Riding high from the commercial success of Deliverance (1972), John Boorman unleashed his id with this visually extraordinary allegory about a technologically advanced yet barbaric society. The Eternals live forever in decadence separate from the peasant Brutals forced into submission by a warrior class of Exterminators (among them Zed, played by Sean Connery) who worship a flying stone head. Little by little, Zed begins to see through the myth and tradition that keep his society stratified and, through intelligence and force of will, infiltrates the realm of the Eternals and leads an uprising against them. It’s the kind of savage-seeking-enlightenment story that science fiction author Alfred Bester might have conceived, abounding with reckless invention and succeeding through sheer creative momentum. Boorman shot the film near his house in the lush hills of Wicklow, Ireland, with the help of esteemed cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth (2001: A Space Odyssey), who creates indelible images: guns falling like manna to the masses, cluttered rooms enclosed in draperies and funhouse mirrors, scores of nude bodies decorously splayed on water-spattered windows—Zardoz’s visual panache equals its thematic ambition even as it embraces its own absurdity. (That the ponytailed Connery spends a large part of the film wearing nothing but knee-high boots, red skivvies, and an ammunition belt is testament to his own brand of confidence.) Rather than falling into camp, however, Boorman’s vision retains its gravity, championing equality, vitality, and even death as human victories to be fought for and preserved.
Bing Theater | $10 general admission; $7 LACMA members, seniors (62+), and students with valid ID; $5 LACMA Film Club and Academy members | Tickets: 323 857-6010 or purchase online.