There’s a good movie somewhere in Zardoz, but you’ll have to settle it for being very weird. A pretentious movie that thinks it is the cleverest thing to exist, there is nothing more ‘70s than this 1974 film, directed by John Boorman. It’s leaving Hulu at the end of August and you won’t see anything else like it, that’s for sure.
After 2001: A Space Odyssey came out in 1968, science-fiction became a genre where directors could explore and venture outwards, seeing what truly existed in the human psyche. Wandering alone through empty streets, like Charleton Heston does during The Omega Man, spoke to the isolation and confusion that marked the first half of the decade, which saw Americans tore apart over the Vietnam War.
Zardoz, it could be argued, attempts to heal this vicious divide. It uses a template as old as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, showing a brutal underclass forced to serve a lethargic overclass. Here, the underclass is literally called “the Brutals.” They’re ruled over by an overclass man in disguise pretending to be a god called Zardoz in the shape of a giant stone head. Zardoz tells the Brutals to kill, sexually assault, and to love guns and hate their penises.
“The gun is good. The penis is evil,” Zardoz tells them, as they cheer on horseback wearing masks that look like Zardoz. Why they all love this philosophy is never really explored.
But to watch Zardoz expecting everything to make sense is to miss the point. The only reason anyone watches Zardoz is to see Sean Connery run around in his ridiculous outfit: red booty short and shotgun pellets across his chest. Why he dresses like this is not explored either. A Brutal Executioner taught only to kill and destroy and suddenly brought to a world of immortals known as the “Eternals,” at times Connery is good enough to make you forget his outfit. Other times, he is not.
Meanwhile, the Eternals can’t die and are very boring to the extent that some of them have just become "Apathetic" (humans who just stand there and eat and do nothing else). The worst thing that can happen to an Eternal? Their punishments for rule-breaking include aging a person by days, months, or years. It’s incredibly heavy-handed, with Boorman practically screaming at the audience, “THIS IS THE PROBLEM WITH YOUNG PEOPLE!”
Another movie would eventually settle on the idea that perhaps the worlds of the idyllic and aimless and the brutal workers could eventually learn from each other. Zardoz is not a movie like that. Nor is it a movie that takes the side of either. Zardoz is not consumed with politics, but rather the essence of man. It gets very bloody and very existential and never seems to make much sense doing either. It's a movie of it's time, pre-Star Wars and Alien but post-2001, yearning for a greater point but unsure of what to do to get there. So it simply tries everything. That's worth watching the first five minutes, at least.
Zardoz is available on Hulu until August 31.