Castor’s Underrated Gems – Zardoz (1974)

If John Boorman can be commended for anything, he is fiercely temerarious which might explain why ‘Exorcist II: The Heretic’ is such a fatuous departure. For ‘Zardoz‘, he isn’t foolhardy enough to be a continuation of an existing IP. This is Boorman at his most unbridled and kamikaze. In that regard, the film is a profoundly surreal expression of his id and that should be plauditory alone.

Certainly the levitating narrator (with his stenciled beard) during the prelude is unflatteringly reminiscent of ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space‘. Onward, we are introduced to the airborne idolatry of Zardoz, a stone demigod effigy that edifies the Brutals to exterminate their brethren and not obey the “penis”.

Sheathed in a red diaper and jogging around with relatively sagging pectorals, Sean Connery seems slightly bemused by his turbid surroundings which is appropriate since Zed is baffled by food holograms in the Vortex. Much of the social commentary revolves around how projectiles of love (sperm) are discouraged among the scavenging hordes and projectiles of violence (bullets) are encouraged to dwindle their numbers.

The denizens of the Vortex are dressed like kaleidoscopic, discotheque worshippers of Edie Sedgwick and the other androgynous Andy Warhol superstars. The fish-out-of-water scenes of Zed’s discomfort in the utopian community are awkwardly jocular such as when he accidentally protrudes his fingers through a priceless Van Gogh painting and is not perturbed by it.

Boorman daringly broaches existentially paramount questions such as what if a mortal could glimpse upon the messiah’s promised land before their demise? The punishment for transgressions is accelerated aging. Is physical entropy pointless for beings with immutable lifespans? Meanwhile, those who are indifferent to the presence of divinity slowly become rigid statues and are dubbed Apathetics. Should the osmosis of the Vortex enthrall of the citizens? Occasionally the answers to such rhapsodies are fascinatingly incoherent.

One could never accuse ‘Zardoz‘ of being superficial Sturm und Drang. It resonates loudly because it won’t be relegated to serial cliffhangers and kinetic science-fiction. It is endlessly studious and can be decoded in several ways- a satire on new-age holistics (the telepathic finger-waggling to brainwash someone), a transfixing vision of our reptilian desires versus our higher intellect or an unvarnished preview into Boorman’s idiosyncratic creativity.

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