If you can get past the ghastly sight of swarthy Sean Connery running around in a red diaper for two hours, you might enjoy this heady sci-fi flick from writer/director John Boorman (Excalibur, Deliverance). It’s the year 2293 and Connery plays Zed, a man whose God, Zardoz, raised him to be a savage killer. But when Zed stows away to another world, he comes into conflict with a small group of elite, immortal beings who want to study and destroy him.
With its campy costumes and production design, casual nudity, and a frank recurring discussion of genitalia and sexuality (including a progressive slide show of the male erection), Zardoz often feels like a tongue-in-cheek cult movie. Boorman opens the film with a goofy-looking floating head that tries to prepare us for what we’re about to see. It’s the floating head of Zardoz the God, and he sets the scene for a tale that ends up being both satirical and provocative, futuristic sci-fi as well as religious allegory.
Zardoz is a surprisingly literary film, but not one without a healthy sense of humor. At times, it reminds me of a Terry Gilliam movie — especially when we’re introduced to the ‘renegades,’ a band of immortals who have been exiled and punished with aging. The result is like a scene from a retirement home dance party — which could have been a scene from Brazil if not for the hideous red diaper.
While I don’t love the costume and production design, I marvel at Geoffrey Unsworth’s gorgeous cinematography. I was already a fan of Unsworth’s smokey, soft lighting, but Zardoz gives the photographer the opportunity to experiment with rear-projection, models, mirrors, and images projected on actors. The climax of this inventiveness is when Zed gets trapped in a crystal where images repeat to infinity, or splinter like a kaleidoscope.
Zardoz is a confounding movie. It looks so silly, and yet it’s so interesting. It’s a rare film that can be taken for dismissive camp or collegiate study. I dug it on both levels.
With Charlotte Rampling and John Alderton.