Zardoz has spoken, and your penis may never be the same

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Are you telling me this is the fooking costume you expect me to wear all during the fooking film?
  • "Are you telling me this is the fooking costume you expect me to wear all during the fooking film?"
There are good movies, there are bad movies, and then there's Zardoz (1974), which the Northwest Chicago Film Society screens tonight at the Portage. Fresh from the triumph of Deliverance (1972), John Boorman persuaded 20th Century Fox to bankroll his futuristic fantasy, set in the year 2293, in which Sean Connery struts around in a ponytail and porn mustache, wearing a red bandolero across his bare chest, red hot pants, and black-leather boots up to his thighs. At this point in his career, Connery had just sworn off playing James Bond because he thought the character was becoming a joke. So go figure.

You know you're in for something different when the action opens with a giant stone head soaring across the sky, looking a little like Karl Marx, with blazing eyes and a scowling mouth full of jagged teeth. The head lands on a mountainside, where it's surrounded by Zed (Connery) and his fellow tribesmen. "The gun is good!" booms a voice from within the giant head. "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. . . . Zardoz has spoken." Luckily for the tribesmen, Zardoz puts his money where his mouth is, disgorging a flood of weapons.

Things aren't going so well in 2293. The human race has broken down into three groups: the Brutals, who are regular folks like you and me; the Eternals, an elite class who never sleep or age; and the rugged Exterminators (including Zed), who prove their fealty to Zardoz by hunting down and executing the Brutals. Given this pecking order, you might think the Eternals have the best deal, but there's a catch: when someone violates the social order, he's sentenced to age a certain number of years. Those who can't behave themselves wind up as Renegades, hopelessly and perpetually senile. Another splinter group, the Apathetics, are so bored with the whole deal that they can't even get up.

Zardoz may seem ridiculously campy now, but in some ways it's also a precursor of the reactionary men's movement that would make headlines in the 80s. The Eternals are a largely matriarchal society, and in one of the funniest scenes, the chilly Consuella (Charlotte Rampling) gives a lecture on the male erection, which no longer has any social purpose now that procreation is unnecessary. None of the stimuli she provides manages to get a rise out of Zed, but after he pauses to consider her, you can tell from her embarrassed expression that he's standing at full attention. Connery gives her that amused, frankly sexual look that always worked so well for 007, though it's probably more effective when you're wearing a tuxedo than when you're dressed like a reject from the Pride Parade.

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