The other day, I watched Zardoz, a 1974 dystopian future movie with a strange Oz connection. The film stars Sean Connery as Zed, one of a group of Exterminators who rape and kill others in order to keep the population down. The deity of this society is a giant, cheap-looking floating stone head called Zardoz.
Eventually, Zed discovers a copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, from which the name “Zardoz” is derived, and learns that Zardoz is actually just a guy who uses the head to scare people into doing his bidding.
The man behind Zardoz, whose name is Arthur, is a stage magician who has a mustache and beard drawn on his face for some reason.
Anyway, Zed stows away in the head to Arthur’s home in the Vortex, a seemingly idyllic society where everyone is immortal. This isn’t as good as it sounds, because most of them are bored out of their skulls, and the complex thought-crime laws result in anyone who tries to think differently from their fellows being punished. At the end of the movie, Zed brings death back to the Vortex, and most of the inhabitants willingly submit to being shot and killed. I watched this pretty much solely for the Oz association and didn’t really expect to like it, but it was better than I thought it would be. Really cheesy, of course, and the action scenes were ridiculous (does anyone REALLY want to see a drawn-out sequence of people being shot?); but the story behind the Vortex, while not exactly believable, was interesting enough.
I have to wonder if anyone behind Zardoz was aware of more than the first Oz book, because a little later on in the series, the Land of Oz itself becomes a largely utopian country where everyone is functionally immortal. We’re constantly assured, however, that the Ozites, unlike the inhabitants of the Vortex, are quite content. I have to say I’ve never really bought that boredom would be the main problem for an immortal. I know there’s a lot I want to do that I’ll probably never get around to due to lack of time. It seems to me that the downsides would be having to experience the drudgery of everyday life for an eternity (which I suppose is boredom of the sort, but not the kind where there’s nothing to do) and the tragedy of seeing everyone else suffering and dying. I suppose the latter wouldn’t be a problem if everyone were immortal, although it was stated in Zardoz that the immortals are totally apathetic toward everyone outside the Vortex. People have raised that issue about Oz as well, since it seems like Ozma is largely unconcerned with affairs outside of Oz (although not totally, since she does intervene in neighboring countries from time to time). I have to suspect there’s little she can do, however. It’s not like she can invite everyone in the world to live in Oz, and she’s often shown as having her hands full with governing her own land. The more appropriate question would be why Lurline, the fairy who enchanted Oz in the first place, doesn’t seem to do anything to help anyone in the Great Outside World. Anyway, getting back to the boredom issue, I’m reminded of a story in the 1978 Oziana called “Beyond the Rainbow,” by Daniel K. Cox. In it, the Wizard of Oz tells new arrival Qwerty Jones, “You see, eternity is better when taken a little at a time.” That sounds about right.