In the year 2293, humans are divided into immortal Eternals and mortal Brutals. The latter live in a radioactive wasteland, growing food for Eternals who live an aimless, luxurious life in the oasis-like Vortex. Brutal exterminators terrorize and kill other Brutals under the orders of a giant flying stone head called Zardoz, which supplies them with weapons in exchange for food. Zed (Sean Connery) hides aboard Zardoz to find out where it goes.

In the Vortex, Zed meets two Eternals. Vortex Controller Consuela (Charlotte Rampling) and her assistant May (Sara Kesterman) use their psychic powers to control him and put him to work in the Vortex. There is a resistance there and Consuela wants him killed to prevent him from being used by them. But May and Friend (John Alderton) want to study him and secretly overthrow the status quo.

Zed learns that the eternals are protected from dying by an AI named Tabernacle. They are bored, corrupt, and prone to madness. Because they are eternal, there is no need to procreate, and they are impotent. The Apathetics are catatonic. Punishment is premature aging. Eternals who die are reborn into an identical body, so there is no escape. Zed is a lot smarter than they think. He is the result of eugenic experimentation performed by Arthur Freyn (Niall Buggy), the model for Zardoz. He wanted to breed a superman to take down the Vortex. Zed had run across a book called the Wizard of Oz and realized that Zardoz came from those two words, and he is angry.

The Eternals use Zed in their quarrels with each other. Consuela wants to kill Zed and age Friend. Zed escapes and May and Friend help him to absorb all the Eternal’s knowledge. He impregnates May and others and wishes to give the Eternals salvation through death. He shuts down the barrier and the Exterminators invade the Vortex and kill most of the Eternals, who welcome death. May and others leave the Vortex and have children.

The film was written, produced, and directed by John Boorman, shot by cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth. Boorman made the film because he was unable to make Lord of the Rings. He hired Sean Connery, who was trying to distance himself from James Bond, because Burt Reynolds was unable to do it. It was filmed entirely in Ireland. It was thought to be confusing by critics but became a cult favorite.

The opening sequence was added by the studio to try to explain the film to the audience. Because Sean Connery had trouble getting work after Diamonds are Forever, the studio got him for $200,000, which was about a fifth of the entire film’s budget. An actor dressed in a baboon suit was attacked by a real baboon. Charlotte Rampling was disappointed that her sex-scene with Connery was so short. Director John Boorman, it may not be a surprise, was stoned much of the time. He played a man shot by Connery. Though the gun was loaded with blanks, he had wadding embedded in his forehead for several days. The film was called impossibly ambitious, pretentious, inventive, provocative, and visually striking—all in the same review. It is arresting at times but seems interminable.

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