Bad Movie Monday: Zardoz (1974)

John Boorman’s oft-maligned film Zardoz celebrated it’s 50th anniversary on February 6th. Which made me curious to reread what I’d said about it in my review for Cinema-Crazed. I have this terrible memory you see, and I just couldn’t quite remember anything specific that I wrote, but I was absolutely 100% sure I must have written something interesting. So, I began to do a search on the site and, after finding nothing, I double and then triple and then quadruple checked. Nothing. It was then that I realized to my utter dismay and embarrassment that Mr. Dumbass (That’s me!) had never written a review. I had thought about it, bounced ideas in my head, had long debates with myself, but I never actually, you know… WROTE THE GOD DAMN THING. Today, that’s going to change.

Zardoz was one of the first “bad” movies I ever watched with the intention of seeing a bad movie, and what a ride it was O my brothers and sisters. It blew my mind the first time I saw it, and now that I’ve been watching it on-and-off for the last thirty years or so I’ve started to opine that this is just a plain old good movie. Because art isn’t about intricate logical storytelling. It’s about emotional honesty and sincerity. It’s about having an idea, having something to say, and then having the balls to see it through. Zardoz, for better or worse, checks off all these boxes. It is art done in good faith. Is it ridiculous sometimes? Over the top? Pretentious to the point of stupidity? Yes, but so what? There’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish.

SYNOPSIS: “In the year 2293 a race of immortal hippies called THE ETERNALS, live in various isolated communities called Vortex. Meanwhile, the world outside has been reduced to barbarism run by the Zardoz worshipping, gun loving, EXTERMINATORS who exploit and cruelly rule over a race of slaves called THE BRUTALS. However, an EXTERMINATOR called Zed (Connery) has discovered the secret of the Great God Zardoz and found his way into one of the Vortexes.”

When I first watched this, I just saw it as a weird fun movie with a weird dumb story. Something to make me laugh. However, seeing it again with older and more modern eyes, this really has a lot to say about the pitfalls of ideology. The film was originally discussing sixties politics, but it’s not a huge stretch to transfer a lot of what John Boorman was trying to say in 1974 to the modern day hyper-political climate of 2024. The Vortex is basically a big safe space and The Eternals are a bunch of young idealistic college kids. Here is a communal place that is utopian and peaceful, educated, vegetarian, egalitarian, and entirely preoccupied with higher intellectual and spiritual pursuits. The Eternals are all beautiful and slight, like angels almost. Then you have The Exterminators, who are gun toting, meat eating, blue collar rednecks. Fanatically religious to the point of depravity and enjoying the power over the weak that the Apocalypse which has befallen this world has given them. The Exterminators are all cartoonishly masculine, hairy chested, buff men who are entirely preoccupied with nothing more than violence or sex. Usually, violent sex. While The Brutals, the least powerful of all the three groups, are the ordinary everyday apolitical people trying to keep their heads down to survive being used by the others for their own ends. They have no identity beyond being wretched. Poor bastards are so insignificant that they don’t even get one line of dialogue.

It would be simple to say that The Eternals are the good guys and The Exterminators are the bad guys. Except that The Eternals are just as cold blooded and cruel and opportunistic as The Exterminators, they just hide it behind a veil of educated detachment.

So the movie really takes you on a surprisingly deep, albeit anarchic, philosophical journey that really makes you think about what makes someone human, and how having extreme beliefs can push you away from your own humanity. I honestly think this is an “important” film that discusses it’s ideas in such nuance and good faith that the whole thing gives me a big ol’ arthouse boner. Is it perfect? Hardly. Do I even fully understand what it’s trying to say? Not really. I’m not even sure the movie understands what it’s trying to say, and that makes me so happy. Self-confidence and certainty can be so tiresome.

Here is the actual dialogue from a scene where Zardoz, a giant stone head, literally vomits guns and bullets at The Exterminators and then intones:

“Zardoz speaks to you, his chosen ones.

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.”

Can you imagine the reaction from YouTube or Twitter if this was a line from a movie today? Heads would explode. Fire would fall from the sky. Plagues! Madness. Anarchy. The wailing and gnashing of teeth would be heard all over the world. The outraged screaming would deafen us all. Half of the internet would literally keel over from simultaneous heart attacks.

Wouldn’t that be wonderful? A little discomfort can be so good for the soul.


#1 – The film literally opens telling you what’s happening and what’s going to happen, and yet still manages to blow your mind.

#2 – I wish I could say that large stone heads vomiting guns at guys in red diapers is the strangest religion I’ve ever heard of, but it isn’t. Have you ever been in the South?

#3 – I legitimately think this is Connery’s best acting performance in any movie, ever. I am dead serious.

#4 – How do you make old British Manors look futuristic? FUCKING BUBBLES!!! Why not? Why the hell not? Art and ridiculousness have always been symbiotic.

#5 – Sara Kestelman, who plays May, is one of those actresses who I’ve never really seen in anything outside of this movie. Yet, I love her.. She’s only done like six movies, a bunch of TV shows I’ve never even heard of, but still managed to be a SITH LORD in a Star Wars video game. She’s amazing, and kinda cute, in a British Sissy Spacek kind of way.

#6 – Hope you all don’t mind nudity, because this movie has a LOT of it.

#7 – Yet, none of that nudity feels sleazy or exploitative, which is nice.

#8 – Some of the visuals towards the end are legitimately incredible. John Boorman is arguably insane, but he knows how to shoot a movie. He is a genius and I will never ever change my mind about this.

#9 – The music in this is also quite good. It’s like Bugs Bunny music, only serious.

#10 – Mad, Bad, And Dangerous to Know. They just don’t make movies like this anymore, pure expressions of art, even though we need them more than ever.

I think that, just for fun, I’ll include another bit of dialogue to close out this review. It’s the opening narration by Arthur Frayn, the man behind Zardoz, and I just love every word of it to death.

“I am Arthur Frayn, and I am Zardoz. I have lived 300 years, and I long to die, but death is no longer possible. I am immortal.

I present now my story full of mystery and intrigue, rich in irony, and most satirical. It is set deep in a possible future, so none of these events have yet occurred. But they may.

Be warned, lest you end as I.

In this tale, I am a fake god by occupation and a magician by inclination. Merlin is my hero. I am the puppet master. I manipulate many of the characters and events you will see. But I am invented too, for your entertainment and amusement. And you, poor creatures, who conjured you out of the clay?

Is God in show business too?”


Hell no. Go watch it now. You need this movie in your lives. Will it disturb you, and even perhaps haunt you a little bit? YES, but you need that if you ever want to be a true film buff. Watch old movies. Watch bad movies. Watch incredibly dated black and white movies. It’s like going into a mosh pit at a punk rock show. It’s like going skinny dipping with strangers you met at a party. It’s like meeting a beautiful stranger while on vacation, kissing them passionately somewhere romantic, and then never seeing them again. It’s a new experience that YOU the reader, I’m pointing at you right now, need. This is a weird fucked up movie, and I’m not quite sure what the point of it all is, but it has IDEAS. Glory be! Ideas! Can you imagine? A movie whose goal is not to be a blockbuster, or to appeal to a target demographic. A movie made out of passion and love, whose purpose is not to sell something or brand something. It’s a beautiful, blessed, crazy, sometime stupid work of art. Isn’t that the most wonderful thing you’ve ever heard? WATCH THIS. It’ll change your life, and you will thank me for it. Trust me.

ZARDOZ is a 1974 science-fiction film starring Sean Connery as Zed, Charlotte Rampling as Consuella, Sara Kestelman as May, Niall Buggy as Arthur Frayn/Zardoz, and John Alderton as Friend. It is written and directed by John Boorman, who also did Exorcist II: The Heretic. Another favourite of mine.