Renegades, aged to senility and banished to a mansion on the edge of town, where they practise ballroom dancing and drool into their oatmeal. The Apathetics stand around in a catatonic stupor, victims of a creeping disease that affects Homo Eternals (apparently Latin is a casualty of the future as well). Caught between a population of doddering Renegades and helpless Apathetics, the bewildered Vortexans drape sheets over themselves and stand around doing nothing at all. I'm not joking. Covering yourself with a sheet is a recreational activity in the far future.
Are you ready for the big surprise? Connery manages to sneak into The Vortex aboard that flying head and shatter their brittle society. Far from being a simpleminded killer, Zed turns out to be a genetically engineered übermensch with a grudge against the forces that have shaped him. We witness his allegorical ascent up the chain of being and cheer him link by link. Eventually, Zed ferrets out the source of the Vortex's power and destroys it all to bits, releasing a maelstrom of anarchic energy and turning the icy cool society of The Vortex into a red hot cinnamon mob bent on fighting, fucking and smashing.
Around the point at which the Apathetics, roused to consciousness by the taste of Sean Connery's sweat (still not joking), wake up and start having a giant orgy, you suddenly realize that you're no longer watching a high-minded allegory in the armature of sci-fi. You're watching a prototype of the class-ridden frathouse comedies of the '80s. Connery is the underdog at Vortexan U, sneered at by the bluebloods and ridiculed by the elite, but in the end his brawling blue-collar energy lets everybody get down with their mortal self. Only instead of partying down with a few scantily clad chicks and a couple of kegs, the Vortexans sleepwalk happily into a hail of bullets, the frat party whoops replaced by sepulchural moans of "I want to die!" And yeah, after two hours of Zardozian fun you'll be begging for the Exterminators as well.
A few valuable lessons for the future you can learn from Zardoz:
Judging from the dings and clacks, the advanced machines of 2293 are scavenged from old IBM Selectric typewriters. Stock up now and make a killing later.
Just because you ride around in a flying stone head doesn't mean you're God.
Flying stone heads must be expensive to maintain, since everybody else gets around on horse-drawn carriages.
The people of the far future like to watch softcore porn occasionally. Stock up on Andrew Blake videos.
If you're a tiresome ponce with a hairdo that looks like a big pile of pig droppings, you've got a reasonable shot at immortality.
Take a couple of sheets. You'll be putting one over your head eventually, probably thinking, "Now this is a spot of fun!"
If you're a woman, eventually Sean Connery's going to show up in a red loincloth and do you. Just thought I'd let you know.