Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “Zardoz”

Dear Frank,

There are times when I am well-versed in the media we’re discussing when I sit down to watch it, and times when I am not. This is the latter. Here is literally all I know about this movie: It is called Zardoz, and Sean Connery is in it, and I think it was made in the 70s. I have NO IDEA what is about to happen to me, and to be completely honest I’m a little nervous.

And okay, I just paused a minute in because WHAT THE FUCK. I think I’m going to be saying that a lot, based on this first minute. Some disembodied head wearing a towel is saying that his name is Zardoz and he’s a fake god and this movie might take place in “a possible future.” Was this the first movie ever made that took place in the future, and the filmmakers were nervous that no one would understand that it took place in the future and so they slapped this bit onto the beginning? ONLY POSSIBLE EXPLANATION.


And I have just paused AGAIN because the title card “A Film By John Boorman/Set In the Year 2293” has come up and oh my god Frank my theory that this movie was made for people who don’t get how movies set in the future work is seeming more and more accurate. Sure, this movie was made in 1974, people aren’t used to the concept of the post-apocalypse, but STILL.

Okay, now a bunch of dudes are riding around on horseback and following around a giant floating stone head. (Floating heads appear to be this film’s primary visual motif.) The giant floating head is also called Zardoz. And it has strong feelings about guns (they’re good, because they kill people) and penises (which are bad, because they make more people). And then a bunch of guns shoot out of Zardoz’s mouth so that his followers (a bunch of guys wearing orange short-shorts and bandoleers) can presumably go about killing lots of people.

Oh, and here’s Sean Connery! He doesn’t have a Zardoz mask, but he does have a fetching mustache and a revolver, which he shoots at the camera. So daring!

After the completion of a credits sequence, we find that Sean Connery has snuck on board the giant stone Zardoz, which is full of shrink-wrapped half-naked people (presumably alive) and human skulls (presumably dead). He’s still got his gun, though, which he uses to shoot — the Blue Towel Guy! Blue Towel Guy, who is also presumably Zardoz, then falls out of stone Zardoz’s mouth, shouting about all the things he could have shown Sean.

And now I gave up on trying to recap what is happening before my eyes, because WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS MOVIE SERIOUSLY.

Deep breaths. Okay. After watching for about half an hour, I think I have a better understanding of what is happening. To this movie’s credit, you really do get thrown into the action. To this movie’s discredit, it is stupid and I hate it.

What happens is that Sean Connery continues riding around inside the Zardoz head until he ends up in a peaceful community of pampered layabouts who all wear crop tops and are fascinated by the presence of someone from the outside, especially a butch savage like Sean (oh, he has a name now! “Zed”). Some of them, thanks to being shut off from the outside world, are fascinated in a SEXY way.

Initially, all Zed does is work as slave labor, carrying stuff and pulling carts and shit. There’s one Uptight Lady, however, who’s not impressed, and is very concerned about how he ended up there and the threat he represents to their happy society.

The happy society, though, appears to be crumbling — there are people called “the apathetics” who are apparently super-bored to the point of being catatonic, and while everyone is immortal (sure) anyone who revolts is aged some portion of years as punishment and forced to live separately from the others. No crop tops for them!

The science ladies are doing experiments on Zed, scanning his memories to understand the outside world and making him watch porn to see if he can get an erection, because apparently this society has lost the ability to get erections? I don’t fucking know. He doesn’t get an erection during the porn, but does get an erection over Uptight Lady. Awkwarrrrrrd.

I just… This movie, man. At one point, for example, I wrote “This curly-haired duder gets labeled a renegade and is psychically aged a shit-ton at at the dinner table.” That’s a thing that happens. Totally normal thing.

What I’m trying to do here, Frank, is capture the pure essence of what it’s like to watch ZardozZardoz is a wandering boring confusing fascinating mess of a film, though, to the point where words defy it. Except for this (from my notes): “Ugh I fucking haaaaaaaaaaaate this movie.”

Eventually what one of the science ladies figures out is that Zed’s arrival in their colony was planned, because he came across a book in an abandoned library which revealed that Zardoz was a homage to The Wizard of Oz, which thus shook his faith in his Zardoz worship, and inspired him to seek out the truth of what was going on.

What is that truth? Well, Blue Towel Guy was the person designated by the crop top people to maintain some sort of order among the savages in the Outlands, so he created the cult of Zardoz-worshippers to murder them with guns. False gods do not look behind the curtain blah blah blah. It’s funny, because the whole thing where Blue Towel Guy and Giant Stone Head had the same names made me think of Oz at the very beginning, but it’s not like I NEEDED to know, you know?

Anyway, the colony is thrown into chaos as it splits into two factions — one that wants to protect Zed, and one that wants to murder him. Uptight Lady is the leader of the murder squad, and she literally rides around on a horse carrying a torch and it is AWESOME. Uptight Lady is my favorite, and she is played by Charlotte Rampling who is pretty.

Until, that is, when Zed gets filled with knowledge by one of the main science ladies and also gets handed some sort of crystal containing power; seeing him hold the crystal makes Uptight Lady immediately switch to being his number one fangirl. For fuck’s sake.

They flee from the colony as a whole bunch of Zardoz-worshippers invade, murdering the crop-toppers (who are now no longer immortal, right, that’s a thing that happened), who are all screaming “Kill me! I want to die!” because apparently being immortal got boring. I kind of want to die just watching this movie about their lives, so I guess I understand.

Zed and Uptight Lady flee to the Zardoz head, make a baby, and through a quick series of dissolves we see the kid grow up and leave the head as Zed and Uptight Lady age and die. The last shot? A decaying gun next to some cave-painting-ish handprints. OMG WHAT COULD IT MEAN?

I don’t fucking know. That’s what happened in Zardoz, Frank. Let us never speak of it again.


About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor, and has been talking about television on the Internet since the very beginnings of the Internet. She is currently Senior TV Editor at Collider, and her work has also been published by the New York Times, Vulture, Variety, the AV Club, the Hollywood Reporter, IGN, The Verge, and Thought Catalog. She is also a produced playwright, a host of podcasts, and a repository of "X-Files" trivia.

Posted on May 18, 2011, in All the Spoilers, Movies and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Unless your rant is a farce, you missed a lot here. Much of what was going on had to do with an actor (SC) leaving a role (JB) and having an identity crisis. The film is a common scifi theme, but in this case based on an ancient text (unlike the more common Planet of the Apes and the Statue of Liberty), and the idea that magic and sufficiently advanced technology are indiscernible.

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