So, the general gist is that we find Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) losing his marbles in a go-nowhere-do-little job for his mysterious benefactor Management (Matt Damon). He pesters his supervisor (a brilliantly Graham-Chapman-esque David Thewlis) over a change when he is personally asked by Management to attempt to prove the nominal Zero Theorem, a mathematical idea that 0 = 100%, or in other more word-like words, that everything is for nothing. Along the way Qohen (pronounced ‘Cohen’, in case you wondered) is set upon by an oversexed love interest, Bainsely (Melanie Thierry), a teenage genius, Bob (Lucas Hedges) and his apparently Scottish electronic psychiatrist (Tilda Swinton).
I’m going to start this review with a mighty hefty disclaimer, possibly the heftiest disclaimer one can disclaim, heftily if at all possible: I’m a major Terry Gilliam fan, so much so that reviewing his new science-fiction noggin-frazzler, The Zero Theorem could either sound like brown-nosed fan service or a poorly tempered attempt at non-bias that, like a marzipan sail boat, will not really succeed at any of it’s endeavours. So I’m going to try to avoid either, and in a way, this sort of scrabble for purpose and definition is what The Zero Theorem is all about. Segue!
Oh, and I would be a negligent squid not to mention the most important character of any Terry Gilliam film: the world. The Zero Theorem seems to be on the other extreme to ‘Brazil’s dystopia, in that its own one is that of shocking colours, fashionable consumerism, debased house parties and an infantile populace. It’s such a garishly exaggerated take on an almost-now that it seems to hit all the closer to home in it’s very obvious, yet very stylized, satire .
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, the film. Well, to go further into The Zero Theorem would be to undo the tangled mess of plot-points, characters, tropes and imagery that Gilliam is known for. Saying THAT, though, Christoph Waltz does a fine job of carrying us through the mire of bureaucracy and technophobia; his depiction of old-man-that-frequently-resembles-a-baby being a constant reminder of how age will never grant us enough wisdom when compared to the infinite magnificent terror that is the future, technology and digital progress. Hmm, I, er… I think I’ve just gone and depressed myself there. Ahem.
Now, if you did have sly designs to wrap your peepers on The Zero Theorem then you’d best be aware of the following: one, it’s hardly getting shown anywhere, and two, it’s a VERY Gilliam film; you won’t be able to escape the comparisons to ‘Brazil’, ’12 Monkeys’ and even ‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’. This is kinda the problem with The Zero Theorem at the end of the day; as much as it is a terrifyingly anarchic look at ourselves compared to and involving modern technology, it does just allude to Gilliam’s other, better works (‘Imaginarium of blahdy-blah’ notwithstanding).
All of the above noise taken as read, nobody’s going to watch The Zero Theorem unless they’re already a fan of Gilliam’s work. Heck, trying to track down a place showing the film is an act of faith unto the director itself, and if you’re willing to do that, then you’ll be familiar with what to expect. What we’re looking at here is a damn fine piece of cinema that aims Gilliam’s unique directorial aesthetic at a topic that, whilst not as laden with new things to say as we may hope, still goes to show the old Python’s still got it.
Director: Terry Gilliam
Starring: Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton, Matt Damon, David Thewlis, Mélanie Thierry, Lucas Hedges
Running Time: 107 minutes