A Review by Noah Antwiler
Do we respect Sean Connery?
Seriously, I can't tell. There are few voices in movie history as recognizable to the average movie fan as Connery's mushy brogue, few lines as immortal as his cavalier delivery of "Bond. James Bond." You can imagine how hard it is to maintain your dignity when appearing in the Bond movies that inspired the Austin Powers spoofs, but Connery himself is usually spared lampooning. Not even counting the Bond movies, themselves fairly ridiculous pieces of fluff, Connery has appeared in some pretty insane motion pictures and done some whacked-out stuff on screen. Why in the hell did we give him a pass on The Rock? Somehow, don't ask me how, we let him slide on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and that heinous piece of shit, The Avengers. The man posed as a Russian submarine captain in The Hunt for Red October without bothering to conceal his accent at all and nobody really cared. I'm damn skippy Schwartzenegger wouldn't have gotten away with that. Liam Neeson actually did a Russian accent in K-19: The Widowmaker and critics tore him to pieces, yet Connery gets away with "Be cahful. Shum thingsh in heer don't react too well to bulletsh."
Outland? Highlander 2: The Quickening? First Knight? Dragonheart?? We didn't cut Kevin Costner this kind of slack. The dude cranks out Waterworld and The Postman, we sent him into exile. But they both show up in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, neither attempting an English accent, and somehow Mr. Connery manages to get better work than 3000 Miles to Graceland.
I think it comes down to respect. We still really like him and recognize that he's got some serious acting chops. But then we have flicks like Finding Forrester, made infamous for his delivery of lines like "You're the man now, dog!" that has spurred a massive Internet fad and rivals World of Warcraft and the Great Anti-Immigration Fence of Mexico as the most pointless all-consuming time-wasters in history. Are we making fun of Sean, or just the fact that we actually got him to spout off in ebonics? I'd love to see a sociologist turn that one over in his head for a while.
My explanation for a lot of this is that no matter how goofy his role, someone else came along and managed to do something worse and spare him the most shameful memories. After all, no matter how bad Bond got on Connery's watch (Never Say Never Again, and I still insist that Goldfinger is iconic of everything that is wrong with James Bond), it was Roger Moore who made Moonraker. 'Nuff said.
But how, oh god how did Connery get away with Zardoz? I haven't even seen it and I know I'm about to enter into the realm of the phenomenally bad. For all the respect Connery might get now, after Diamonds Are Forever he couldn't get a job that didn't somehow involve a wristwatch with a laser and a bald guy stroking a cat. He was probably willing to do just about anything to escape typecasting purgatory, which might explain this:
Oh sweet fancy Moses.
It's hard to even look at, isn't it? You're witnessing the actual line between genius and madness. Actually, the line is slightly out-of-frame, being danced on by an armed Scotsman with a chest-length ponytail and a Tom Selleck moustache, wearing only leather thigh-high boots and a red loincloth held up by crossed suspenders which double as ammo bandoliers. No Brazilian wax for Sean, no sir, and if that's not your idea of male virility, there's something very healthy about you. You do have to respect this character in a funny way, because if you're traipsing around in a savage post-apocalyptic world wearing that, you'd better be the toughest bastard alive.
I want to make it clear that I have not seen this movie previous to the writing of this review, so everything I report to you here is my actual initial impressions live as they occur. This is important to realize, because from what I understand this movie is profoundly balls-out trippy, and if I had time to reflect back on a previous viewing this review might actually be insightful and make a lot more sense. And we can't have that.
The movie opens to a black screen, on which appears some white guy's head in the upper-right corner. The disembodied head drifts towards the center of the screen, looking rather like Holly from Red Dwarf, only really tiny. Far too tiny, really. Holly's head filled the screen; this guy's head is about the size of the ball on the original Pong game on the Odyssey. The weirdest part of this guy is that his head appears to be wrapped in a right blue towel, and I can't even begin to think of a reason why (or how) a disembodied head would wander around with a blue towel on.
"I am Arthur Frayn," the head states in a British accent, by far the most pleasing of disembodied head accents to choose from. "And I am Zardoz!" Already I'm underwhelmed by the majesty of Zardoz, folks.
"I have lived 300 years and I long to die." Hey Zards, I hear that. I've only known you for 3 seconds and I long for you to die, too. "But death is no longer possible. I am immortal!" Yeah yeah, and in the end there can be only one. I knew Sean Connery couldn't resist cranking out another damn Highlander sequel! Just keep Zeist out of this one, alright?
Zardoz says he's going to share with us his story, "rich in irony and most satirical" (but mostly crap!). "It is set deep in a potential future, so none of these events have yet occurred." Ugh, so billions of potential quantum realities, and this is the one you chose? Zardoz's head looms a little closer, and the closer it comes the funnier it looks. Zardoz honestly does appear to be wearing a blue terrycloth dish towel around his head and wears what seems to by a phony handlebar moustache and a tiny soul patch so that he looks like Inspector Clousseau pretending to be Mother Teresa in a really stupid episode of Doctor Who.
The head looks grave. "But they may! Be warned, lest you end as I!" I need to heed the warnings of this movie, lest I end up as a floating head wearing a bedsheet with a handlebar moustache painted on? Actually, that does seem like a fate I'd want to avoid, however unlikely.
The head is now close enough for me to realize that his facial hair is indeed painted on and he looks to be about twenty years old, tops. In fact, he looks like a twenty year-old man who is way too into Harry Potter and still makes wizard costumes for himself. "In this tale I am a fake god by occupation and a magician by inclination. Merlin is my hero!" Oh god, this guy isn't just telling me about his AD&D character, is he?
"But I am invented too for your entertainment and amusement." Zardoz says. Yeah. I did that, you assclown. I rented this goddamn movie.
"And you poor creatures...who conjured you out of the clay? Is God in showbusiness too?" Don't ask me, pal, this is your movie. Zardoz chuckles in one of those droll British not-really-laughing laughs, as if what he said was mind-shatteringly deep and he was taking a moment to lord a little smugness over us. Sort of a "choke on deez Zen nuts " laugh. This isn't exactly "if a tree falls in the woods" stuff, Zards; all you've really done is ask if I believe in God in the middle of insulting me. Actually, from the sadness in his tone, he seems to be saying "I'm here putting on a really bad movie. You're sitting here watching it. Makes you wonder if there's a God out there who set all this up just to see how much sadness he could pack into our lives, eh?"
Yes, Zardoz. Yes it does.
Fade to black, and rise on a landscape most poets would call a blasted heath. Subtitles tell us that this is a film by John Boorman set in the year 2293, which when the year 2293 actually rolls around will be quite an amusing line for future descendents of Spoony movie reviewers to comment on. Sort of like whenever I watch Escape From New York and chuckle at how it's set in the year 1999 or watch the "Space Seed" episode of Star Trek that mentions the Eugenics Wars in the 90s. The Spoony One of the year 2293 will be all "did they really think we'd be worshipping giant flying stone heads named Zardoz in the 1970s? I mean hello, hadn't they heard of Lord Xenu? I just love these stupid three hundred year old sci-fi movies when Earth wasn't drowned in its own polar ice caps."
There are a bunch of savage barbarians on horseback chasing this aforementioned giant flying stone head across the hills, all of them discordantly hooting "Zardoz! Zardoz!" while waving spears in the air. The stone head is a Greek-styled godlike entity with wild hair, bushy eyebrows, glowing eyes, and the funny "Eyyuuugh!" expression of someone who has just accidentally tuned in to Mind of Mencia. I half-expect Olmec to float up behind him babbling to the hunters below about how they can win tons of prizes if they can only navigate the Hidden Temple. I guess the giant stone head sort of looks like Zardoz the Boy Wizard if you really squint and pretend like you didn't just see the president of your high school anime club wearing a tablecloth for a hat and claiming to be a wizard. It kind of reminds me of Vaal. Remember the giant computer on that episode of Star Trek that took the form of a giant stone head and commanded a small village of people with really awful tans and oddly-colored platinum hair to feed it with sacrificial victims? No?
Anyway, the giant head hovers low over the ground and speaks in a booming voice. The riders gather round, most of them caked in dried mud and wearing the hilariously stupid red slingshot briefs and suspenders costume in the picture of Sean Connery you just saw. Some of them are wearing white Zardoz masks, making me wonder if Zardoz has a CafePress shop set up, or if he has someone else running concessions for him in the lobby between shows.
"ZARDOZ SPEAKS TO YOU!" it declares.
"We know, dumb shit!" the people shout back. (Not really.) You know, from a distance, the people in their white Zardoz masks sort of look like Stormtroopers who are rebelling against the Imperial dress code and have chosen to all dress up in frilly red lingerie. Seriously.
Zardoz goes on about how these people are his chosen ones, raised in brutality to kill the "Brutals who multiply and are legion." To punctuate how much they love their work, one of the stormtroopers stabs some random dude in the throat and throws his hands in the air.
"To this end," Zardoz continues, not seeming to notice, "Zardoz your god gave you the gift of the gun." ("...and your matching red man-panties...")
"THE GUN IS GOOD!" the head booms. The people cheer and shout at this, because indeed, guns are awesome!
"THE PENIS IS EVIL!" he finishes, and a sudden pall drops over the audience. All of them freeze with their arms still in the air, clearly unable to believe that a 70-foot tall stone head just flew down and said that. I know I can't. I hope they knew what Zardoz's stance on penises was before they joined the fan club and did all this worshipping. I doubt that part was in the recruiting pamphlet. I'm not saying it's not a valid belief-- it suits Catholics fine-- but I'm rather attached to my penis. We've had some of our best times together. And our worst, come to think of it...especially around college...but my little sizzler is impulsive, not evil!
I like to think of myself as a pretty mature moviegoer, despite my infrequent fascination with vomit pictures and tendency to shout "get to da choppa!" at random times (but usually at weddings and bank tellers). But did Boorman expect that audiences would greet the sight of Zeus' head yelling "the penis is evil" less than three minutes into the movie would be met with anything but raucous laughter? You need to warm up to that stuff, man! A little foreplay would be nice, John. You don't just go grabbing for the penis and not expect audiences to instinctively back away from you.
Zardoz seems to be losing the crowd a little bit, so he explains that penises do the humpty thing and make life, but guns do the shooty thing and make death. And really, when it comes to women or blowing shit up, it's an easy call. Women come and go, but monster truck rallies are Sundays only! I wonder if I can just fast-forward about twenty minutes and skip the oncoming allegorical nonsense about the duality between sex and violence that's no doubt due to be jizzed all over my face pretty soon.
"Go forth and kill!" the head commands, ending his sermon by belching up a torrent of guns and explosives all over the ground in front of the assembled worshippers. One of the falling guns strikes the camera, causing it to shudder, but this doesn't seem to bother John Boorman because he uses the shot twice. As if I wouldn't notice that he used the same piece of footage within ten seconds of itself. The people start scooping up rifles and doing their own personal happy dances. Sean Connery walks into frame, trying to maintain a dignified stride in his red underwear and suspenders. He turns and notices the camera, frowns, and shoots it. Now that's just uncalled for, Sean; the cameraman didn't do anything wrong.
More credits roll as Zardoz lifts off and floats through a fog bank. The camera drifts through its wide-open mouth and its craggy array of angled teeth until our viewpoint is inside the structure. I'm expecting to see a massive heap of automatic weapons stacked atop a pneumatic catapult, but instead there's a large pile of loose dirt and buckwheat mounded just inside. Connery emerges from the soil, scanning the chamber with his antique handgun readied. All around, on varying heights there are people in tighty-whitey underwear lined up against the wall, each in their own individual vacuum-wrapped plastic baggies like Slim Jims. It reminds me of parts: a clonus horror where potential organ donors were gassed into unconsciousness and plastic-wrapped to maintain their freshness.
I don't remember seeing Sean Connery climbing into Mount Zardoz, something that would have been exceedingly difficult considering when Sean shoots the cameraman, Zardoz has already lifted off. Maybe he shot the cameraman to conceal his plan. I'm willing to accept that he didn't necessarily sneak into Zardoz on the same day I just saw, but when did he arrange for a backhoe to dump a load of dirt into Zardoz so he'd have someplace to hide? And how did nobody see a six-foot Scotsman in nothing but red Underoos climb into the mouth of their Anti-Penis God? Maybe the dirt was always there, but why would Zardoz keep a four-foot pile of dirt in his mouth? Why am I attempting to apply logic to a movie where Mount Rushmore vomits guns and hates the cock?
The vending-machine people don't respond to being prodded or waved at, so Connery climbs up to one of the mountain's eyes and looks out on the land rolling below him. Just then he hears someone shuffling around on the ground, turns, and sees Zardoz (the towel-wearing wizard) checking things out. The wizard wanders over to the mouth of his own mountain and peers out, and Connery seizes the moment to leap down and shoot him in the arm. Zardoz staggers back from the wound, hanging over the abyss. Some wizard you are, Zards. Any mage your level would have had Stoneskin cast. Anyway, Zardoz calls Connery a fool and whines on about how they're all nothing without him, and falls out into the void. I can certainly relate to Zardoz's confusion and anger; this has all the earmarks of a D&D game derailed right out the gates:
DM: "The comatose bodies stand a silent vigil over the looming chamber, seemingly unaffected by the icy wind whipping in from the yawning maw of the mountain."
Kyle: "Am I awake yet?"
DM: "As soon as Sean frees you from your suspended animation cocoon."
Sean: "You mean the Ziploc bags? Yeah whatever. I've got my weapon ready and I'm checking the room for hostiles."
DM: *rolls a Spot check* Um, okay, actually you do see someone walking the lower level beneath you. He appears to be a young man, clad in deep blue velvet robes. He walks deliberately towards the mouth of the cavern, surveying with pride the breadth of the land tumbling past this flying mount--"
Sean: "Holy shit, robes? A wizard?! I waste his ass!"
DM: *firp* "You what?!"
Sean: "You heard me, man. I toast his ass."
Sean: "A wizard walking around in this flying death trap? He's obviously controlling this thing."
DM: "But why shoot him?"
Sean: "The penis is evil? Hello? He's clearly out of his fucking mind. Besides, we waste this guy, free flying mountain. I waste my surprise round and who knows what level magic this dude can throw at me. Hah! Natural 20!"
DM: "God damn it!"
Kyle: "Am I awake yet?
The mountain lands itself near a lake and a pleasant farm. Connery skidaddles out of Mount Zardoz, still ready for battle with his gun leading the way. He investigates the nearby mill and continues on to the house, which seems normal from a distance but actually has a bunch of plastic bubbles built into the side housing trees and plants. He goes inside, finding that the entire lower level is populated by similar individually-bagged flora, each being serviced and inflated by a network of hoses carrying multicolored mystery fluids. Going upstairs he finds Zardoz's bedroom, a distressingly geeky room filled with books, biology models, evolution charts, and even a little shrine to science cordoned off from the rest of the room with a curtain of streamers and love beads. Yeah, Zardoz is a sorcerer supreme. I'd like to see him conjure up some pussy in this nerd cave, if he could do it without his mom hearing. At the back of this particular chamber is a comically cheesy velvet curtain emblazoned with a golden "Z," behind which is another model of Mount Zardoz. The room is sort of like my shrine to Morgan Webb, only with a lot more skulls of the innocent.
Connery is disturbed by an electronic voice issuing from the bedroom, claiming to have the latest "produce report." He walks over to the source of the noise and finds a box containing a ring that beams out badly-spelled reports on what surpluses various regions have. For instance, Vortex 4 "needz soap, applz, solt, lethur." Apparently in the future people spell like your average DragonballZ fan. He gets a little unnerved by the ring because it won't shut up and seems to respond to his voice, especially when he muses aloud "who lives here?" and the ring responds by showing a picture of the wizard that keeps repeating "I am Arthur Frayn: Vortex Four." Someone's vortex must be like their ZIP code. It still doesn't seem like knowing someone's vortex narrows it down much if you're looking for Arthur.
The device keeps repeating that nonsense constantly, and the image changes to very odd extreme close-ups of his eyes or his mouth while Connery tries vainly to smother the gizmo under his hands. Who would ever keep a device like this? Why would someone spend the money on a holographic recorder, use it to record yourself saying your own name, and then only play that recording back when someone says "who lives here?" Worse, why bother to have it set to repeat endlessly? Sure, maybe you might have something like that in case you lost it, but why repeat it zillions of times? In case the person who found it is an idiot? After hearing "I am Arthur Frayn" twenty times I'd hope that message would get through. A simple text screen would suffice.
Connery swipes the ring after somehow managing to make it shut up, and hears a bunch of people entering the yard, chattering on happily about "dozens of mangled bodies. He decides to get out of there and goes into the woods. While there he questions his ring about the unfamiliar plants. For instance, he asks what a flower is, and the ring says "ping! Flower." When asked what it's for, the ring says "ping! Decorative." Clearly the ring knows its audience because "ping! Photosynthesis" or "ping! Houses the reproductive organs of a plant" would have been over his head.
He spots a topless woman wearing only a do-rag trotting through the woods on a horse, but she vanishes when he moves in to investigate. Story of my life. For a minute I thought he was just going to shoot first and ask questions later like he did with Zardoz. He keeps moving and reaches a lake, where he starts having a vision of another woman heading in his direction. This woman is wearing red. Connery shoots her. But it doesn't seem to do him much good; something ethereal happens and it blinds Connery. The woman (who is unharmed and unbothered by the raging Scotsman who just shot at her) asks if he comes from the Outlands. Connery seems confused. He didn't make Outland until 1981. How does she know about that? Time paradox! Connery says that he kills for Zardoz as an Exterminator, and that Zardoz promises that any who serve him will get to live in a vortex when they die-- a veritable heaven on earth. I'm guessing that particular offer might be off the table now, seeing as how you shot Zardoz in the heart.
The woman guesses something's up and asks how he came to be here, since he's clearly not dead and the only way she knows is by riding in the giant stone head (how else?). She bugs her eyes out and the camera rack-focuses on her forehead, seeming to imply some sort of telepathic probe. We see flashback footage of Connery's memory of riding on horseback with his fellow Exterminators along the beach and shooting people in black sports jackets in the back. I don't know how to explain it any better than that: they're hunting down and killing people who, in the post-apocalyptic Outlands, have found a source of black dress slacks and sports jackets. I guess warring tribes in the future tend to dress alike in The Warriors or the Baseball Furies. These guys are just the Ryan Seacrest Gang.
Connery says that his character's name is Zed, but the woman complains that his memories are fragmented and useless, probably because of the trip through the vortex. Nah, he's probably just an idiot. We fade into a very, very unusual room where Zed is stretched out on a coffee table with a commanding view of a trapezoidal big-screen TV showing what looks like Clash of the Titans, and the walls are angled inward, made of glass decorated with naked people smooshed against the other side. There are naked people inexplicably stuck to the glass walls. What the hell is this? Sometimes I've seen a sparrow get confused and accidentally fly into a window, but this is ridiculous. They have a serious flying naked people problem. It's either that, or someone paid to have the naked people installed on the walls. I seem to remember Donald Trump trying it, but MAN is a wall covered in naked people costly to clean. I don't even want to know how they managed to get the naked people to stick.
The Woman in Red is with another woman in green velour bell-bottoms (who daringly flaunts tradition by not wearing a color-coordinated do-rag), watching Zed's memories play across the big screen. In a rather uncomfortable twenty seconds, Zed then recalls a memory on the screen where he rapes a woman he ensnared in a net while wearing a Zardoz mask. Then he speaks of how Zardoz forced them to force the sports-jacket brigade into growing wheat. This news disturbs the ladies (hilariously named May and Consuela) greatly. Apparently they put Arthur, punktard that he is, in charge of all the "Brutals" and let him operate autonomously as long as the food shipments came in on time. But what a shock when they discover that he was using forced labor to acquire it! Consuela (she of the bell-bottoms) insists that they kill Zed immediately; the images they've pulled out of his mind would pollute their hippie commune, and nobody needs to know where their sandwich bread is coming from. May disagrees, saying that no Brutal has ever made it into the vortex before and he needs to be studied. They bicker about jurisdiction and who's going to the council and what they're going to say, when May trumps the entire argument by threatening to go into the vortex. Whatever that means. Consuela is reluctant, but May finishes the argument by playing the "let's not fight if we love each other" card.
They ask the omniscient computer where Arthur Frayn is, and the pinging machine says that he stopped transmitting his memories three days ago. They play back his last recorded memory, which predictably is Arthur's "oh shit, I seem to be falling out of a giant stone head at 30,000 feet" moment. They ask the computer to show them the events that led up to the fall, because that would, you know, be helpful, but the computer declines. It says that it can only show memories that far back if they have that person's permission. I guess they'll have to go get a court order. The computer says that there's nothing they can do; Arthur is dead and he's being reanimated. The ladies sigh in consternation, but note that Arthur is indeed being cloned, indicating a fake plastic baby suspended in a gallon-size Ziploc bag beyond the glass wall of naked people. Instead they turn to Zed and start pumping him for more information.
The movie then throws in a jarring edit where suddenly Zed is standing in another room amidst a group of weirdly-dressed hippies. This room's TV is even more oddly-shaped, like a sound-effect bubble in a comic book. Who orders oblong, erratically-shaped televisions with seventeen sides and approximately six acute angles? Anyway, Zed is now dressed only in his red underwear. The people around him are wearing a hilarious assortment of loincloths, halter tops, and pastel blue coveralls. Most of the ladies are sporting the Princess Leia Double-Ear Bun look. A bunch of other people are inexplicably standing in the middle of white cotton teepees hanging from the ceiling. The women remark that the footage of slaughter on their wildly-polygonal TV is fascinating. One man with an early John Tesh mullet and powder blue coveralls carefully arranged to expose his tiny nipples agrees. Some of the others find it most distasteful and wonder what in the hell Arthur was up to in the Outlands, but another guy shrugs and says who cares? Nobody else wanted to run the Outlands. Besides, "he's an artist." Yeah, so what if he committed genocide and slavery. He did it with style!
Zed causes quite a twitter amongst the hippie nation. The ladies find themselves irresistibly pawing at his manly, hairy chest while others are intrigued by his violent memories. The men say they're glad Zed is around to help relieve the boredom, if nothing else. Zed licks one. I don't know why. May and Consuela make their arguments again, so a spunky-haired woman holds a vote. Apparently voting in the future takes the form of the Men On Film "two snaps and a salute" gesture, because that's what everyone does. The hippies decide to let Zed live and promptly stick him in a monkey cage. One of the femmy, curly haired blouse-wearing nancy boys lets Zed out and puts him to work in his museum arranging paintings and sculptures. But first, he lashes Zed with a whip and demands to know where Arthur is. Zed doesn't answer, so Curly staggers him with a look, reminding him that here "looks really can kill." So dating is really tricky.
May takes Zed back to the Chamber of the Naked People while the rest of the hippies dine on fruit and huge green baguettes. She examines his eyes with her giant Blow Pop ring until the big screen TV cuts in with the ongoing trial of someone from another vortex. I guess May had a timer for CourtTV set on her PVR. This guy, another effeminate dude in a blue do-rag stands accused of "transmitting a negative aura in the second level." Man, if that's a crime I'd be public enemy number one on Planet Zardoz.
I wasn't kidding about the green baguettes. After the trial, Zed is sent to work in the mill with the other ladies who are grinding the green corn and forming it into green dough. They then feed the dough into the Green Baguette Maker, a massive six-foot tall glowing apparatus so complex, it has to be serviced by two women. One puts the uncooked baguette into the red-hot portal on the far left, at the end of the spiral-shaped design, and seconds later it emerges from the hole in the center! Truly this is the future if they've mastered the technology to create French bread products quickly using a device bigger than my car. Ron Popeil, eat your mother-lovin' heart out! (Seriously, my mom would probably love this thing.) Curly steps into the room and, in a moment that seriously made me wonder if I'd suddenly lost my mind, starts speaking in a mumbling, moaning twee cadence that's completely unsynchronized with his lips. He sounds like a gay retard trying to read Jabberwocky. "twmmf...brllg...mgm...slvEeeeeee!" Whatever the hell he said, the women find it endlessly amusing and applaud warmly for successfully wasting twenty seconds of their time.
Zed heads outside and finds that some guy is harassing a woman by waving his arms in the hair and thrusting his head at her like a pigeon, making more brain-damaged noises. The woman falls away in horror under his (psychic?) assault. Oh what sad times are these when passing ruffians say "Ni" at will to old ladies. Curly pays little mind as the man is dragged away, instead loading the baguettes into a rickshaw and ordering Zed to pull them along the road. He explains that crime in their world is punished by aging the offender a few months at a time, but nobody is allowed to die. Zed rather astutely asks why nobody kills themselves, and Curly admits glibly that he's done it now and again but the Eternal Tabernacle keeps respawning him. He says they're on their way to what passes for a prison facility, really just a madhouse for the people who have been aged to the point of howling senility.
You might think that sounds cruel and a little sad, but when we reach this old folks' home it actually seems like a blast. It's little more than an empty warehouse packed to the gills with raucous fornicating old-timers in formal wear having a grand old time. Curly says they'd better be careful and tells Zed to hurry on through. Zed then speeds the rickshaw through one end of the place to the other without stopping. The old folks swarm onto the cart and by the time they leave, most of the bread is gone. You read that right: Sean Connery just performed the first ever drive-by breading. They pass by another village where all the people are just standing around staring at the ground. Curly throws baguettes at their heads. Which I guess would be the second ever drive-by breading.
Zed is a little unnerved at all the people pretending to be statues and decides to put one to the test by grabbing her boobs. No reaction. Curly laughs and tells him to have at it; she doesn't care. They're the Apathetics, people who have been alive so long they no longer give a shit about anything and instead just stand around looking like Dashboard Confessional fans. While he explains this, Curly goes around feeding them. And yes, this is Curly's job: he goes to the village and literally jams a baguette in everyone's mouth. And they just stand there with a two-foot hunk of bread in their teeth. Zed tosses the comatose lady onto a haystack and tries to give her the business, but alls he does is lay there stiff as a board, staring blankly at the ceiling.
Whoa, my entire dating life just flashed before my eyes.
The rest of Mr. Negative Aura's trial begins, and he confesses that he hates everyone and everything (to which Curly gives a hearty "hell yeah!") and is sentenced to five years of aging. I don't really see how that's going to help his already foul mood, but I'm not a hyper-advanced being.
Back to the vortex. Consuela is giving a lecture to the others about how nobody understands how erections work. Really, does anybody? Mine has a mind of its own, lemme tell ya! She shows some old artwork of people boning, then brings up a hilariously crude hand-drawing of a tallywhacker slowly achieving...how to say this politely, a major boner. Oh, they know the physical process, but how to initiate it? See, their baguette-baking technology is light-years ahead of ours, but they lack our understanding of Viagra and Jessica Alba. Anyway, she says that Eternals like themselves can no longer get it up because they no longer need to procreate. Does she really need to explain this to the other Immortals? Haven't they lived with this for a few hundred years? Anyway, Consuela wants to study Zed's wedding tackle and its reaction to porn. Ugh, you mean we have to watch Sean Connery get an erection? Man, this movie is weird. I get it, movie, there's an inherent link between sex and violence, and to deny those animal impulses denies our humanity. Can I go now?
Zed doesn't, um, "react" to the various porno clips she shows on the angular TV, one of which involves a woman compulsively scrubbing her boobs in the shower, and the other, a rare triple-threat mud wrestling match. All eyes are still on the little 007-incher, which suddenly stands at attention when Zed starts paying attention to Consuela. She is not nearly as flattered as you might think. Women never are when you approach them with a giant boner. I guess calling these people hippies was a mistake. Hippies are "make love, not war" types. These guys don't do either. They're just boring.
May continues her study of Zed in the Chamber of Nudity, where she learns to her horror that due to his ability to breed he's a genetic mutant, superior on almost every level to them. Well, except for the telepathy, immortality, and bread-makers. May vows to keep this knowledge a secret and tells Zed to play along with the stupid-monkey routine until she can figure out what to do. He's put to work serving potatoes to the commune at their daily round-table dinner. Consuela is most displeased by this, asking why in the hell Zed hasn't been destroyed yet. Awfully ballsy of her to be calling for his execution when he could easily jam a salad fork in her throat at any given time. May urges patience; she's almost done. And besides, she needs to chill. Zed has feelings!
Consuela calls for another vote, which around here happens about every five minutes. Of course, voting never seems to get old for these people, and the request is met with much more of that excited, incoherent glossolalia that sounds like an entire room of grown people trying to imitate Jason Mewes' "naga-nooch!" schtick. All of the hippies look to the same Vote Taking Chick and start beaming their thoughts over to her, each doing their own sassy "two snaps, girlfriend" salute. The camera swings past every person in turn while the sound of shrieking microphone feedback has me looking for something sharp to jam in my ears. Then it stops, and Vote Taking Chick announces that May has seven days before they terminate Zed. Another woman in a flimsy halter stands up, arms akimbo and chest puffed out like she's about to begin a terrible interpretive dance, and announces that Zed makes them uncomfortable because he's a distorted reflection of themselves. She tells them all to meditate on this at the second level, so they al stand up, arms stretched before them like Frankenstein's monster, and make "ommmmmm!" noises.
Curly, in the meantime, is freaking the hell out. Through this whole affair he's started pitching silverware, saying he's sick of spending hundreds of years growing stuff and doing menial labor. When the others begin their loud and irritating meditations, Curly slumps into his seat whining "I don't wanna go to second-level...waaaah!" The others turn inward, wiggling their fingers in his direction. If this is supposed to bother him, by god it does. He starts babbling on about how the vortex is an obscenity, how he hates women and fertility (huh?), and how he doesn't want anything to do with them anymore. The others starts making more hooting noises and shrieking like the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey whenever you see the monolith and the God Chorus starts flipping out. They also start waving their hands in his face in the classic "I'm not touching you, does this bug you?" taunt and chanting "renegade!" Curly starts lolling his head around in a circle, eyes rolled back in his head under this oh-so-devastating psychic clusterfuck, and finally faceplants on the table.
Zed sees Curly drooling on the table, decides "screw this noise" and flees out of the colony. He stops when his ring starts howling over and over again "Caution! You are reaching the periphery shield of Vortex Four!" Connery spends the next few minutes miming himself against an invisible wall and listening to the droning voice before giving up. He goes looking for Curly, who's been sent to the rest home for partying old codgers and finds him there, old and palsied, and more than a little pissed off. He sics the old people on Zed with orders to kill him, and there ensues a pitched battle between Sean Connery and a mob of old people. Eventually he drives them away with a crutch and tries to talk things out with Curly. Curly says that all he wants is to die, and to bring death on all the other hippies. Funny, that's all I want him to do, too. They decide that Zed should talk to May so they can figure out a way to do that.
Zed finds May in her room, standing shrouded under her own bedsheet for absolutely no reason. She invites him underneath her bedsheet to talk. So he does. He tells her that something changed long ago to turn him from his normal barbarous ways, when a stranger exposed him to knowledge and books. Zed taught himself to read, and claims that he read everything he could in the library he found, learning all earthly knowledge before the fall of mankind (which would explain why he doesn't know what flowers are, huh). But one book in particular freaked him out and send his entire perception of the world into upheaval. He resists the memory, but May insists, demanding to know what happened to Zardoz/Arthur. We see Zed running around spazzing out, tearing books in half and wailing like a moron in reaction to this book, which we learn is The Wizard of Oz. And somehow, I repeat somehow Zed and this movie make the connection that if you hold your thumbs just so over the title, covering "The Wi" and "of", it spells "--- --zard -- Oz."
Wow. Just wow. I'm simultaneously impressed that Zed the Caveman figured that out, and saddened that the entire movie is based around some loony obfuscation of one of the most beloved stories of our time. I've seen The Wizard of Oz perverted in a lot of ways, from The Matrix to hard core anime porn, and none have been as unwarranted as this.
Anyway, this angered Zed greatly, because with this realization he also figured out that like the Wizard, Zardoz was just frightening people with a loud voice and a scary mask. So Zed enacted a plan with his other Exterminator buddies to infiltrate the Giant Head and discover the truth behind the person manipulating them and get some revenge. The story turns May on like crazy, so they start to mack a little before Consuela catches them in the act. She pronounces them guilty of bestiality and says that May's looking at 50 years for this, but Zed goes apeshit and starts attacking. Consuela repels him with her psychic mojo, blinding him. Consuela and May agree that Zed must be destroyed, and they must become hunters and killers themselves. So they take him to a house of healing to cure his blindness. Um, what?
Okay, it's more a plastic bubble of healing, but it comes equipped with a kindly naked woman who explains the whole history of the hippie commune to Zed. Blah blah blah, violence was an epidemic, yadda yadda, we're better than everyone else so we created the vortex to get away from you filthy monkeys, and that might not have been the best move...you know how it goes. The bubble is attacked by an angry mob with torches, so Zed flees to the periphery wall to recruit some help. So much for the mellow sunshine people, eh?
The Apathetics corner him and swarm all over him, infected by his manliness and passion, and as a collective start dry-humping his leg. Zed runs and recruits the Renegades. By now everything has gone to hell. The Apathetics are kill-crazy bastards now, killing and fucking everything they see, and not necessarily in that order. The Renegades were always loony, but now they're out of their cage and are going mental all over the vortex. To evade capture, he dresses in a bridal gown (seriously) while looking for Curly. Eventually Curly arranges a meet with May and they agree that they can start this whole vortex thing over again if Zed will take on all their accumulated knowledge if he'll give them all his accumulated spooge. I can't explain how this is really supposed to help, but this director is about to go on a roll with the arty cinematography and preachy symbolism, so I'd better not try and stop him now.
For the next five minutes there's a prolonged montage where the entire commune gives Zed their wisdom via "touch telepathy" which really means everyone (mainly all the women) get naked and rub up against him while reciting banal encyclopedia entries and someone uses a slide projector to show expressionist art on their tits. No wonder these guys can't have sex anymore; they walked out of college with the worst case of blue balls imaginable!
When it's all over-- relatively speaking-- Curly explains that's not quite everything. There's a lot to do with a spaceship and their exploration of the stars which turned out to be "another dead end." So the astronauts came back and their descendents were born into vortex life. They created it to preserve humanity's knowledge from all time by ending death. Then they started jamming crystals into their own heads and it's about here where I've officially lost the plot. Something to do with the astronauts not being able to cope with immortality and being condemned as Renegades while their offspring ran things. And yes movie, if the second point you're trying to make is that immortality isn't all it's cracked up to be, welcome to one of the most classic literary clichés in sci-fi. When Freddie Mercury and Sean Connery in his own Highlander movie make the same point with "Who Wants to Live Forever," and make it more effectively in a two minute musical montage than it took Zardoz in two hours, your movie sucks. Hell, Freddie made that point better with "Fat Bottomed Girls," and that doesn't even have anything to do with immortality. It just preached a love for chicks with big asses, which the people in the Vortex desperately need!
I'd just like to recap what I've seen so far. I know this movie is just a heavy-handed attempt to pass off dime-store psychology, but in terms of plot?
Science progressed to a degree such that a group of astronauts explored the stars, found nothing, and came home.
These astronauts then decided to form a series of enclaves, inexplicably called Vortexes (Vortices?), that are enclosed with invisible walls for the purposes of preserving all of mankind's knowledge forever.
Instead of doing something sensible to preserve this knowledge, like...say, writing it down, they instead made everyone immortal, and anyone who dies for any reason is immediately cloned. In this way, violence and procreation are rendered pointless, and everyone lives in peace.
Except for the people outside the wall they don't like and never bother inviting inside. Fuck them.
In fact, you know what? Let's get Arthur to put them to work growing wheat so we can eat baguettes.
Almost immediately, the people outside the vortex walls revert to barbarism: raping, pillaging, murdering, and ordering clothes from the Men's Wearhouse.
Arthur Frayn, a strange duck who paints his face with a handlebar moustache and a soul patch decides to read The Wizard of Oz after smoking an obscene amount of dope and somehow devises a plot to force the Brutals to perform agricultural labor by erecting a giant flying stone head that vomits assault rifles and posing as a war-god named Zardoz.
Luckily, the Brutals still speak English and understand Arthur completely.
Arthur also apparently has a limitless source of guns, ammunition, horses, and matching red man-panties and kid leather thigh-boots for his minions.
Nobody bothers to supervise Arthur or question his construction of a giant stone idol or his requisition of thousands of firearms.
Apparently nobody in the future has figured out that sex serves a recreational function as well as a biological one. Despite being the guardians of all human knowledge, they've forgotten the joys of blowjobs. Many of these people stand mute all day doing nothing like most high school students.
Zed is somehow exposed to fine literature, learns to read by himself, and figures out the entire plot by reading The Wizard of Oz.
He decides to infiltrate the Zardoz head and get some revenge.
Most of the people in the commune are actually okay with this because after a few hundred years they've all realized that they're assholes and they really, really miss blowjobs. And underwear. They'd really like some underwear.
But they decide to kill Zed anyway.
So they heal him.
Then they try to kill him.
But they don't.
Then they catch him, and make some kind of compromise that involves each one of them rubbing up against him while nude and reading Wikipedia entries. In exchange, Zed will "inseminate" them all and somehow destroy the Tabernacle that gives them all immortality. Eew.
Then there's a crystal.
Then I sort of fell asleep.
Wait, does this mean that Zed just had sex with every woman in the colony? Zed, you dog! That must have taken a while... For a bunch of geniuses, that doesn't really seem like a good plan to create a viable gene pool. Even if he succeeds in knocking up every woman in the colony all the offspring will be half-Connery!
Also, remember what Zardoz said at the beginning of this movie: none of this is real! So none of what we're seeing has any significance or relevance.
Zed awakens in some kind of a wax museum wearing a new outfit. Hearing a voice, he wanders down the line of statues until one of them grabs his arm and reveals himself to be Arthur Frayn, still wearing his ridiculous magic marker handlebar moustache. He fops around quoting T.S. Eliot for a while and generally wasting our time talking about how he's Lazarus before handing Zed a crystal ball and vanishing in a puff of futility. Consuela stops by to banter about how she's become the very thing she set out to destroy, and if you hadn't taken a literature class in your life, Zed decides to rattle off some Nietzsche so the short-bus kids can catch up. Fact: people who compulsively quote Nietzsche are assholes.
Alone again, Zed gazes into a crystal he finds on the table and somehow deduces that it's the Tabernacle because it has infinite capacity for the refraction of light. Just roll with it. Zed gets sucked into the crystal, which takes the form of Connery running around a darkened hall of mirrors shouting "Tabernacle! Tabernacle!!" while lame interpretive dance is rear-projected behind him. This takes about three minutes until the voice of the Tabernacle declares for no reason "You have found the flaw in the crystal. We are destroyed." Then it goes away.
Meanwhile the rest of the hippies are smashing everything in the art museum. Consuela and her ladies find Zed passed out on the table and revive him. He tells them "stay close to me, inside my aura!" and goes around with his hand outstretched, reversing the film with his unexplained magical powers. I guess everything is set back the way it was. Curly asks what Zed plans to do now.
"An old man calls me," he says. "The voice of the turtle is heard in the land."
Zed goes to visit the Renegades who are starting to drop like flies now that the source of their immortality has buggered off, but not before another lengthy monologue about how foolish they all were to tamper in God's domain and meddle with evolution. Arthur Frayn shows up and promptly takes all the credit for bringing about the downfall of their civilization by selectively breeding Zed, introducing him to literature, allowing him into the stone head, and setting this whole course of events (which haven't really happened, remember) into motion.
Then the Exterminators show up and kill everyone in a Peckinpah blood orgy. This is extremely satisfying, as I hate all of these characters and want them to die. It would help if the supposedly dead characters would stop moving, though.
Zed and Consuela run off to live in the shattered Zardoz head, where they have a baby. The movie closes out with a goofy time-delay shot of them sitting in front of the cave wall with their baby son, American Gothic-style. Every few seconds the photograph progresses. The child gets bigger, the parents get older and wear progressively funnier age makeup. It reaches the point where they look like lawn gnomes and ends with them turning into skeletons. What, did they just sit there for sixty years and not move at all?
I mean really, who was the target audience for this nonsense? This movie seems like it was banking on its surreal imagery and its provocative subject matter to put asses in the seats, but David Lynch shits more thought-provoking things into his toilet. Did anyone honestly think a film about space hippies studying Sean Connery getting an erection would sell tickets? This was so poorly-shot and pointless I half-expected to see Terry Gilliam listed as the director.