The Zero Theorem
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Even though he did not write the screenplay, there is no question this is a Terry Gilliam film. His visual style and staccato pacing permeates the movie and turns it into something out of a weird, chaotic dream, and that's not even considering the dream sequences, which are weirder still. I've been a fan of his work since Monty Python, and even though some of his films have been uneven, there's only one I would classify as a disappointment. The Zero Theorum is not that movie. It's not as good as Brazil, nor as logically convoluted as 12 Monkeys or as emotionally poignant as The Fisher King. After just one viewing I'm not even sure it's in the same league as those, but it's still good. As has happened with several other recent projects, it took Gilliam several tries to complete it, and then he had a problem securing a distribution deal. Finished early this year, it made the rounds of the film festivals and received decent promotion in Europe, and has already been released on Region 2 DVD and Blu-Ray. Theatrical showings in the U.S. have been extremely limited, but fortunately it has been made available for digital download from Amazon (see link to the right), iTunes, and Vudu, along with On Demand from some cable and satellite providers.
Christoph Waltz is Qohen Leth, a socially inept loner, stuck in a monotonous job which he feels he could perform just as well at home. I'm not sure what the nature of that job is, not even sure Gilliam does. Qohen sits in a cubicle, and using a device that resembles a video game controller, he analyzes "entities" or manipulates data or creates something, not sure which. He wants to stay home because he is waiting for "his call." Years before he had received a call, and he is convinced the other party was going to tell him what his purpose in life was, but he accidentally disconnected before he could receive that news. Now it seems his purpose is to wait for the caller to contact him again. It is not explained why he refers to himself with the plural pronouns of "we and our" rather than "I and my or mine." He lives alone in an old burnt-out church, shunning any social contact except for the minimum necessary at work. I know Waltz has won a couple of Oscars in recent years, but I'm pretty sure this is the first I've seen of him. I'm not a Tarantino fan so I haven't seen Inglorious Basterds or Django Unchained, only a few select scenes. I'm not saying he's not good here, but I noticed a few inconsistencies in the way he was playing a supposedly non-emotional character. But several of the supporting cast more than made up for that, and I feel it was their work that made Zero as good as it is.
David Thewlis is the put-upon Joby, Qohen's work supervisor at ManCom; Mélanie Thierry is Bainsley, a beautiful internet sex worker assigned to boost Qohen's spirits, and who inexplicably falls in love with him; Lucas Hedges is Bob, a hot-shot trouble-shooter, and the son of Management (Matt Damon). Almost anyone could have filled Damon's shoes, his character being bland and non-descript, but his son Bob is the exact opposite, probably hopped up on Red Bull and raging hormones. Management has had his eye on Qohen (and everyone else for that matter) for some time, and he assigns him to a project that has been the downfall of many other programmers. Joby had attempted it in his younger years and said it nearly drove him mad. It does the same for Qohen. The purpose of the project is to prove the Zero Theorem, essentially analyzing every mathematical equation ever conceived to come to the conclusion that it all amounts to zero, that everything in the universe means nothing. Qohen should have no problem accepting that, since one of his most persistent visions is of the death of the universe, swallowed up by a giant black hole. And yet he balks at that possibility since he has not yet received his call. That's when Bainsley and Bob are sent in to help him get back on track.
I'm not sure why Gilliam has never adapted anything by Philip K. Dick, because many of his films share the same fascination with reality vs. fantasy, of matter vs. imagination, both essentially saying that they are equally important to the psyche. The virtual world that Qohen enters with Bainsley is just a twist on scenarios out of "The Days of Perky Pat" and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. I'd be hard pressed to say this film has any meaning at all, it's up to the individual viewer to fill in the blanks. It is still a wondrous journey through the mind of Qohen Leth, and the mind of Terry Gilliam. It's as anarchic as Brazil, but more colorful and almost optimistic. If you are a fan of any of his films I feel sure you will enjoy this one as well.
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