Zardox a film by John Boorman at the Sack Cheri
IT'S A SHAME that more people aren't going to see Zardoz. Perhaps homosexual rape and man's battle against nature ring more resonantly than sci-fi satire in the vacuous American psyche: No other hypothesis can account for the low popularity of John Boorman's latest film, which is almost as exciting and far more provocative than the same director's excellent and well-received Deliverance.
Zardoz is a vision of the world 839 years after 1984 Marx once wrote that all schemes of the future must be reactionary, since they are based on conceptions of the past. But it would be fairer to call Zardoz conservative. It is an extrapolation of the present. A group of scientists have achieved their ideal: the creation of an isolated world of enlightened immortals. This utopia, called a vortex, is encased like a gem within a matrix peopled by "brutals." The brutals are consigned to mortality, a mortality heightened by exterminators who massacre the brutals to prevent overpopulation. The immortals of the vortex are oblivious to these horrors. Only one of them ventures into the outlands. He travels in a giant stone head to organize exterminations, and he is the brutals' god. He is called Zardoz.
The film is a variation on the Connecticut Yankee saga. An exterminator enters a vortex, precipitating the events of the movie. The great problem of the immortals is boredom. Boredom is a problem which seems only to get worse, and the entrance of the intruder, excellently played by Sean Connery, promises a rare amusement. Lately, an epidemic has swept through the population, leaving its victims--called "apathetics"--looking like rag dolls. The expression of bemused revulsion on Connery's face when the apathetics, dramatically geritolized by the sweat on his body, paw him with open lust, is a high point of the film.
This all sounds familiar enough to rank automatically as satire, but the distributors or the director hadn't much confidence in their audience. The opening and closing scenes of Zardoz state with no attempt at subtlety that this movie's tongue is unequivocally planted in its cheek. The bulk of the movie is far less obvious. One suspects the distributor was learning the lessons of Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye. But while that film, after being recalled, was left unmutilated with a change only in the advertising campaign, Zardoz has been more clearly, albeit unnecessarily, labeled.
If as a futuristic vision it is conservative, as a satire Zardoz is radical. In its contempt for scientific progress unalloyed by humanism, in its parody of man's attraction to death over life, in its mockery of religious faith, "the good life," and beauty and truth alike, Zardoz digs away at most of our rationalizations for living. As an alternative, it offers death: the first pastel holocaust I've seen on the screen. It is, as they say, worth the price of admission alone.