Forget what you know about movies. Plunge yourself nearly 30 years into Hollywood's past. Once there, open the mysteriously glowing door to the sci-fi genre and enter. Star Wars, the original, has not yet happened, and neither has Industrial Light and Magic. George Lucas may or may not be working on THX-1139, his student remake/spin-off of Fritz Lange'sMetropolis. This out-of-the-way corner of the video continuum is cluttered with props fallen from Ed Wood pictures, unpolished concepts that may one day lead to New Age Thinking, special effects ranging from lighting gels to smoke and mirrors. Now, what's the first thing you expect to see?
A head with wispy moustache and van dyke, with bright eyes and a vaguely Egyptian headdress appears, sans body in the black distance. You are in Johnathan Boorman's unique vision called Zardoz.
The head belongs to a character called "Arthur Frame." Johnathan Boorman is a master of the blatant subtlety: Art Frame delivers the film's prologue, discussing its aesthetics as a film. Before vanishing, Art Frame poses the sticky paradox that just as he is a character in a film, ruled by an invisible writer, so we, the viewers, are unaware of our "writer." Art Frame serves here as a sort of Shakespearean prologue; but whereas the Bard used his prologues to invite and welcome his audience in, Boorman boldly reinvents the concept by having his prologue make the viewer feel uncomfortable and confused.
Now we enter the "Outlands" where Sean Connery, playing a character called "Zed" rides with his fellow hunters to pay worshipful homage to their God, Zardoz. Zardoz appears, floating out of the sky as though he were a model floated in by monofilament in front of a bluescreen. Zardoz is an enormous stone head, sans body, with an equally enormous scowl. The "brutal" Outlanders feed grain into the huge mouth, and in return Zardoz vomits piles of rifles and guns. The hunters take the guns and start killing the peasantry.
Connery's Zed is a rough, brutish character. It's great to see Connery stretch his acting by playing a character so totally unlike James Bond who is handsome, intelligent, suave, articulate, and likeable. Zed has it in his head to topple Zardoz, or at least to find out what the godhead is all about. So he climbs into the mouth and winds up riding Zardoz into a place called "The Vortex."
Here resides all that is civilized in the year 2293: nice farm houses and structures so technologically advanced that they appear to be completely simplistic and meaningless. Zed meets the immortal Vortex dwellers: he meets "May" who asks permission to study him, "Fren" who wants to befriend him, and others with names that are equally iconographic. Boorman makes sure he misses no archetypes, and makes sure we don't miss his not missing any archetypes; so he has characters explain everything so that the slower among us won't miss it. If nothing else, Boorman is egalitarian.
Shall I call him visionary? Well, shall I? The plot rambles on for over two hours as do the pompous doings in the Vortex. The actors have complete freedom to do just about whatever they want. When Fren turns renegade he intones the word "No," again and again in such a voice as has never ever been used to intone the word "No" before or since. It's quite fascinating.
And for the undying adolescent male that lurks in the psyche of every viewer (lets call this archetypal young male "Jack"), there is a steady pulse of bare-breastedness that culminates in a learning orgy. Zed impregnates each central female Vortexian with his "seed" as they impregnate him with their collective knowledge. On screen, this looks like a seven-minute slide show on the peak aspects of Western Culture projected onto the moving bodies of naked women. Boorman makes learning fun!
"Consuela," the best-looking of the women Vortexians has organized all her fellows into a riot with the sole intention of killing Zed before he somehow causes the death of them all.
Zed manages to escape using special effects, as Consuela suddenly has a change of heart and falls in love with him. Boorman certainly keeps one on one's toes.
The Vortex crumbles in a long scene of intense violence - and acting. Another Boorman trait is to let all scenes play out fully - and completely and utterly--before ending. This may baffle people used to the super-fast-cuts of contemporary movies.
The film ends with the one scene that stuck with me since I saw this movie one afternoon when I was sick and home from school: Zed and his bride hold hands and age. They get older and older and older until they are two smiling skeletons, and then dust.
Now, I won't tell you that these 9 1/4 stars are for sheer entertainment value alone. As a curio, this film rates a 10. As a story, it's a nine. But if you decide to see it, it will probably be because of the breasts. If you are in the habit of renting cult films regardless of quality, then consuming recreational substances, and finally zoning out to whatever appears from the VCR, then this is the movie for you!