As a regular feature here at the Utopianist, we’ve been featuring some of the far-fetched, wonderful, and downright bizarre utopias that people have dreamed up over the years. But it’s only fair to take a look at the other side, too — the dystopias; the more modern visions of the future where attempted utopias (or our regular ol’ governments) have gone to hell. Keith already examined how mainstream science fiction has abandoned utopian dreaming to embrace gritty dystopias, but let’s dig a little deeper.
For instance, I just had the pleasure of watching one of the most utterly bizarre films I’ve ever seen — the 1974 flick ‘Zardoz’ starring a post-James Bond Sean Connery. The premise of the movie, as much as there is one, is this: some 300 years in the future, mankind has devolved into two distinct classes — ‘Eternals’, the intelligent, prosperous, and powerful clan, and ‘Brutals’, barbaric tribes who use modern weaponry to kill each other. And who supplies this modern weaponry, and instills into the Brutals their bloodlust? Why, their god Zardoz, of course. How does he do this? I think I’ll just let Zardoz himself explain:
Right after that, guns and ammo fly out of Zardoz’s mouth like vomit. Yup, in case you missed any of that, Zardoz — who presents himself as the fearsome giant stone head seen above — teaches that “The gun is good. The penis is evil. The penis shoots seeds, and makes new life to poison the Earth with a plague of men, as once it was, but the gun shoots death, and purifies the Earth of the filth of Brutals. Go forth . . . and kill!” Zardoz also implores the Brutals to cultivate crops, and bring the bounty of wheat to him in yearly offerings.
But what’s really happening, as you’ve probably already guessed (if not, spoiler alert!), is that the Eternals designed Zardoz in order to get the Brutals to do their bidding — namely, feeding those Eternals who have grown too lazy to work (called the ‘Apathetics’), and killing off enough of the other Brutals to keep the population manageable. The Eternals live in shielded little communes called Vortexes where they study science, eat well, and live forever, without concerning themselves of with the violent rabble outside their utopian enclaves. They send out ‘Zardoz’ — a name derived from the WiZard of Oz as a tribute to another voice behind a curtain — to visit the Brutals and keep them adequately reverent.
The dystopia of Zardoz is of course a rather unsubtle critique of a power structure that’s been critiqued many, many times before — religion is engineered and exploited to keep the masses in check, guns are distributed and their use encouraged to do the same, etc. All to benefit the wealthy, powerful few who reap the rewards of the people’s confusion. Interesting though, that in Zardoz, it’s done in the name of science — the Eternals dedicate their lives to unlocking the mysteries of the universe. However, the Eternals are revealed to never be able to make any serious progress in understanding the world, and eventually grow so bored they want to die, but cannot. In the world of Zardoz, nobody’s happy.
Here’s the theatrical trailer for the film. And if you think this is weird, don’t worry — the actual film is much, much more bizarre.
Image: Screenshot via YouTube