In 1972, filmmaker John Boorman had just made DELIVERANCE, unquestionably his greatest commercial and critical success as a director. The film was nominated for three Oscars and was warmly received by everyone from the Hollywood elite to the far-flung audiences throughout the United States. At the top of the world and the pinnacle of his career, he was then afforded that rare opportunity of which every director dreams: the chance to make a passion project, virtually carte blanche, with minimal or zero studio interference. If only for a moment, Boorman achieved that curious balance that only matters in the hills of Hollywood: artistic integrity, commercial success, and perceived genius. Filmmakers who came before him afforded similar opportunities either created works of absolute genius (Orson Welles’ CITIZEN KANE comes to mind) or went mad with a creation of an overwrought experiment (ex. Henri-Georges Clouzot’s INFERNO). Although Boorman did not have as much freedom as either of the two above, admittedly spectrum-banging examples, faced with an entire world of narrative possibilities in front of him, John Boorman did it all - he wrote, produced, and directed a delightfully unhinged motion picture: ZARDOZ!
To describe ZARDOZ without spoiling any of its wild, unpredictable insanity is a task unto itself, but here goes nothing: in the distant future, earth as we know it is divided into two camps – savage, cave-dwelling Brutals and fancypants Eternals with powers beyond comprehension. A lone adventurer, Zed (a post-Bond Sean Connery), seeks to unite and restore balance to the planet, as well as to unlock the secrets behind Zardoz, a mystical (and flying!) stone head deity that promises salvation to all its worshippers by way of a zone known as “the vortex.” ZARDOZ is a freewheeling post-apocalyptic story that follows this lone warrior named Zed, a mercenary-type known as an “Exterminator” who seeks answers to the mystery of his existence. Dressed in knee-high leather boots, a revealing orange onesie, and sporting a fierce ponytail, Zed goes on a quest to discover the Eternals, a tribe of ever-living, supposedly omnipotent beings who oversee the lower class from which Zed hails, the Brutals. The remainder of the film is a pleasurable mix of psychobabble and surrealist imagery reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (the journey to the starchild) or Alejandro Jodorowsky’s HOLY MOUNTAIN (all of it), as regards psychedelia.
ZARDOZ is one of those rare films that it is difficult to believe humans created. Rather, it seems to have fallen from the sky as some kind of outer space curiosity or a vision of a distant future in cinematic form. As its original slogan stated, ZARDOZ is “beyond 1984, beyond 2001, beyond love, beyond death.” I would argue that it is beyond comprehension. A cult classic that revels in its extreme weirdness and the absolute power that comes with achieving greatness in Hollywood, ZARDOZ is a self-indulgent slap to the system’s face – a picture that Hollywood managed to produce, as the historians will relate it, “when nobody was looking.”
ZARDOZ plays Friday, November 16th and Saturday, November 17th as part of The Late Show’s 11:00pm series of post-apocalyptic and doom-ridden films. Tickets are available now! If you need further convincing that seeing ZARDOZ on the big screen is tantamount to being reborn both spiritually and physically, check out our custom-made trailer below! Thanks to Greg MacLennan and the Alamo Drafthouse video team!
Follow Alamo Drafthouse Film Programmer Sam Prime on Twitter: @sbprime.