Here be spoilers!
I love this movie. I loved this movie ever since I first saw it. Not for nothing do I own a t-shirt of this movie that I designed myself. But I can totally understand if people won’t like it. Zardoz is a very strange beast indeed and a lot of it requires its audience to simply roll with it and assume an explanation is going to follow at a later point.
Zardoz is a movie about many things. Some things are more overt – like the immortals’ craving for death – and others are more subtle, like the discussions about human nature, sexuality and democracy of all things.
That last bit about democracy incidentally is one thing that can completely fly over your head, but it’s clearly there. The society of immortals is about as pure of a democracy as I can think of. And I live in Switzerland, the purest democracy on the face of the planet, and even we don’t practice that much direct democracy as shown in Zardoz. Everything can and will be subject of a vote. And the movie is clever enough to make these votes tell us something about the problems and limits of pure democracy.
Hence the other aspects it deals with. If one of the immortals steps out of line, the only way to punish him is by artificially aging him. See, if one of them dies, the Tabernacle (central computer of the village) simply regrows another fetus until it’s an exact copy of the one that died, along with all the memories up to the point at which the previous one died. But aging them is seen as a punishment since they physically cannot interfere with the proceedings at the village once they’re too old.
The fact that nobody can truly die also means that sex is something that isn’t practiced in this community. As such, when they get a chance to examine human sexuality, it’s very interesting to them, and the movie goes to great lengths to justify all the naked breast it contains. And my oh my does it contain a lot of breasts.
Another aspect it deals with quite nicely is that immortality is bound to turn out quite boring after a while. It can be observed in the regular inhabitants of the village, but even more so in a special subset of immortals who become the apathetic, literally people who just stand around without moving or doing anything besides eating when they’re given food. It’s a nice little touch of the movie to use the premise and go to interesting places with it.
A more speculative interpretation can also be lodged at the fact that everybody is connected to an all-powerful computer who ostensibly cannot be disabled, since the founders of the colony of immortals purposefully erased the memory of the location and design of the tabernacle in order for it to not be destroyed. You could almost read this as a criticism to the cloud way before that was even a thing.
All of these things are hidden behind weird rituals and a lot of imagery and scenes that don’t appear to make much sense initially. I’ve heard that the film was made by a cast and crew that was on drugs the whole time. And if that’s true, it might explain a lot of things about it, but it’s not a stupid movie and it isn’t incomprehensible in the slightest. It’s just an insanely imaginative piece of post-apocalyptic science fiction the likes of which we haven’t seen since. It’s a truly unique movie and even if you don’t like it, you can’t claim that it’s boring or that there’s ever been anything like it. I’ll grant that some of the acting is very bad but I somehow cannot shake the feeling that it was done deliberately, because the movie frequently does poke fun at itself. This is especially apparent with the character of Arthur Frayn who is also the god Zardoz, who introduces the movie with a very memorable monologue directly aimed at the audience, as well as some of his dialogue right at the end of the movie.
So in closing, Zardoz rocks and you should definitely check it out.