Sunday, May 15, 2016

ZARDOZ (1974) - *½

Rated R
Running time: 105 min.
Release date: February 6, 1974

Zardoz begins with the floating head of Arthur Frayn (Niall Buggy) haughtily asking the audience "Is God in show business too?". The tone of the film has been set. We have a disembodied intellectual floating from side to side, closing in on us, with a mustache and goatee that appear to have been drawn on his face. Are we supposed to take anything this head says seriously? It's almost as if Buggy passed out drunk before his big scene, had facial hair drawn on his chin and upper lip by some comedian on the film crew, then woke him up just in time for action, and director John Boorman thought it was brilliant, so he kept it in the movie. There are many other examples in this film of Boorman confusing brilliance with the ludicrous.

Sean Connery plays Zed, a Brutal Exterminator residing in the 23rd century. The Exterminators ride around the countryside slaying the Brutals in order to prevent breeding. They are commanded by a giant floating stone head called Zardoz, their god. In a loud, booming voice, Zardoz declares "The gun is good." and provides the Exterminators with guns and ammunition for their cause, vomiting them out of it's giant stone mouth like someone who had ordered the fish on a cross-country flight. Then Zardoz declares "The penis is evil." and the audience laughs, or at least I did. Not because it was particularly funny, more because it was a giant floating stone head uttering that line of dialogue. Zed stows away inside the head, kills Arthur Frayn himself, who falls out of the head and floats away, presumably to his death. Zed then rides the head all the way to it's home base, called The Vortex.

The Vortex is home to the intellectual collective called The Eternals. They are an advanced form of the human race, seemingly bestowed with mental prowess that enables them to read minds. They're not sure what to make of Zed, as some wish to study him and learn what he knows while others wish to terminate him, out of fear of his potential danger. May (Sara Kestelman) wishes to study him and learn what became of Arthur Frayn. Consuella (Charlotte Rampling) leads those Eternals who wish to kill him. The Eternals all lead immortal lives, but also lives that are both luxurious and aimless. Friend (John Alderton) is an Eternal that has become bored with living for eternity, as the men have become impotent since procreation is no longer deemed necessary.

The Eternals are overseen by The Tabernacle, a crystal-powered artificial intelligence, and social rules have been applied in order to retain some sort of order. Social infractions are punished by rapid aging, the number of years determined by the severity of the "crime". The more serious infractions are punishable by permanent old age, and this group of offenders are referred to as Renegades. There are still other Eternals who have fallen into a coma-like state and wander around The Vortex like zombies. This group is referred to as The Apathetics. Zed has disrupted the order of things with his mere presence, and as he is being studied by May, it has been discovered that Zed's arrival may not have been accidental. Zardoz is not all he's cracked up to be, as we discover in a flashback scene that is both brilliant in theory but comedic in execution.

John Boorman's vision for what Zardoz was meant to be is to be applauded for originality but the project appears to have gotten away from him. This is truly a difficult film to create, as the material seems to transcend comprehension. The visual effects and imagery are interesting and bizarre simultaneously while also being technically sound. Under Boorman's direction, the cinematography by Geoffrey Unsworth provides some striking use of light refraction. The cast performs as if there was LSD slipped into the catering offerings. There is even a message in this film; in fact, there are multiple messages concerning religion as a controlling device, and violence being instinctual in mankind. However, all of that gets drowned out with some really outlandish and ridiculous dialogue. The fact that Boorman wrote, produced and directed this film shows that this was his project all the way through, and that he was determined to make a film that was personal to him, so much so that it is totally inaccessible to others not in the loop.

Near the end of the film, one character utters the line "It was all a joke!". If this entire endeavour was a joke by John Boorman, the punchline was poorly delivered.

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