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Film / Zardoz

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"You have been raised up from Brutality, to kill the Brutals who multiply, and are legion. To this end, Zardoz, your God, gave you the gift of the Gun. The Gun is good."
"The Penis, is evil. The Penis shoots seeds, and makes new life to poison the Earth with a plague of men, as once it was. But the Gun shoots death, and purifies the Earth of the filth of Brutals. Go forth, and kill! Zardoz has spoken!"

Zardoz, released in 1974, is neither a mindless sci-fi action movie nor a serious Science Fiction film à la Tarkovsky or Kubrick. It's... hard to describe, except to say its mind-melting imagery practically defines the concept of the Mind Screw. How Mind-screwy, you ask? What if we told you that it REALLY WAS made on drugs? Still, a plot summary may help.

It is 2293 AD. A post-apocalyptic Earth is inhabited mostly by the "Brutals", simple soil-tilling serf types, who are in turn overseen by Exterminators. These Exterminators worship the god Zardoz, a huge, flying, hollow stone head that dispenses weaponry and ammunition by the truckload. One day, an Exterminator named Zed (Sean Connery) gets swept up into the hollow stone head and finds himself in the presence of the Eternals, an elite class who, way back in the 20th century, discovered the secret to immortality and removed themselves from all that penis-having to the rarefied heights.

Life has become so meaningless for Eternals that Zed is hailed as manna from heaven. Some, however, see him as a dangerous threat to their status as higher beings. As it turns out, a lot of the Eternal scientists are female, with Consuella (Charlotte Rampling) leading the anti-Zed coalition, while May (Sara Kestelman) feels that studying an odd creature like Zed will answer numerous questions about how the Eternals evolved to their exalted status. They argue all this for a while. However, other Eternals, like Friend (John Alderton), have had quite enough of being immortal and start clamouring for Zed to kill them and end their awful tedium.

Fun fact: Writer-Director John Boorman wanted to adapt The Lord of the Rings, but that fell through. It's that project which inspired Zardoz (and his later Excalibur). It's a trippy dystopian fantasy full of psychotropics, philosophical something-or-another, and copious shots of topless women, made by a writer/director who, as previously mentioned, was on massive amounts of drugs during filming, to the point where even he doesn't know what half of the weirdness means.

Fun Fact: The DC Comics superhero Vartox's design is an homage to Zed.

"Meditate on these Tropes at Second Level":

  • Actor Allusion: In his first scene, Sean Connery aims his gun at the camera and shoots it.
  • After the End: The story takes place centuries after what was probably a nuclear war, and civilization as it was known in the 20th century isn't even a memory to anyone but the Eternals.
  • Age Cut: The final scene takes it further than most, aging two characters and their newborn son repeatedly until the adult son walks off and the parents remain until they're nothing but skeletons.
  • Age Without Youth: The exiles, aged as punishment and left in an old folks home.
  • All Are Equal in Death: The final scene has everyone dying, whether shot or just dying of old age.
  • And I Must Scream: The Apathetics are a subset of the Eternals who have become so tired of immortality that they literally are almost catatonic.
  • Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: With the Tabernacle destroyed, the Eternals are happy to be mortal again, and when Avalow asks Zed to kill her, he raises his gun, only to lower it, saying "All that I was is gone.". Then, suddenly, somebody does shoot her, and we see that it was one of the Exterminators that Zed was working with. Since the Tabernacle had been destroyed, the invisible shield separating the Vortex was gone, too, allowing them to enter and start killing the Eternals.
  • Batman Gambit: Arthur Frayn's plan to breed a line of smart Exterminators and lure them into a library in the hopes that they would find a way to break into the Vortex and figure out how to destroy it. Once he leads Zed into the library, Arthur is relying on Zed to act as he expects.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: An interesting little subplot that gets lost amid all the craziness is that Zed arouses Consuella's long-dormant lust, but she doesn't seem to know how to react, which is a big reason why she's so adamant about killing him.
  • Birth-Death Juxtaposition: Again, the final scene has people being gunned down while Consuella gives birth.
  • Blessed with Suck: The Eternals' immortality. At first that seemed like a good idea until boredom set in and with no way to end it.
  • Body Horror: The immortals punish the criminal by speed-aging the offender. The more you resist, the closer you get to endless senility...
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Arthur Frayn's opening prologue.
  • Cargo Cult: The Exterminators worship Zardoz because he keeps them well-supplied with guns and ammo.
  • Carpet of Virility: Zed in his Stripperiffic outfits.
  • Character Title: One-Word Title due to the titular god having Only One Name.
  • The Chessmaster: Arthur Frayn, who created Zed and brought him to the vortex to destroy the Eternals.
  • The Chosen One: Zed, chosen by Frayn to end the Eternals' misery.
  • Cool Guns: The revolver that Connery-as-Zed uses onscreen is a rare Webley-Fosbery "automatic revolver", and the operation of its unusual mechanism is displayed in a scene.note 
  • Crapsaccharine World: The Vortex. It certainly looks cleaner than the irradiated wasteland of the Brutals, but Zed inevitably learns that looks aren't everything.
    Zed: This place is built on lies and suffering!
  • Creator Cameo: Boorman appears as a Brutal who gets shot in the head.
  • Crossdresser: The Renegades need to get Zed away from rioting Eternals that want to kill him... so they dress him up in a wedding dress.
  • Crystal Spires and Togas: Subverted, in that the film presents this as a Dystopia.
  • Cultured Badass: Zed is quoting T.S. Eliot by the end of the film.
  • Dating Catwoman: Zed and Consuela. She sees him as a threat to the Eternals but also clearly wants to have sex with him.
  • Deadly Distant Finale: After Consuella pairing up with Zed, a montage of pictures of them is shown with Ludwig van Beethoven's 7th Symphony as background music. They start a family, their child grows up, while they age, he eventually leaves the family, the die, they grow old and die and only their skeletons remains at the end.
  • Defector from Decadence: Friend, who winds up with the Exiles before helping to destroy the Eternals.
  • Domed Hometown: Where the Eternals live.
  • Dude, She's Like in a Coma: Zed grabs one particularly good-looking Apathetic, throws her down on the hay, and starts pawing at her. Friend urges him to take her, but he stops.
  • Dystopia: The Eternals can live forever, but have become so bored that the Vortex is now their hell.
  • Fanservice: In that very special '70s "But-nudity-is-just-natural" sort of way.
  • Gainax Ending: After most of the Eternals are killed, Consuella abruptly pairs up with Zed and gives birth to their son. He is shown growing up as they age, then leaves as they fade into nothing, leaving only skeletons beside Zed's rusted revolver, with handprints on the wall. All of this is accompanied by Beethoven's Seventh Symphony without dialogue, bits of which had been heard throughout the film prior to this. One could see it as a contrast with the Eternals' immortality and a cycle of life image, but... what?
  • Gun Nut: Zardoz is very big on firearms, to the extent that his version of "showering blessings" involves automatic rifles.
  • Gun Porn: Much more literal than most examples. Note the scene where a fountain of guns spills out of the giant floating head.
  • Hall of Mirrors: The Tabernacle is represented in this way.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Zed quotes the Trope Maker, Friedrich Nietzsche.
  • Historical In-Joke: The handprints at the very very end of the film are a reference to the hand prints found in Pech Merle.
  • Immortality Hurts: Because no Eternal can die, the only available punishment is aging the offender into senility.
  • In Medias Res: The scenes after the prologue. It cuts to Zed after he's gained knowledge and shed his Exterminator identity.
  • Interrupted Intimacy: It was ostensibly to help Zed recover his memories, but May's interrogation of him, underneath a sheet, was very sexually-charged. Consuella walks in on them, and reacts to May in utter disgust.
    So this is your scientific investigation? There's another word for it: bestiality! For this you will be aged 50 years, no less! No man, woman or beast will ever desire you again!
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: Several of the Eternals (chiefly Consuella) view Zed as subhuman and refer to him as "it" or "the monster".
  • Jerkass: Friend, before turning into a Jerkass Woobie.
  • Kill the God: Zed was programmed to shoot Frayn.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: The gun is good.
  • Large Ham: It's set in a World of Ham, but Arthur Frayn's over-the-top personality stands out.
  • Love Triangle: Consuella explicitly identifies herself as May's lover, but from the start May is attracted to Zed, and Consuella's jealousy fuels her hatred of him. But as the film goes on Consuella becomes interested in him as well (though, since it's been centuries since the Eternals have actually experienced love, a lot of this plays out in subtext).
  • Low Culture, High Tech: The barbarian class.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Zed - whose name is identical to the final letter of the alphabet is the one who brings the finality of death back to the Eternals.
    • Friend, who becomes Zed's friend.
  • Mind Rape: This happens to Zed.
  • Mind Screw: The whole movie, from beginning to end. What's more, this seems to have been Boorman's intention. In interviews at the time he said that the film was supposed to depict the "Twilight level of the dream and the unconscious."
  • Mr. Exposition:
    • The floating head of Arthur Frayn at the beginning (the studios insisted on this).
    • The scene where Zed pulls Friend in a cart around the Vortex is there mainly so Friend can give us a rundown on the life of the Eternals and the different subgroups among them.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailers feature the titular entity saying "The gun is good...". Audiences who saw the film were understandably weirded out by the omitted second part, "The penis is evil".
  • Novelization: By writer/director John Boorman with Bill Stair. Clears up quite a lot of the incoherent story and adds some backstory, including Zed's childhood.
  • One-Word Title: Character Title of a god, who has Only One Name.
  • Only One Name: The titular god.
  • Parody Retcon: Actually invoked by Arthur Frayn in his opening monologue, calling the story "Rich in irony, and most satirical."
  • Prophetic Name: Friend.
  • Psychic Powers: The Eternals have them, mostly in the form of being able to exert their will on Brutals.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: They get a lot of mileage out of Beethoven's Symphony #7.
  • Quirky Work: The original name of this trope was "What Do You Mean It Wasn't Made on Drugs?" Well, this is a film that was literally made on drugs.
  • Rage Against the Reflection: Zed shooting his former Exterminator self inside the Tabernacle.
  • Rage Helm: The Exterminators wear grimacing Zardoz masks.
  • Rape as Drama: Zed has a flashback about "taking" a Brutal woman, in Zardoz's name.
  • Real Men Eat Meat: According to Zed, the Exterminators hated having to make the Brutals start cultivating wheat for the Eternals.
    Zed: Zardoz betrayed us! We were hunters, not farmers!
  • Resurrective Immortality: One aspect of the Eternals' immortality.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: This exchange late in the film.
    Arthur: I bred you. I led you.
    Zed: And I have looked into the face of the force that put the idea in your mind. You're bred and led yourself.
    Friend: Arthur, we've all been used.
    Arthur: And re-used!
    Friend: And abused!
    Arthur: And amused!
  • Ring of Power: All the Eternals have them.
  • Scenery Porn: The rolling Irish hills sure are gorgeous.
  • Science Fiction: An odd mix of old school H. G. Wells-type speculative fiction (The Time Machine's influence is obvious), colorful Edgar Rice Burroughs-ish adventure, and a more modern mode of Worldbuilding as a way of exploring philosophical, moral and political issues, in the vein of Arthur C. Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale:
    • The reason the Tabernacle was created was because scientists explored the universe and discovered that nothing existed outside of Earth. The problem is the universe is both massive and constantly expanding, so it's almost impossible that they were able to explore the entire universe, let alone prove that mankind was alone in the universe.
    • The Eternals are a society of immortals who are bored with life and just want to die after a mere 300 years. While this is about 4 normal human lifespans, it still seems like a ridiculously short time to get bored with everything. To name just one thing: the number of Chess games is estimated to be about 10^120 (1 followed by 120 zeros). If you could play a million games a year, it would still take 10^114 years to play every possible gamenote . And there are obviously a lot more activities in life than chess.
  • Screw You, Elves!: Zed is extremely angry at how the Eternals live in relative comfort while everyone else suffers.
  • Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You: Well, of course he is. The second scene ends this way (fittingly, as this is an advertising trope after all, the trailer also includes this shot).
  • The '70s. Very much so.
  • Sex Is Evil: In the opening scene Zardoz vomits up a huge pile of firearms and calls on the Exterminators to murder the Brutals to keep their numbers down (if Zardoz had given them a huge pile of condoms instead, he could have avoided all this trouble).
    Zardoz: The Penis is evil. The Penis shoots seeds and makes new life to poison the Earth with a plague of men, as once it was. But the Gun shoots death and purifies the Earth of the filth of Brutals. Go forth, and kill! Zardoz has spoken!
  • Shout-Out: A salute to The Wizard of Oz becomes a pretty major plot point.
  • Single Tear: Shed by May as she watches the destruction of the abode of the Eternals when she leaves the Vortex for the last time.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: More or less the film's entire attitude to romance.
  • Straw Feminist: The future women (and possibly men) who speak constantly about how horrible and violent sex was, but at the same time, obviously want to get into Connery's pants.
  • Stripperiffic:
    • What else would you call Connery in this movie? Striphorrific?
    • The Eternal women wear midriff-baring two piece outfits with low necklines that look like some sort of I Dream of Jeannie-themed summer collection at JC Penney.
  • That Man Is Dead: Inside the Tabernacle, Zed shoots an enforcer that turns out to be the manifestation of his old, pre-enlightened self. Afterwards, when the Eternals are mortal again, Avalow asks Zed to shoot her, but Zed lowers his gun, saying "All that I was is gone.".
  • Thoughtcrime: Eternals that project "negative auras" in second level meditation are punished by aging.
  • The Trickster: Arthur Frayn, though he functions as a Trickster Mentor to Zed.
  • Trrrilling Rrrs: Arthur Frayn, as part of his Large Ham stage magician-like persona.
  • Two-Faced: Friend is either half-geriatric or slowly succumbing to being aged. Half of his face is old while the other is unchanged.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: The Exterminators eventually slaughter all the Eternals, except for Consuella and a few others who escape to make new lives outside.
  • Twist Ending: Zardoz is... The WiZard of Oz.
  • Watch It Stoned: Possibly the only way to understand this movie, except Boorman admits he used drugs during filming and even he finds it confusing.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The majority of the film takes place at Vortex 4 and there are at least 9 Vortexes in total. We don't know what happens to the other Vortexes once the Tabernacle is destroyed.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: The Eternals long ago succumbed to ennui. Most simply want to die, but can't.
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz: Some of the text displayed by the Tabernacle, such as "Karatz" (carrots), "Solt" (salt) and "Lethur" (leather).
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle!: The scene where Zed reveals how he learned Zardoz was actually The WiZard of Oz makes you think the movie's wrapping up when, in fact, there's still almost an hour to go.