Zardoz (1974)

Zardoz (1974), written, produced and directed by John Boorman.

"Stay close to me, inside my aura" is a not a line you ever want to hear from Sean Connery.

Effete, bored immortals live a communal back-to-the-land existence, supplemented by some advanced technology and slave labor in the outer savage lands. One of these savages penetrates their utopia and causes all sorts of trouble. Which turns out to be what they wanted.

I don't think anyone likes Zardoz at first viewing. What seems at first a quirky post-apocalyptic science fiction story becomes a vehicle for fuzzy social parables and then a weird god-help-us metaphysical freakout. Boorman has an excess of ideas but neither the budget nor the time to develop them.

And yet: many revisit it and grow fond of the director's very personal vision. I'd class it with other "failed but fascinating" SF film attempts, like Things to Come (1936) or Dune (1984). Some might put Fahrenheit 451 (1966) in that class but I have more kindly feelings toward it.

My chief complaint is a plot point: what is the flaw in the Tabernacle-crystal? How does Zed defeat it? I should read Boorman's novelization. Neither commentary track explains it. A possible solution: the computer wanted to end the Vortex community and committed suicide by letting Zed in. When the plot suggests that a higher power has been manipulating the human manipulators, I always presumed some transcendental force operating through human genetics (a Frank Herbert idea). One of the commentary tracks presumes the Tabernacle itself is this force, which never occurred to me.

Boorman admits that many viewers will find some of this ludicrous. Well, indeed. When Zed arrives in the Vortex:

Let there be no doubt: Sean Connery does all this -- even the ridiculous bits -- and owns it. I've never seen his overwhelming self-confidence cracked in any role. (His character is breaking down in The Offence (1972), but the actor still masters it).

Kudos also to exotic beauties Charlotte Rampling (last seen in The Night Porter (1974) and Farewell, My Lovely (1975) and Sara Kestelman (Lisztomania (1975)).

I don't know why, but British imaginative film often goes extra stagey, almost as if they were putting on a children's pantomime show. You see this in the The Prisoner (1967) tv series and in the old Doctor Who. It always degenerates into the mad costume party.

The locations were areas all around Boorman's house in Ireland. Some amount of nudity, mainly boobage.

Available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time, with two commentary tracks:

(1) John Boorman is so used to incomprehension in the audience for this one that he tends to narrate even the obvious plot points. But he also gives good production details, explains his thoughts and confesses the problems: "You can fast forward through this bit. I thought it was great at the time".

As everyone does, he has funny stories about Sean Connery:

(2) Nick Redman and two SF film buffs comment on Boorman's commentary and fondly go over the good, the bad and ugly of the whole thing.

Redman points out that this is the science fiction of ideas, requiring some effort by the audience. Boorman was a big reader of classic SF and his plot can be placed within that genre. Redman confirms a Frank Herbert connection.