The Zero Theorem: Review

The Zero Theorem:
Review

Airman Xley

4 out of 5 stars

Once again I find myself tired, weary, and insomniac as I struggle to find the words to describe a movie that has rooted itself in my thoughts for the better part of a week. Don’t let the sexy nurse fool you, dear reader. I have Terry Gilliam’s latest sci-fi venture The Zero Theorem on the brain (among other things).  Even after a second viewing, the film leaves me bewildered, enchanted, and ultimately feeling hollow.

But HELLOOOOOOOOOOO Nurse!

Airman Xley

4 out of 5 stars

Once again I find myself tired, weary, and insomniac as I struggle to find the words to describe a movie that has rooted itself in my thoughts for the better part of a week. Don’t let the sexy nurse fool you, dear reader. I have Terry Gilliam’s latest sci-fi venture The Zero Theorem on the brain (among other things).  Even after a second viewing, the film leaves me bewildered, enchanted, and ultimately feeling hollow.

But HELLOOOOOOOOOOO Nurse!

Airman Xley

4 out of 5 stars

Once again I find myself tired, weary, and insomniac as I struggle to find the words to describe a movie that has rooted itself in my thoughts for the better part of a week.

Don’t let the sexy nurse fool you, dear reader. I have Terry Gilliam’s latest sci-fi venture The Zero Theorem on the brain (among other things).  Even after a second viewing, the film leaves me bewildered, enchanted, and ultimately feeling hollow.

But HELLOOOOOOOOOOO Nurse!

Christoph Waltz as Qohen Leth with Mélanie Thierry as Bainsley

Directed by Gilliam and written by Pat Rushin, the “Zip-T”, as they refer to it in the film, deals with the discovering the meaning of life and whether or not everything is nothing or if nothing is everything.

While I imagine most of you dear readers will initially be turned off by that previous line of philosophical rigmarole, the first thing you need to understand about this movie and really the only accurate way to describe it is that it is a Terry Gilliam film. If you are unfamiliar with Gilliam as a director, you might have heard of a little-known comedy troupe known as Monty Python. Gilliam was the only American member of the legendary group (though he has since renounced his citizenship). He was also the man behind the iconic cartoons and animations.

While he has an extensive and cerebral filmography, I’m only going to confine myself to only referring to what has been dubbed Gilliam’s Dystopic Triptych: Brazil, 12 Monkeys, and now finally  The Zero Theorem. Gilliam’s films are visually stunning and often characterized by being wildly imaginative and fantasticalgenerally layered with satire, symbolism, and surrealism.

True to his nature, Gilliam delivers a visual and intellectual feast in Zero Theorem. It is today what Brazil was in 1985a surrealist commentary of the times. While Brazil was satirizing being a cog in the soulless bureaucracy, The ZT is a treatise on dreams and the struggle of finding meaning in the digital world in which we live.

Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained) stars as Qohen Leth, or simply Q, who is a reclusive phobia-ridden programmer of sorts that believes that one day he will receive a phone call that will provide meaning to his life. He is also joined on screen by that kid from Moonrise Kingdom, Lucas Hedges as Bob, and a ridiculously good-looking and often scantily clad Mélanie Thierry as Bainsley. Matt Damon also makes a few appearances as ‘Management’, often making a fashion statement and offering a few cryptic lines to Q.

Q lives in a burnt-out church that he bought from an insurance company, and detests the vibrant and absurdist world around him. He begrudgingly treks to his quasi-cubicle at Mancom, the ‘big business’ of the future, where he ‘crunches entities’ (basically playing a 3-d version of a Tetris/Sudoku hybrid).

“It is today what Brazil was in 1985—a surrealist commentary of the times.”

Preferring solitude, Q is eventually rewarded with a home office in exchange for working on the Zero Theorem—a hush-hush entity that would prove existence is meaningless and that the chaos of the big bang will eventually revert to nothingness. Pretty deep right? Well naturally Q finds the project overwhelming and is soon burnt out. Management enlists the beautiful Bainsley and wunderkind Bob to get him back on track though they irreversibly change the character and nature of Q.

Although I left satisfied, albeit a little confused, during my first viewing of the film, I find myself feeling almost at one with the Waltz’s character the second time around. I may not be a slave to a prophetic telephone, but I am quite intent on finding meaning in everything—for better or for worse.

Every scene in this film is dense with symbolism and is subject to interpretations I cannot begin to imagine. It begs the question of what really goes through Gilliam’s head when he directs. At times, certain things feel extremely contrived like the fact that Q lives in a burnt-out church, but they are all rooted in the Orwellian and Kafkaesque landscape that Gilliam so often likes to employ.

Gilliam style is unique in that it rewards the audience with masterful set designs complemented by what I’d call a ‘Paranoid POV’ type shot that is reminiscent of Carol Reed’s famous crooked cinematography in The Third Man. You can see this best when ‘the clones’ show up about midway through the film.

Qohen Leth ‘crunching entities’. No, but seriously he’s looking at porn.

Is what the audience is seeing real? Is it all in Qohen Leth’s mind? Can I make it through this review without scrolling up to look at the featured image again? Who the heck knows…

The best way I can describe this movie is that it’s a spiritual and existentialist journey that ponders the meaning of life and the nature of reality. It’s fairly obvious that Waltz’s Q is absolutely insane, but in that insanity, he is also perceived as being the best candidate to solve these puzzles.

As with any Gilliam film, worldbuilding plays an integral part throughout our cinematic journey. The future portrayed in ZT is both unique and at the same time frighteningly absurd, although it’s not a stretch to view everything as a distorted reflection of our world in 2014.

Whether or not you find something meaningful in this film, it is the type to linger in your thoughts long after you’ve left the theater. If nothing else, Zero Theorem has an Academy Award-winning actor dressed in a giant condom suit watching virtual porn. And then there’s Bainsley…sigh.

The Bottom Line:

It’s definitely worth a watch though you’ll be one of the lucky few if you can still find it in theaters. If you’re a fan of Terry Gilliam films you’ll love it. If you’ve never seen one of his movies, I suggest you call in sick and watch 12 Monkeys and Brazil first. If you still aren’t satisfied, then I suggest you just wait to be spoon-fed more garbage at the hands of Michael Bay and Rolland Emmerich. Also, Karen Souza’s jazzy, haunting rendition of Radiohead’s Creep. Need I say more?