Though it utilizes elements of both, it's not the campy farce it's been historically treated as through initial critical reaction and a second life as an internet meme. It's a satire, which is blatantly stated up front—and a rather thoughtful one at that—even if it's more than a little self-indulgent and exceedingly bizarre. Something this specifically weird and personal required special circumstances to come to fruition.
Connery was still relatively fresh off his explosively popular run as James Bond, and John Boorman had just made a killing with Deliverance, so both men were in a position to do whatever the heck they wanted and have it released. But that didn't mean this strange philosophical depiction of a disintegrating future utopian society could also get a large budget behind it.
With only one million dollars to work with, Boorman smartly constructed a story that relies more on an abundance of wild ideas than on fancy effects. As a result, Zardoz has physically aged better than many sci-fi films, which is fitting, considering the plot's concern with immortality. And speaking of the plot: it's a doozy.
The year is 2293 and Zardoz is an immortal posing as a god to a warrior class of post-apocalyptic men. They heed only the creed of their giant flying stone head god: "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."
Guns and ammo spew from the cavernous stone maw of Zardoz and his disciples fill it with grain. These disciples are Executioners who kill and rape any who try to breed outside of the wishes of their deity and can be recognized by their distinctive crimson dong holster and ammo belt suspenders.
In a deliberately confusing sequence of events, one of these gun-toting zealots hitches a ride in the giant flying head and shoots its pilot after inspecting a bunch of half-naked vacuum-sealed humans. Known as Zed (Connery), the outsider ends up in an isolated utopian sanctuary of telepathic immortals with erectile dysfunction called the Vortex.
This is still only scratching the surface of the wonderfully eccentric vision Boorman almost realizes with Zardoz.
Full of self-aware mockery, but also absolutely brimming with profound musings on the trappings of elitism and the importance of a limited lifespan, even with controls in place against overpopulation and resource abuse, this metaphorically rich cinematic oddity is absolutely worth revisiting and championing for its rare idiosyncratic bravery, flaws and all.
Zardoz screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the Countdown to Armageddon screening series at 9pm on December 18th, 2012. (Fox)