Down the Yellow Brick Road and Through the Looking Glass: How Zardoz Was Colored by its Era and Reflects Back on Today

| Zach Staads |

Sean Connery reflected in many triangular mirrors, his eyes bulging and moustache bristling.

Zardoz plays at the Trylon Cinema from Sunday, May 12th, through Tuesday, May 14th. Visit for tickets and more information.

So, the civilization we know today is coming to an end and the enlightened intelligentsia1 want to use the end of the world as a playground for their own disaffected experiments and whims as they figure out immortality and aren’t sure what to do with the cruder2 beings that they once called their fellow humans, so of course they pit them against one another by creating a class structure of fearful serfs and ultra-violent sex police.

It’s a tale as old as time.3

This is the basic structure of the society in which Zardoz finds itself at the beginning of the film, and doesn’t feel too dissimilar to things that pervade post-apocalyptic and dystopian narratives,4 as well as  what the western world was seeing at the time of its making and release in the early to mid-1970s.

It was the sinking point of a generation. Two decades prior the world was humanity’s oyster as America sailed through the golden age of capitalism and nuclear ideals of the 1950s. We’d already won the war, beat the bad guys, and—quite literally—paved the face of America anew while Europe was being rebuilt after the horrors of WWII and the holocaust. The 1960s began well enough too; there was a sexual revolution, the hopeful ideal of ’60s counterculture, and civil rights prevailed and ended racism forever.5

However that ensuing decade also included a string of assassinations that shook the world beyond the bounds of America, Europe was under an intense gloom of the Iron Curtain, the hell of the Vietnam War was in full swing, The Troubles had begun in Ireland, and the counterculture failed to create the great changes it sought, causing a resignation of hope as the financial crises of the 1970s loomed and the once gung-ho younger generation grew silent.

All of this is a backdrop to what brings about a film like Zardoz. The direct parallels to societal changes of the time are clear; the American political mask peeled away with Watergate, in the same fashion as Arthur Frayn shook the Outlands of the Exterminators when he revealed to Zed that their God, Zardoz, was just another mask. People grew apathetic as policy stagnated and those who questioned the status quo were silenced, mirrored in the way the Renegades were aged into senility for disagreeing with the status quo of the Vortex.

All of this doesn’t sound too far off from what we are going through nowadays either.6

In the lower classes (Brutals), we live in what could be considered a police state where the occupying army of law enforcement (Exterminators) enacts violence in the name of the dominant socioeconomic-ethnic group that is controlled by laws deemed appropriate and beneficial to the upper classes (Eternals) who make the policy.7

The great Zardozes of our day and age hide behind the thinnest of veils: intelligence, success, good business, and moral fiber. Yet these things just cover up these people’s stupidity, nepotism, corruption, and ability to treat morals as a buffet where one can pick and choose based on convenience.

Further similarities are seen in the apathy that has taken hold of so many due to social media, climate change, the moral bankruptcy of politics, doomscrolling, and the general despair that has taken hold of folks who only have the energy each day to keep living paycheck to paycheck in a system that keeps taking advantage of cash grabs whenever it can. 

This makes it more and more difficult to keep pushing for the necessary change to keep society on a path of improvement for the common people as you’re left without the energy to fight for your rights and wages since every day is already a fight for your life.

There is hope remaining though. Hope survives through change. Zardoz shows this in the breakdown of the society of The Vortexes. Zed disables the Tabernacle, allowing the Exterminators to turn on their masters and seize the means of their own enlightenment and give life to a new generation of free-thinking minds; people who can help to continue the change and improve the society of all people.

In the real world we see this as local communities start to come together again, older and younger generations work to interact more and pass on generational knowledge, we see the rebirth of the union movement, grassroots political candidates and council members that are out to truly represent the people and human good, the fight for equality for all peoples, and the remaking of the systems that seek to disenfranchise us.

There are still issues, as there always will be, but somewhere down the line is a better future that we must work for together. We must continue to fight against the apathy of life that leaves so many beleaguered and work to spread change through meaningful actions and not just hollow ideation that would leave us Eternal and banal. Time will change all things, and we must use our own time upon this Earth to work to lift one another up the best we can so that we might avoid this post-apocalyptic-dystopian tale.

Zardoz is fascinating. With all these parallels popping up throughout, relating to both the historic and the contemporary, watching this film will always get you something. Going into this article, I don’t think I realized just how many parallels there were, some of which I haven’t even touched on for the sake of brevity. It’s a movie with a wealth of rewatchability and is always worth the time.
I’m not saying that Zardoz isn’t absolutely hongonbonkeros in some of its artistic choices…

Sean Connery in a red nappy, knee-high leather boots, with a pony tail and Zappata mustache, and a revolver in hand.

…but it also reminds us to fight the apathy of our times to make a better future for all.


1 A polite way of saying the disaffected bourgeoisie of a given time that range from the royal family of England to Elon Musk.
2 From the perception of someone with such rational thought as those listed above.
3Snooty and the Sheep
4 See Fallout (TV series), A Clockwork Orange (Film), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Book)
5 Didn’t you know? /s
6 A shocker, I know.
7 Laws Are Threats

Edited by Olga Tchepikova-Treon

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