I want you to imagine something. Think about it deeply. Really see it. Ready? Okay, here it is:
Imagine you are Gary Busey. You’re in New York City, and you stop by a pharmacy to pick up your antipsychotic medication. Afterward, you’re on the subway, and Lindsay Lohan takes the seat next to you. The two of you chat amiably for awhile, then you arrive at your stop. Now, here’s the important part: As you leave the train, you accidentally grab the paper bag Lindsay brought on with her. Got that? Your antipsychotic medication is still on the train. You get home, open the bag, and — unaware of the switch — take whatever pills Lindsay Lohan was carrying with her.
The resulting hallucination is Zardoz.
Warning: Spoilers ahead
I’ve already written about the first half of this 1974 Sean Connery “classic,” directed by John Boorman. In Part 1, we learned that Connery, clad in an orange speedo and go-go boots, had infiltrated the Vortex, secret lair of the immortal Eternals. He’s learned from Eternals May and Friend that their immortality is granted by the Tabernacle, a supercomputer. Punishment for infractions in the Vortex is aging; if you’re bad, you’re still immortal, but you end up an immortal geriatric. When last we saw Connery, Friend had shown him these old immortals, who spend their days waving their arms around like idiots.
Our story continues
As we rejoin our hero, Friend takes him to see the Apathetics, Eternals who are so, well, apathetic that they’re basically catatonic. Connery tries to rouse one from her stupor, but she just stares straight ahead. So he fondles her breast because hey, what’s the point of being Sean Connery if you can’t sexually assault catatonic women?
After some more explanation of the Apathetics, Connery is taken before a large group of Eternals for more study. It seems they’re interested in his ability to become sexually aroused. As Consuela tells the group, Eternal men have lost the ability to achieve arousal because there’s no need for procreation when you’re immortal. This, by the way, is an example of a movie trope I particularly hate: A character relating information that everyone in the movie already knows, merely to impart said information to the audience.
A sexy, sexy lab rat
At any rate, Consuela wants to study the link between “erotic stimulation” and male arousal. She shows Connery some pornographic movies but gets no response. Then he looks at her and instantly becomes aroused, much to her chagrin and her fellow Eternals’ amusement. Hmm… Consuela thinks Connery is a beast. She hates his guts. I wonder if she’ll eventually fall in love with him?
Now Connery undergoes more testing from May. She tells him that he seems to have been genetically engineered, and he is actually far superior — both mentally and physically — to the Eternals. All except that “he can die” thing, I guess. At any rate, May agrees not to tell anyone, since the others would want to exterminate him immediately if they found out.
Later, the Eternals are sitting around a table eating lunch, which Connery is serving. Consuela again insists that they kill him quickly. May and Friend are against it. They take some kind of telepathic vote, and May is given seven days to experiment on him. At the end of that time, he will be exterminated. Then the Eternals decide to undergo “Level 2 Meditation.” This involves standing up and wiggling their fingers in the air like idiots. Friend doesn’t want to meditate with the rest, and he is pronounced a rebel and sentenced to aging.
Finally cathing up to the plot
Connery finds Friend, now sporting really awful age makeup, living with the other senile immortals. Friend and the other old Eternals long for death, but that would require the destruction of the Tabernacle. Connery agrees to aid them, then goes looking for May. He finds her wearing a bedsheet over her head. Okay then. She also longs for his help dying, and he agrees to let her probe his mind. It’s now that we find out how Connery got aboard the giant Zardoz head (see Part 1) in the first place.
Connery was an Exterminator, happy with his lot. He raped and killed “Brutals” all day in the Outlands and did a damn fine job of it, thank you. Every so often, the giant Zardoz head, god of the Exterminators, would show up demanding an offering of grain. Things were pretty sweet, all in all.
Then one day, something changed. While raping and killing in an abandoned city, he was lured into a derelict building that turned out to be a library. Finding a child’s spelling book, he taught himself to read. He began devouring book after book. Then one day, he came upon the book — the book that made him realize his entire life was a lie. That book: The Wizard of Oz. In that book, Connery said, God turned out to be a mask worn by an ordinary man. He realized then that the Zardoz head must be something similar.
With his fellow Exterminators, he hatched a plan to stow away aboard the head, fly back to wherever it came from, and take revenge on those who’d lied to the Brutals for centuries. Which finally, more than halfway through the picture, brings us up to speed. We exit this flashback to find Connery and a now-topless May (um, okay then) huddled under the sheet. May wants Connery to make love to her, because it’s the early 70s and she’s a heterosexual woman. But then Consuela arrives and Connery must make his escape.
You scratch my back…
He’s aided by yet another Eternal woman, who tells him that she will teach him everything the Eternals know in return for him impregnating a few of the women and killing her when the time comes. What follows is actually rather visually interesting, or would have been if it hadn’t been so interminable. The Eternals teach Connery through physical contact, so apparently he absorbs hundreds of years of knowledge while sexing them up. This is conveyed through a series of shots of musical notation, equations and artwork projected onto Connery’s face and the nude bodies of various women. A striking sequence, as I said, except it goes on forever.
And ever. And ever.
On the run
At the end of it, Connery is extremely knowledgeable, but also a wanted man. Consuela is leading a lynch mob of Eternals against him. He hides among the Apathetics. There, the girl whose breast he groped earlier, suddenly a little less catatonic, reaches out and wipes a bead of sweat from his brow and licks it off her finger. Suddenly, she’s cured.
That’s right. Sean Connery’s man-sweat cured her catatonia.
She starts curing the other Apathetics, who start having sex, impotence be damned.
(As an aside, these old 70s sci-fi films point up an interesting thing about the young British actors of the time: It was entirely possible for them to deliver very prim-and-proper-sounding line readings while nude and twisted into various sexual contortions. There’s no greater point here; I just find it interesting.)
At any rate, Connery is smuggled to Friend while wearing a wedding dress. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know. Quite frankly, I’ve stopped caring.
Anyway, Connery finds a safe haven in a building with a lot of mannequins and Greek statuary. No, I don’t know why it’s there. In the building, he meets the reconstituted Arthur (the towel-headed guy he shot at the beginning of this move, thirty-five years ago). Arthur tells Connery that he (Arthur) is actually responsible for Connery’s existence. Two hundred years ago, it seems, Arthur began genetically engineering a line of mutants, of which Connery is the last generation. The ultimate goal, Arthur said, was to create a being capable of destroying the Tabernacle and releasing the Eternals from their curse of immortality.
Connery takes the news that he’s an artificially constructed person rather well. He quickly figures out that the Tabernacle is a peach-sized diamond. How a large diamond can function as a supercomputer is not adequately explained.
Diamonds are forever
Somehow Connery ends up inside the diamond. This isn’t adequately explained either. He wanders around a mirror-maze, beset by images of various Eternals doing the Watusi. No, I don’t know why. And you know what? I don’t care why anymore. Anyway, Connery shoots his reflection and somehow that takes care of the Tabernacle.
Outside the diamond, Consuela finds Connery but can’t bring herself to kill him because she is suddenly and inexplicably in love with him. He steals off with her and a few friendly Eternal women, whom he has apparently impregnated, and sends the other women off on horseback, giving them instructions on how to escape the Vortex — something which he was unable to do himself earlier, but the hell with it.
Then he and Consuela, along with Friend and Arthur, gather with the rest of the Eternals, who are all thrilled to find out that they’re finally mortal. The Eternal lady who helped him earlier asks him to kill her as promised, but Connery is a changed man. He can’t bring himself to do it.
The shocking (yawn) twist
But an instant later, she gets her wish anyway. Connery’s fellow Exterminators have found the Vortex, and they suddenly storm in, guns blazing. The Eternals are extremely pleased at this prospect and beg the Exterminators to kill them. The Exterminators are only too happy to oblige. Soon all the Eternals lay dead, and the Exterminators look around for Connery, possibly so they can all go to the bar and celebrate a job well done with a cold round of Miller Light. But Connery is nowhere to be found.
He has, in fact, stolen away with Consuela. They’re hiding out in the crashed remnants of the giant Zardoz head. Incidentally, the giant Zardoz head crashed earlier. Now Connery and Consuella make their home there. In time-lapse, we see Consuela give birth, the child grow up and leave home, and Consuela and Connery grow old, die, decompose, and finally crumble to dust. The end.
What the hell was that?
So that’s Zardoz. After watching the film, I’m conflicted. It had a few good performances — particularly Connery’s — and some of the visuals were genuinely striking. On the other hand, it was, from beginning to end, baboon-slappingly insane.
It’s movies like this — so heavy-handed in their allegory and so hippie-dippy that even the pervasive nudity becomes irritating — that make me want to travel back to the late 60s and early 70s, grab a young Baby Boomer, and just shake him until his teeth fly out. “Look, Rainbow Peace Child!” I would scream. “You are nowhere near as profound as you think you are!”
I’d call Zardoz a terrible, freak occurrence, but the fact is that the 60s and 70s were awash in this weird-ass stuff. From Richard Burton lapping Scotch off the floor in Candy to the co-ed nude “zoom circle” in The Harrad Experiment, 60s and 70s cinema was filled with Boomers and Boomer wannabes who felt their social, political, religious, and sexual insights were far more profound than any that came before. While they were the first generation to realize that it was okay to enjoy sex, and they were right about Vietnam, I can’t abide the general air of smug know-it-all-ishness that permeates so many films of the time. It’s enough to make you want to vomit. But Zardoz, at least, gave us all a priceless, priceless gift:
Sean Connery in a wedding dress. For that, Zardoz, you have my everlasting gratitude. Shine on, you crazy diamond!