By: Jay Dyer
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.
Xenphobia sets in for Zed as the oddities of the Immortal way of life are beyond his comprehension, and as he fumbles around an archive room, Zed discovers a seemingly magical ring that communicates with other Immortals through holographic technology. The image displayed on Zed’s third eye from the ring is undeniably the All-Seeing Eye, which in this case, really is the All-Seeing Eye, as Zed discovers the Vortex dwellers possess total panopticon surveillance through their mysterious crystal ring technology. On one level, the eye here has the significance of total surveillance, but as the film progresses, it will take on a deeper meaning.
In this same scene we also see written on the wall the inscription, “In this secret room from the past, I seek the future.” This is a clue to the overall meaning of the film, that the gnosis of the ancients in fact contains the secrets of the future. For Zed, representing the common man, the technological prowess and mystical mumbo jumbo of the elite seem to be supernatural, yet according the masonic mythos Boorman will employ, the secrets of nature are merely the secrets of science, giving the first two acts of the film a gnoseological focus. Zed is on a quest to understand his world and seek the truth at all costs.
Zed is placed in the service of one of the Immortals in the museum of the gods, who desires to make him into an experiment. The museum of the gods houses mankind’s artworks, books, and treasures we later discover were secreted away by the elite prior to the apocalypse. Isolating themselves from the destruction and collapse, the elite kept their all their secrets and technology hidden away as the remaining humans fell into a dark age.
Zed however, we come to learn, was more than he let on. A trickster (actually Zardoz) had led him with clues to a dilapidated library in the Outlands and taught him to read, and the big reveal is that the first book Zed learned to read was The Wizard of Oz, from which Zard Oz took his name. The reference to The Wizard of Oz is worth considering, as it has had a long history of association with mind control and the occult. The essential meaning of the text, while certainly containing those aspects, is more so a masonic treatise about atheism. The Wizard is merely an old con man who uses technology to terrorize and rule by fraud, like Zardoz.
The mastering of technology in the historical process is known by the alchemists as the “Great Work,” which will “perfect nature,” and reveal the philosopher’s stone, transmuting crass matter into a higher state of immortality. Nature is viewed in this sense as a vast, irrational, dysfunctional machine – the highpoint of Enlightenment hermeticism. For both Masonry and alchemy, the perfecting of nature is believed to come through gnosis of nature itself, and the advance of technology. For the Immortals, this has arrived, yet as mentioned, they find themselves unsatisfied and listless, having discarded all love and passion, regarding all sex as “rape” (sounds like modern feminism).
After flitting about in several dreamlike sequences, Zed solves the great puzzle of the Vortex, which is controlled by a central A.I. crystal computer that was programmed to never allow itself to be turned off, or allow death. The real “God” is thus an artificial deus ex machina, an emergent deity forged in the labs of ancient scientists who had since purposefully erased the secrets to the “Tabernacle.”
Zed, having brought desire, passion and sexuality back to the Immortals (with his perpetual red underwear even the goddesses can’t resist), begins to take on the characteristics of a revolutionary. Teaming up with May, who wears a red sphinx cap, Egyptian esoterism and communist revolution are brought together in a mix somewhat curious at first, but when we think of the history of Egyptologically-focused Freemasonry, which fomented most of the revolutions of the last few centuries, the pairing is made coherent.
Zed is thus a new Satan or Lucifer, invading the Edenic Garden of potentially immortal man, embodying the alternate version of the Genesis narrative as told by the hermeticists and gnostics, where Satan becomes a liberator. Zardoz, as mentioned, was merely a trickster man-god who revealed Zed to himself (Zardoz explicitly says this to Zed).
Longing for death, the dispassionate gods elect Zed to be their liberator by impregnating them with his seed (as they are sterile), if he will be their champion to “break the Tabernacle.” Seemingly an impossible task, Zed agrees to take on by osmosis all the gnosis of the Immortals in the hopes that his savage nature will allow him to somehow break the Tabernacle which the gods explain has trapped them in the 3rd and 4th dimensions.
If the Tabernacle-A.I.-god can be broken, the Immortals believe they can transcend their limitations. Here we are in 2001 territory, where the possibility that technology itself is the secret of God, and God Himself is nothing more than a kind of vast, imprisoning Matrix-style demiurge. This is the real meaning of the Eye as previously mentioned, where the Eye is the notion of an All-Seeing God, portrayed in Zardoz as a tyrannical control grid.
Zed discovers the secret of the A.I. Tabernacle is a single crystal, a diamond, in which the infinite rays of light are able to store infinite amounts of data, and determines the diamond must be destroyed. Immediately translated into the diamond, Zed confronts the depths of his own subconscious, and like Interstellar, we are presented with the same mythos of man’s conquest of the outer worlds mirroring the conquest of his inner world (psyche). As Zed maintains his sanity inside the Tabernacle, he shoots his reflection in a mirror, signifying the complete death of man. Having achieved full apotheosis, Zed now has power over time and space itself, and leads his band of rebel Immortals to death, prophesied by the Sibyl-ish character as true freedom.
As the film concludes, Zed and Consuela, the one Immortal who chose to love him, exit the Vortex now that the Tabernacle had been destroyed and procreate. The film closes with Zed, Consuela and their son, a new Adam, starting the human race anew. In the last few frames, we see a cave painting of two hand prints and a gun, fulfilling the secrets of the ancient world are the truths of the future. Nietzsche is referenced in the film, and it is from this well that we can surmise the ultimate meaning intended here – that of eternal return.
History is the cyclical turn of the wheel of time, where civilizations rise and fall and at the apex, man discovers technology, which was a secret inside himself all along, as he projected these phantasms of his own forgotten genetic memories into externally existing metaphysical realities (think Bruno Bauer). Again, Nietzsche dominates Boorman’s narrative, from the notion of decadent elites, to the ouroboros of eternal return.
Zed, in the final analysis, is the Ubermensch, a human Prometheus who has the audacity to storm heaven itself in order to overthrow the existing order or the gods, and installing himself as the New Name of a new aeon, suggesting even Crowleyan themes. In the final analysis, Zardoz is a masonic philosophical allegory, replete with esoteric symbology and archeofuturism that culminates in a Nietzschean LDS LSD-trip cavalcade of existential nihilism, where death is “natural” and itself God. Ultimately, Zardoz’s offering of death as the real god destined to have sway is a perfect representation of the meaninglessness of the secular, techno-progressive worldview, and this is a positive message.