The Special Effects-Laden Finale Of Zardoz Sent Sean Connery Into A Rage

This article contains spoilers for the 1974 film "Zardoz."

John Boorman's 1974 dystopian film "Zardoz" is one of the strangest, most bugnuts studio movies ever committed to celluloid. Taking place at some point in the distant, distant future, Sean Connery plays a harness-wearing, gun-toting beach warrior named Zed who murders and commits assault at the perceived behest of a giant floating stone head named Zardoz. The head, worshiped as a deity, drifts across the countryside, very occasionally puking piles of firearms onto the ground. One day, Zed climbs into the head and rides it back to its homebase, an Edenic garden full of bored immortal scholars. Zed falls in love with a woman named Consuella (Charlotte Rampling), and he discovers that she and her city have been alive for an untold length of time. Long ago, humanity mastered immortality, but the Eden-dwellers have been alive for so long, they grow weary of existence. Death would be a gift. Zed also learns that the gun-toting savages are the remnants of some strange social experiment whose purpose has been somewhat lost to time. 

While one may approach "Zardoz" as an oblique essay on the nature of immortality, it might perhaps function better as a midnight movie, meant for group consumption and the involvement of chemical enhancements. The film is astonishing and baffling to witness. And one scene really drove Sean Connery up a wall.

The final sequence

A repeated musical phrase throughout "Zardoz" is the second movement of Beethoven's Seventh, a plodding piece of music that hangs around the neck of the movie like a lodestone. It's likely that Boorman felt the repeated music matched the cycle of boredom experienced by the immortals. In the film's final shot, the Seventh plays on the soundtrack while Zed and Consuella, having finally escaped, grow old and die in a long montage. They sit in side-by-side thrones, and, sitting still, fade into older and older versions of themselves. 

Connery hated the scene. He hated the makeup especially. And, thanks to a pair of disasters, he had to do it multiple times. 

In a 2014 interview with Vulture, Boorman talks about how hard it was to shoot the scene, and about the unfortunate circumstances that required the return of his lead actor. Connery didn't have any issues with the costumes or the psychedelic nature of "Zardoz," but he did hate spending all day on a single sequence. As Boorman says: 

"Well: This is what you've got. This is what you're going to wear. So he'd put it on and say, "Okay." There was never any argument. He was a very explosive character. At the end of the film we shoot a scene where his characters ages rapidly, and with the makeup, that scene took a whole day ... When we finished it, we sent the film to the lab, and the lab scratched it. So we had to do it all over again the following day. Sean hated makeup, hated anything touching his skin. He was very grumpy the whole day when we shot the scene. So when I told him that we had to do it again, he was absolutely enraged. Enraged!"

Once more, with fury

The sequence, as Boorman described it, required an extensive makeup job, a single take, then further makeup, a second take, and so on throughout the day. If Connery didn't like having makeup on his skin, one can understand how that might leave the actor livid. The first take was ruined by a lab accident, but the second take — to everyone's dismay — was also ruined when a camera operator (name withheld) accidentally opened the camera, and exposed the undeveloped film to light. It's enough to ruin an entire reel. As Boorman tells it, he required some aid in wrangling his star: 

"We did it all over again, all day long, the whole process. And the assistant camera-loader opened the camera and exposed the film. So we had to do the process again. Sean wouldn't believe me; he thought I was teasing him. When I convinced him that we needed to do it for the third time, he went after this camera-loader and nearly killed him. It took three grips to restrain him." 

After the rage had subsided, Connery agreed to do a third take, and the montage appears in the final cut of "Zardoz." Any fans of the film can now enjoy that turgid, slow-moving sequence, knowing that Connery was likely choking back bile and wrath while sitting there. Connery's anger is yet another element that can enrich the overall surreality of Boorman's film — an outcropping of his unproduced "Lord of the Rings," it so happens — and make the already-baffling film all the more perplexing.