This week’s film, Zardoz, has the dubious distinction of being the most commonly nominated movie in the Hunt so far. Yikes. Sucks to be you, Zardoz. It’s also the oldest film we’ve talked about, made in 1974. That’s why they refer to the years between Zardoz and Baby Geniuses as “the Golden Age of cinema” (no they don’t.) Now, usually I suffer alone, in silence, as I was taught to do, but this week my friend Scott was in town visiting and I forced him to share my pain, and let me just say that he couldn’t have picked a better weekend. The idea of sitting through this by myself, without anyone there to make jokes with or clean out the barf bucket is untenable. You know how Ian Curtis supposedly watched Werner Herzog’s Strozek the day he killed himself? I’m just saying Strozek isn’t the only movie that has a loosely drawn casual connection to suicide. Not anymore. Because I’m drawing it for Zardoz. With a knife. In my wrist skin.
Zardoz is the name of a God in a magical floating stone head full of sand who pukes guns onto a tribe of “brutals,” all of whom look like Burt Reynolds in red speedos, thigh high boots, and silk bandoliers, and then Zardoz instructs them to shoot anyone running on the beach wearing a blazer. One of the brutals, Sean Connery, hides in a pile of sand in the stone head and shoots a jester who falls out of the head’s mouth and the head is also full of people wrapped in saran wrap. When the head lands next to a lake, Sean Connery gets out and runs around a house that’s decorated like a hippie’s dorm room, and he finds a Google ring that answers all of his questions. The house is part of a castle where the “eternals” live. There are two factions of eternals. One who wants to kill Sean Connery, and one who wants to study him because he gets boners and they’re like “check out his boners.” When “eternals” commit crimes, their punishment is to age, and when they get very old they are banished to a carnival where all the old people dance and get angry. Eventually, it turns out that Sean Connery is actually really smart because one time in a library he realized that Zardoz is really a play on the Wizard of Oz, and that’s why Sean Connery has come to destroy the Vortex (which is the name of the castle where the eternals live), and the eternals are actually kind of happy because they all just want to die, and then Sean Connery and this lady go live in a cave and have a baby and turn into skeletons.
Zardoz is not entirely unique. It fits into a common trend of late ’60s and ’70s filmmaking, which was to somehow capture the experience of all the great drugs everyone was doing and to further explore the cocktail party philosophy of campy alternative religions. But even that can’t be a satisfactory explanation of why this movie exists. Because drugs only last for a few hours, while movies take months to make, and hundreds of people. Surely someone must have stopped at some point, looked around them, and said “no, David Blaine.” Because this shit is unacceptable.
While you’re watching it, at first you can’t help but wonder what Sean Connery was thinking, but as the movie goes on, you start to realize that probably he just wasn’t. He’s the purest form of “actor,” in the sense that every facial expression he makes and line reading he delivers is so clearly guided by the director’s demands. “Look surprised, Sean Connery. Look confused, Sean Connery. Put on this underwear, Sean Connery. No nothing else, just this underwear.” I haven’t had a chance to revisit any of his other movies yet, but I’m pretty sure I’ve cracked the Connery Code (one of the most ancient and mysterious of codes). He’s a cipher. Make of him what you will, a cool spy, a master-criminal, or, in this case, an incredible buffoon. He will hit his mark.
Look, I’m all for trying to do something big and bold. And I respect writer/director John Boorman’s unrelenting attempt to bring his vision to life. He was trying to tell a story about class (the whole thing takes place in the future after a cataclysmic world event, the eternals are the wealthy, who have shut themselves off in a false paradise, while the poor are left to kill each other under the guidance of the rich), and that’s fair enough. But what part of your instructional parable about class explains the floating stone Zardoz head? What does the empty dream of eternal life have to do with a subpar junior high health ed class?
All in all, as painful and incomprehensible as it is, and as misguided and foolhearty in its ambitions as it was, Zardoz may have escaped the title of TWMOAT simply by being old. It stands now as some kind of cultural artifact. It’s like an old ad telling you that four out of five doctors prefer Pall Mall cigarettes. Sure, an ad like that is ridiculous, and was probably harmful in the time it was published, but now it’s just a funny little artifact reminding us how we used to be cavemen, and how our children will think the same kinds of things when they see our art. That we’re insane. And retarded.