I don’t generally title an article with anything “Illuminati,” due to it essentially becoming meaningless as a term nowadays, but in the case of Zardoz, it actually fits. I’ve titled many analyses with sensational bylines about being the full revelation, the secret of this or that, but only two other films have garnered the actual use of “Illuminati” –Blade Runner and Eyes Wide Shut. Best known as the film with “Sean Connery in those red undies,” there is actually much more going on here.
I am here to declare Zardoz as part of that company of actual “Illuminati” films. In today’s analysis, we will revisit this 70s oddity to see how this highest “Illuminism” (and much more) was woven into the plot of an unlikely cult classic. Ok, and yes, to be fair, 2001: A Space Odyssey should be in that list as well.
If Eyes Wide Shut describes the present social strata of the elite secret societies, and Blade Runner describes the near future dystopic transition from man to A.I. replicant, Zardoz reveals the distant, post-apocalyptic era following a prolonged dark age. John Boorman’s tagline is itself revealing, “After 1984. Beyond 2001,” giving us the genre from which we ought to draw to decode the symbology.
Boorman’s trippy odyssey is set in 2293, where bands of “brutals” roam the wastelands controlling the population of a savage remnant of humanity. Above the brutals is a fictional deity named Zardoz that floats around in a huge bearded-head hover craft. Zardoz is a sometimes benevolent, yet demanding god of war who cultivates at the appointed time a civilization for the brute masses, granting them the skills of husbandry and farming in the harsh life of the Outlands.
“Zed” (played by Sean Connery) is our underoo bedevilled protagonist whose curiosity gets the best of him, and upon investigating his floating head god discovers humans are being cloned and seeded. Hints of the British elite perspective of panspermia emerge, yet Boorman adds a twist: The gods are actually just highly intelligent humans with advanced technology.
Immediately we are presented with the masonic philosophy of theology as a kind of cloak for technology, where enlightened nobility of yesteryear cunningly crafted elaborate mythologies utilized by the priestclass to dupe the vulgar. In order to keep the population down, Zardoz had associated the penis with the gun, and as Zed invades the garden of the gods (known as The Vortex), the effete, feminized immortals are entranced by his sexuality. Having become somewhat androgynous and long abandoned natural procreation, the deities of the Zardozian Fields are entirely apathetic. Having conquered death through technology, the Immortals live only to try to advance science, yet to no discernible end.
Boorman accurately captures the nihilistic character of the technocratic age, where the quantification and so-called “perfecting of nature” so adamantly sought by the transhumanists ends in meaninglessness. In a universe devoid of meaning, whither telos? There is no purpose beyond that of furthering the acquisition of data for its own sake. And this is precisely the empty state in which the technocratic utopia leaves the Immortals, many of whom have actually contracted the “disease of apathy.”
We are also given allusions and hints that these immortals are to be roughly matched up with the gods of Ancient Greece and Rome, dining in iconic settings and ninny about in gardens all day, struck by the boredom of their perfectly secure existence in their breakaway civilization behind their Vortex Force Field. It is also worth noting the council of the gods admits no new members, as it is a completely communal and collectivist society based on sustainable development where dissent and divergence are not allowed. Death merely means regeneration by the “Tabernacle,” which we learn is an advanced artificial intelligence linked into all material existence, like a kind of all-pervasive Internet of Things.