The thing about science fiction, for me at least, is often the setting of the piece. This is why I have always liked Zardoz.

The core of the place is a crystal, light, computer called the Eternal Tabernacle. Each Eternal, for the main characters live eternally, have a ring with a crystal which, through the computer, joins them to every other. They also have a small crystal in their foreheads which also connect them--especially in, so-called, second order meditation, which has taken the place of sleep, and dreaming.

Groups of Eternals live in smallish communities called Vorticies where they produce various things that are exchanged with other Vorticies. The Eternal Tabernacle periodically lists surpluses and requirements of each Vortex.

In this perfect society the Eternals pursue artistic, literary, and scientific interests with the assistance of the light computer, and those others as would like to join.

It was the image of a circle of Eternals in second level meditation, casting out a renegade that kept drawing me to the movie.

Now the look of the movie, as well as everything else about it, is from the imagination of John Boorman who wrote, produced, and directed it.

Possibly a bad movie, as suggested above, but in the 15 or more years since it was produced, light computers are now not a fantasy. A team at the University of Toronto this spring created/discovered a crystal that manipulates light the way silicon manipulates electricity.

Just another example of the way the human imagination anticipates the scientific intellect.


Later addenda

The flying head is manned by one Arthur Friend who, under the influence of the Eternal Tabernacle, begins the experiments in genetic selection which result in the birth of the Sean Connery character.

The entire religion of Zardoz was established to bring death to the Eternals. Clone's quote is part of it. The change of the exterminators' job from killing those on the outside, to making them plant and grow food is part of it. Hence the tribute to be placed in the flying head.

Th tribute is needed because the Eternals are afflicted with an overwhelming apathy, and cannot provide for themselves. This is the consequence of immortality. Hence the religion that Arthur Friend creates.

The only question: Who really is the man behind the curtain? Is it Arthur, who thinks he is. Or the Eternal Tabernacle as the Connery character, which has the greater intellect, concludes.

One of the many fun things about this movie is the giant flying head that gathers tribute amongst the savage humans who dwell outside of the Vortices. The head is a god called Zardoz

Some of the savages, such as Sean Connery, are the priests of the giant flying heads and wear papier maché helmets identical to the head while they ride about on horseback and pillage the other savages.

Connery leaps into the maw of the head and is whisked off to the village of the Eternals. While they decide what to do with him, he roots about and discovers that the entire social structure which condemns some humans to live in benighted ignorance while others loll about in silken togas is based on an old story: L. Frank Baum's novel The Wizard of Oz. Zardoz is just an empty figure head. Well, flying head.

One of the greatest things about this movie can only be found in the Japanese dubbed version from so many years ago: The actor playing the Sean Connery character actually tried to imitate his voice, slurred sibilants and all. "Zhardosh."

300 years in the future the race of man has been divided in two. The elite live in the Vortex, a community of peace and harmony, separated from the devastated outside world by an impenetrable barrier, no one in the vortex ever dies. Led by the Eternal Tabernacle, an all-knowing computer, the Eternals live their days in pursuit of science, art and literature. On the other side of the transparent barrier exist the rest of humanity, the Brutals.

The Brutals are what remains of the mortal human race. At first the Eternals were simply happy to ignore the filthy Brutals, but when the apathy of immortality set in, it was clear to some that the Brutals could be used to collect food for the Eternals, freeing themselves from that last, nasty little labor. At the prompting of the Eternal Tabernacle Arthur Frayn begins a campaign of religious terror on the Brutals. He utilizes giant floating heads to terrorize the savages and to collect the tribute of grain that they farm under the brutal supervision of the Exterminators.

Unbeknownst to the other Eternals, Frayn has his own agenda. He uses his position of power to engage in a selective breeding program amongst the Exterminators that eventually results in Zed, a superior man, both physically and mentally. Frayn is counting on Zed to destroy all the Eternals because he lacks the will to continue living but is kept immortal by the Tabernacle.

Zed happens upon an abandoned library one day while pursuing a mysterious figure. The figure taunts Zed and eventually teaches him how to read revealing to Zed that the religion of Zardoz is based loosely, very loosely, on Frank L. Baum's WiZARD of OZ. Faced with a lack of faith and the desire for revenge upon the creators of Zardoz, Zed sneaks aboard the Zardoz head and infiltrates the Vortex, where all holy hell eventually breaks loose. Zed is faced with a completely alien society where women want him and men want him to kill them.


Zardoz has taken it on the chin for almost thirty years and as near as I can tell the only reason for its vilification is Sean Connery's costume of red he-man bikinis and thigh high leather boots. Don't let that image put you off though; Zardoz is far more than a cheap English Sci-fi flick.

Zardoz was written directed and produced by John Boorman, the same man who directed Excalibur, Deliverance, The Emerald Forest, Point Blank and Hell In the Pacific. Boorman is no cheap thrill director and his reputation was well established as a man who could deal with the cranky Lee Marvin and still turn out good films. In 1972 he had won two Oscars for Deliverance, one as Best Director and the other as Producer for Best Picture. Although he faltered with Exorcist II: the Heretic and spent years in an unsuccessful attempt to bring Lord of the Rings to the screen, he wasn't the sort of man to throw it all into what some people refer to as one of the worst films ever.

I'll step up and admit that the opening line "The gun is good... The penis is evil, the penis shoots seeds." doesn't give a film a whole lot of room to grow, no pun intended. Although the film was eventually distributed by Twentieth Century Fox, it received little support from the studio during production. The racy material of the script and the perceived anti-religious message of the story caused some problems for Boorman but didn't prevent him from signing Sean Connery in the lead role. Connery reportedly reviewed the script while golfing in Spain and liked it so much he flew directly to Ireland to meet Boorman.

Boorman claims that he was inspired to write Zardoz after a trip to California's Nature Communes and by the poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Elliot.

   Would it have been worthwhile,
   To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
   To have squeezed the Universe into a ball
   To roll it towards some over-whelming question
   To say I am Lazarus, come from the dead
   Come back to tell you all . . .

What Boorman has really created is a dissertation of class separation, anti-technology and the danger of unbalancing natures design. Watch it again, this time with an open mind for the message and you'll see that in the end Nature asserts its force over the violators through the instrument of Zed. His coming was inevitable and the balance he brought erased the influence of the technology on the land.

These ideas are probably the most dated part of the film, with the possible exception of Connery's dashing wardrobe, and may be largely responsible for the bad rap the film has received in late years. Make no mistake though, this is not a B grade Sci-fi flick, it's one man's honest attempt to parlay a message of concern and warning against those who would claim that they have it all figured out, that their way is the best way.


ARTHUR FRAIN: I bred you, I led you.

ZED: And I have looked in the face of the force that put the idea in your head. You were bred and led yourself.

Sources:
http://www.imdb.com
http://othyrworld.com/zardoz/

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