Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “Zardoz.”
The Movie: “Zardoz”
Starring: Sean Connery, Charlotte Rampling, Sara Kestelman
Director: John Boorman
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) In the distant future, a savage trained only to kill finds a way into the community of bored immortals that alone preserves humanity’s achievements.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 47 percent
Froemming: Brown, it is time for us to kick off the roller skates and pop on our cherry-red tighty whities and envision a future in which the world has been overtaken by Minneapolis hipsters, because this week we are discussing “Zardoz.”
It was always a question of when we would get to this insane 1974 Sean Connery cult classic, never if. And frankly, I am shocked it took us five years of snarking on movies to get to it. I saw it back-to-back with “Xanadu” when I moved to Worthington. My ex and I are probably the only people in that town’s history to attempt such a nutty cinematic feat. Seeing them both for the first time. Both burned into my memory over how utterly baffling they are. Connery’s one piece forever burned into my brain over how awesome it looked.
Brown, as I ponder why the keyboardist for the Hold Steady is flying around in a giant rock head, why don’t you give us your first thoughts?
Brown: You’re only handicapping yourself when you try to make a plot about gods and clods when you have your characters wear THIS:
This is all I or anyone knows about this movie if you haven’t watched it. I have SO many questions. Then after seeing the movie, I have even more questions, just on the attire these characters are wearing.
But, it’s an easy answer: LSD. Lots of LSD. Like so much that “White Rabbit” plays on loop in one’s head.
Froemming: Except I think this is more realistic to how the movie was written with “White Rabbit.”
Brown: It’s like a mix of the two. The colors and vividness of “White Rabbit” with the dark undertones of “Loathing.”
Really, “Zardoz” is the image ultra-Conservatives have of what the hippies were like: jobless layabouts who never wear bras.
Froemming: Show me the lie.
Brown: Well, while I braid my ponytail, get us underway, Froemming.
Froemming: We get an intro on how the world is by Arthur Frayn, the archetype in style for hipsters super into irony ever since. To the point his Rollie Fingers mustache looks tattooed on.
Brown: His mustache and goatee looked painted on. I swear to God I thought we were watching community theater.
After watching all of this movie, that question persists.
Froemming: It is 2293, the world has been decimated by something. People are gathered into two groups: Eternals and Brutals. The Eternals look basically what I imagine the writing staff at Adbusters looked like in the mid-2000s. The Brutals, well they dress in red S&M outfits with a weird rock monster mask. Right away I knew which group I would rather hang out with.
Basically, the location of this movie looks exactly where they filmed “Highlander,” making me wish I was watching that movie instead.
Brown: Later, when Zed absorbs knowledge by having sex with Eternals, that is the origin of Connery’s Ramirez from “Highlander.” You know: the Spaniard that’s actually an Egyptian played by a Scot…
Froemming: …posing as a Spaniard…God I love how that movie was awkwardly cast.
Brown: Two minutes into “Zardoz,” there’s two disembodied heads. There’s Arthur’s head at the beginning basically telling us that this is all a joke? And then we have the stone head of
Jason Mantzoukas Zardoz that lands in front of a group of Exterminators (the group of Brutals that Zed is in) and gives the group a talk about how the gun is good and the penis is evil.
Then it starts spitting out a bunch of guns and shotgun shells out of its mouth in some sort of NRA fever dream.
Froemming: I bet Wayne LaPierre has this scene memorized for his yank bank.
Brown: Is the only way to stop a bad Exterminator with a gun is with a good Exterminator with a gun?
Sometime after this live ammo vomiting, Zed emerges out of some sand inside of Zardoz’s head. It’s filled with random food stuffs, stone stairs and a bunch of naked people stuck in pods like they’re in Spinal Tap.
Froemming: I imagine this is what Andy Warhol’s apartment looked like. I’ll never understand art.
Yeah, people trapped in plastic like beef jerky was odd. And then our hero (I use that very loosely as the hero of this movie is also a big time rapist) Zed shoots this hipster like he thought he was a turkey or something.
Arthur, shot by the lost guy at an orgy, does not just fall out of this rock face thing’s mouth, but floats out like he’s a member of Modest Mouse.
Brown: Zed was just standing his ground, Froemming. SEVENTEEN-SEVENTY-SIX WILL COMMENCE AGAIN IF YOU TAKE ZED’S FIREARMS!
Froemming: How has Alex Jones not died of a rage-induced heart attack yet?
Brown: Good question. He already can’t remember his kid’s names because of a big bowl of chili.
Anyways, back to “Zardoz”…
Despite the fact that no one is piloting this aerial rock head (nevermind that a rock head is floating), Zed arrives at the Vortex, which is the idyllic home of the Eternals. Here, it’s a world where no woman wears a bra, every man looks and dresses like they play bass guitar for Hawkwind and there’s random bubbles (that look like blown-up condoms) and pyramids making up the architecture.
There were so many times where I thought I was watching a Monty Python skit instead of a sci-fi movie. Even calling “Zardoz” sci-fi feels wrong. It’s just… it’s just “Zardoz.”
Froemming: Yeah, just about everything that follows felt like it should be playing on a giant screen as Genesis performs “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” in its entirety.
Now, Zed is snooping around and I laughed out loud when he finds himself literally in a prop closet and sees a smaller version of Zardoz’s head behind a tiny curtain with Z on it. I’m starting to get the feeling Arthur is less an eternal trickster like Loki and more of a comedy magician that once worked with Patton Oswalt.
Brown: Yeah, Arthur isn’t on the level of an Amazing Jonathan.
The inside of Arthur’s house looks like the inside of a Volkswagen full of people following The Grateful Dead around.
Eventually, Zed encounters two of the Eternals in Consuella and her assistant, May. Consuella is like a scientist among the Eternals and is fascinated that a Brutal made it to the Vortex. She subdues Zed by Scanning him (I think).
May takes Zed to a room where *check notes* the decor is naked women pressed on a glass wall.
… Look, I’m a red-blooded male. I’m also a boob man, which makes me feel like the last of a dying breed. But this movie made me bored of looking at frontal nudity like when I came back from a Metallica concert when I was a junior in high school.
Froemming: Zed should have followed Jack’s advice:
Brown: And… having random breasts out isn’t a good idea when, seconds later, we probe Zed’s memories and find out he raped a woman on the beach.
Froemming: Yeah, and they KEEP REPEATING THIS SCENE. We get it, Zed likes assault like Connery liked slapping women.
That interview has made watching Bond movies pretty awkward for me.
Anyway, we see May is pretty interested in this, um, rapist for some reason. Consuella really seems to hate him, making the end of this movie very tragic. Another Bud and Sissy from “Urban Cowboy.” I feel we are seeing a disturbing trend in 70s and 80s movies. It wasn’t just Travolta, the whole damn movie system set up toxic relationships to look good.
Then we learn that Arthur is being reborn in the plastic that covers the windows to keep the warm air inside.
I gotta admit, I was very baffled the whole time I watched this movie.
Brown: There’s also this weird scene where they talk about how Brutals can be sexually aroused (because apparently Eternals can’t be aroused?) and they try to get Zed’s libido going. None of the soapy boobs they show on screen do the trick, but ol’ rapey Zed staring down Consuella does the trick.
This movie somehow made sex less sexy than “Hell Comes to Frogtown” did. And this is Sean Connery we’re talking about. Even Norm MacDonald knows how sexy Sean Connery is to the opposite gender.
Froemming: During the scene where the cast of “Hair” votes on whether they should keep old Zed around to study, we meet Friend. Friend answers the question: What would Paul McCartney look like if he bleached his hair to a shocking degree? This guy is pretty arrogant for someone who looks like Connery could beat into a coma fairly easily.
Froemming: It can be two things.
Now what do they do with Zed in this high society? Well, Friend whips him and uses his “shinning” powers to make him organize his art collection.
Brown: Friend may have had my favorite part of the movie where he’s passing out bread to all these different people in the Vortex. And by passing out, I mean literally hucking bread loaves at people from a wagon like he’s playing “Paperboy” on the NES. The image of that made me cackle.
Froemming: Yeah, there are two types of prisoners in the vortex. The ones catatonic from all the pot and Yes albums and the old people, who all kinda look like Dan Aykroyd in “Nothing But Trouble.”
Zed is also interrogated again by May in what looks like the prism from the cover of “The Dark Side of the Moon.”
Then we get an awkward dinner scene where we see the Eternals are also vegans, just adding strikes to their smug levels. The only thing that could make them worse is if they talked about libertarianism.
Brown: Or rode longboards.
As far as the catatonic (called the Apathetics) prisoners of the Vortex, you bet your bottom dollar that ol’ rapey Zed molests one of them.
Friend is disenfranchised with the life of an Eternal. Through the use of an AI called
HAL the Tabernacle, the Eternals are protected from death. They sit around bored, they meditate instead of sleep. And they eat blue bread.
The punishment for ill behavior in the Vortex is to artificially age the convicted. If you get old enough, you get put into what’s essentially a retirement home where everyone is dressed like they died at the Overlook Hotel.
Froemming: We learn these people were the ones who created this utopian nightmare and encouraged their smug kids into this joyless existence. To the point the kids took over and put them in this retirement community.
We also see Zed is put on display like at a zoo when he sleeps, and talks about how he enjoys dreaming. These chuckleheads can’t sleep anymore, so they have no idea how amazing a good nap is.
Then we get to dinner, where Consuella does not want Zed serving them food, but he is able to make everyone chuckle so she comes off as a prude here. To be fair, Zed is in his short shorts, and the only thing between him and the Eternals is a thin layer of gabardine.
They put it to a vote, and Zed has seven days and then they will murder him. And Friend, well he went beyond polite society, so they doom him to the retirement community.
Brown: We should also mention that people put into the retirement community are called Renegades.
So May keeps probing Zed’s mind to find out what happened to Arthur, only for his memories to stop before the moment he put a bullet into the man’s back.
It turns out that Zed is a special breed of Exterminator that will lead to the downfall of the Vortex and will liven up the Eternals’ lives by *checks notes* making death a possibility in their otherwise droll lives.
… This makes more sense than this movie.
Froemming: We learn Zed was tricked into learning how to read one day as he was casually shooting at random people in windows. It turns out Arthur lured him into a library, which we know from Leslie Knope, are horrible places. The book that shook his foundation into realizing Zardoz was a lie? “The Wizard of Oz.” If you cover up certain letters you get Zardoz.
Froemming: *sigh* I should have tried syncing up a Pink Floyd album to this movie, maybe that would have made it a better experience.
Brown: Tensions are getting high in the Vortex. The Eternals want Zed dead and Friend is starting to age (well, half his body ages like a lame Two-Face) with the Renegades. Zed eventually escapes with the help of May and Friend.
Then the idea comes up to led Zed absorb the Eternals’ knowledge by *checks notes* boning a bunch of women? By that logic, are Ron Jeremy, Wilt Chamberlain and Gene Simmons the smartest men in human existence?
Froemming: I just realized the guy who made this movie also made “Deliverance.” Seems like sexual assault is a common thread between the two movies.
So, Zed gets involved with the weirdest orgy ever, impregnating May and her good-time buddies, and Zed is on the run. From the Eternals, a group of enlightened people storming this Vortex like it was Jan. 6 and their guy lost an election. And low and behold, Arthur is back. Which really pissed me off. Ruining the payoff at the start of the film when Zed shot him and kicked him to his death. He explains, via T.S. Elliott, that Zed is the one. Until Connor Macleod is and murders The Kurgan.
We also basically learn everyone has a dumb crystal put in their forehead, and if you destroy the source of that crystal, then Bane will give them permission to die.
Brown: Which is what Zed does. He shuts down the Tabernacle, which takes away this invisible barrier surrounding the Vortex in much the same way a video game puts up invisible walls so you don’t leave the mission area.
When this happens, Zed’s pals, the Exterminators, well, they exterminate these hippies like it was Vietnam. But, it’s hard to accept that all these Eternals are dead when the camera zooms in on the faces of the dead and they’re still clearly breathing.
Several of the impregnated Eternals escape so they can live as mortals and have Zed’s bastard children. And *checks notes* for some reason (??) Consuella falls for Zed and they have a baby boy together inside the stone head of Zardoz?
Froemming: I feel this is us watching this.
Brown: Between this, “Hell Comes to Frogtown” and “Mandy,” what’s the weirdest movie we’ve reviewed here on the JOE-DOWN?
Froemming: Yes. The answer to all three is yes.
Brown, let’s hop a ride in a giant stone head and float down to recommendations!
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Really depends if you enjoy cult classic movies that are terrible. If you do, this is for you. If not, stay away.
Brown: I’m too sober to suggest this movie. This is a case where I’m glad I finally watched a flick, but I’d be OK if I never saw it again.
Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down: