As I may have mentioned before, the major redeeming factor of this movie, if there even is one, is Sean Connery. 1974, so he's not wearing the old man pants yet like he did in Never Say Never Again. He is, however, wearing a hideous mustache, thigh-high boots (huh?), bright red belts of ammo that could not possibly fit his gun, and ... a loincloth. Which really looks more like a diaper than anything else. You have been warned.
I have seen part, but not all, of the director's commentary. It was written-produced-directed by John Boorman, who must have been on heretofore-unimagined amounts of acid.
bizarre disembodied head scene: to open the movie, a head floats unconvincingly across the screen. It is wearing a blue headdress and has its mustache and goatee sketched on, badly, in sharpie marker. It seems to think it is the "chorus" from a Shakespeare play. Says something about ... you know, I don't remember. But that's not the point. Director sez: "an attempt to explain the picture to audiences which didn't seem to understand what the film was about. It didn't work." (but does our director want to explain it now? Is he remorseful for making such crap? Of course not! The most bizarre scenes in the movie are the ones where no commentary is given at all, or replaced by an amusing story about, say, how Sean Connery wanted to kill the cameraman.)
[UPDATE: I should have mentioned that the head says "I am Arthur Frahm. I am Zardoz." Both of these statements must be false, because Art Frahm is the artist responsible for pinups of girls carrying groceries with their underwear falling down; and Zardoz is, as we know from the blurb on the back of the box, a giant stone head, not a guy with drawn-on facial hair.]
Now the real Zardoz, the floating stone head, floats among the clouds. It alights on a hill where the Exterminators (whose duty in life is to kill the Brutals with whom they share a world) come up and worship it. The head speaks to them.
THE GUN IS GOOD!
THE PENIS IS EVIL!
...and Zardoz vomits guns and ammo. Sean Connery, like most of his friends, appears to either have a skin disease or be covered in oatmeal.
And all this before the opening credits! The giant stone head floats around some more during the credits.
Sean Connery, buried in grain (huh?) wakes up. He is inside the stone head. What else is inside the stone head? More grain, stone staircases, and most of all naked people inside Seal-A-Meal bags. (Director: "I found these people who made these incredible ... inflatables. I used them in all kinds of ways in the movie." Yes, John. And we really wish you hadn't.)
The blue-headdressed guy who gave the prologue, Arthur, appears (with body) and Sean Connery shoots him. (Director: "And here is Sean in a really good wig.") It's just like the Wizard of Oz! I thought. The man behind the curtain.
Just remember that, OK? Wizard of Oz.
Sean Connery arrives (Zardoz travels, of course) at a Vortex, which appears to be a farmhouse adjacent to an inflatable plastic butt. Sean Connery investigates the house, and pinches the inflatable plastic butt.
The farmhouse is hideously decorated, in a 1970s "I like art and I like to paint cryptic messages on the walls" kind of way. There is a shrine to Zardoz hidden behind a wall of Christmas tinsel; there is also a ring that looks like it came out of a gumball machine. The ring talks and has a projector in it. It appears to be playing a game of Railroad Tycoon, but with bad spelling. "Vortex 6 needs: appelz, solt, lether. Vortex 9 has: applez, lethur, karratz." Sean Connery wears the ring. It tries to show him flowers, but Sean Connery is more interested in the topless woman on horseback. Maybe I should mention that this movie is full of small-breasted topless women.
Now, Sean Connery meets the Eternals, or one of them anyway. They are hideously dressed. They wear crocheted or batiked shirts that just barely cover their nipples, and skirts, and decorative codpieces. This is a unisex costume. There are more female than male Eternals, and we are not told why. In any case, Sean Connery plays his memories for May and Consuela in a sort of memory theater behind whose glass walls are naked women frozen in place. They watch Sean Connery murder and rape; some Brutals do a generic agricultural chore while one Exterminator whips them, and Sean Connery shoots one of them. The Brutal who was shot is ... our esteemed director. (Director: "That's me!") Then they ask for the last memories of Arthur, and all they see is that he was falling. Arthur does not die, of course: he is being "reconstructed", as a fetus in a plastic bag behind the wall with the naked women (are they also being "reconstructed"?)
Cut to Memory Theater #2, where Sean Connery plays his memories for a larger audience of Eternals. They vote on whether to keep him for experiments, by making motions something like baseball players' secret codes ("twiddle nose, pinch ear, wiggle fingers") while one of the Eternals counts the votes by making even more bizarre gestures.
Sean Connery works as a lackey in an art warehouse. Then he works as a lackey in a green bread baking factory.
We see the Eternals' criminal justice system: all communication about it is done by the gumball-machine rings, and the punishment for misdemeanors is being aged x many months or years. For the really bad crimes, you become a Renegade, ie, a senile old person wearing either a tuxedo or a tutu and dancing around in a glass rest home. You swordfight and lick the windows.
We should perhaps mention now that the effeminate man who is Sean Connery's boss in the art warehouse and green bread factory is named Friend. Sean Connery eyes a woman, gropes her, and Friend tells him "Help Yourself!" - the woman does not fight back, which disappoints Sean Connery greatly. Friend explains that they are the Apathetics and can be posed like dolls, which apparently is one of Friend's favorite pastimes.
Cut to a theater of some sort (apparently the Eternals have no concept of chairs, but prefer to stand in brightly-lit rooms when they watch movies). The Eternals don't understand the "penic erection", as they don't have sex or need to. They cannot figure out the cause of the "penic erection", so they want to induce one in Sean Connery. They play him porn, in an attempt to find out: What do you like? Wet soapy breasts; mud wrestling; or Consuela over there? The answer is, of course, Consuela (I should mention here that Consuela is the very pretty Charlotte Rampling). Consuela hates him now.
In the naked-women theater, Sean Connery is shown his genetic code, which looks a lot like plankton swimming around. He asks the Eternals: "Can you un-know what you know now about me?"
Friend is made into a Renegade (the Eternals all wiggle their fingers at him and ask him to enter Second Level Meditation; later he is wearing old-man makeup and licking windows in the old folks' home, which is covered in tinfoil and streamers like they're getting ready for the junior prom.
Sean Connery goes to visit him, and then comes back to the Eternals' commune, where for some reason they are all standing around covered in brightly-patterned sheets. Sean Connery goes under May's sheet and she extracts from him a dramatic confession: YES, i DID climb into the giant stone head because at some point I learned to read in the old humans' library and there I read the WIZARD OF OZ! Wizard of Oz, ZARDOZ, get it?
Consuela arrives, and plays tug-of-war with Sean Connery using May's sheet. (Director[paraphrased]: "Charlotte was really looking forward to being raped by Sean Connery. She said it was over much too quickly.") Sean Connery rips Consuela's shirt off and momentarily poses as if on a romance novel cover, and then runs away. He is blind, but a moment later gets his sight restored by a forest hippie.
I have tried my best, my absolute best, and I still haven't the slightest clue what happens after this point. The movie, making very little sense up to now, has begun to make no sense at all.
Can you make any sense out of the following? Mouse over for captions, click for larger versions.
Finally, it's over. Good riddance.
UPDATE: I received this email, at least twice, from somebody who appears to care a lot about the subject:
You obviously have no powers of analysis. Zardoz is about power and social frames, and the ways millions are kept from the knowledge that they are just as capable of success as the upper echelons that would convince them otherwise. The comparison of the immortals here to the Olympians is so obvious that it was staring you in the face, and it is clear that no one is allowed into Olympos, that the Olympians do not understand death--though they deal it out quite efficiently--and that without mortality their lives mean nothing. They could have saved themselves and the glorious "high culture" they represent, but instead they arrange for their own demise, which could have been avoided.
Consider the wealth of implications there! If people working for the continued relevance of high art do not let others in on methods of understanding and embracing them, the result will be mass deicide!
I suggest you take this page down before it spreads any more misinformation or makes you look any stupider.