The Zero Theorem (2013)

R   |    |  Comedy, Drama, Fantasy


The Zero Theorem (2013) Poster

A hugely talented but socially isolated computer operator is tasked by Management to prove the Zero Theorem: that the universe ends as nothing, rendering life meaningless. But meaning is what he already craves.

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6.1/10
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  • Terry Gilliam and Christoph Waltz in The Zero Theorem (2013)
  • Mélanie Thierry and Christoph Waltz in The Zero Theorem (2013)
  • David Thewlis in The Zero Theorem (2013)
  • Terry Gilliam and Christoph Waltz in The Zero Theorem (2013)
  • David Thewlis and Christoph Waltz in The Zero Theorem (2013)
  • Pat Rushin and Mary Rushin in The Zero Theorem (2013)

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28 October 2013 | Sergeant_Tibbs
8
| Chaos encapsulated. Gilliam fans rejoice, he delivers some interesting and satisfying existentialism.
I seem to have an accidental tradition of seeing new Terry Gilliam at film festivals. Four years ago, I saw The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus at the Munich Film Festival which had an intro and Q&A by Gilliam, my first time seeing one of my favourite directors in person. It was quite a treat. This time at the London Film Festival I didn't go to the screening he attended, but it goes for any film that you see at a festival that the excited atmosphere enhances the experience. Parnassus held up on DVD and I'm sure The Zero Theorem will too, securing my opinion that he can make at least one great film a decade (since the 70s). Personally, I'm a big fan of Gilliam's bizarre chaotic style, it never fails for me, and this is his best use of it since the wonderfully disorientating Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Although the outside world can seem more like Ron Howard's vision of The Grinch, as many have complained they didn't buy the retro-world Gilliam created here, I loved the immaculate production design and especially the visual effects for the scenes where our protagonist, Qohen, is trying to solve the theorem in video game-like scenes. This is probably his most on- the-nose existentialistic film yet given its direct and ambitious plot- line, but it's very cleverly and often emotionally done. It's like the incredibly profound reverend speech in Synecdoche, New York expanded to 2 hours about each of our individual purposes in life and how that search of meaning affects our lives. Both Zero and Synecdoche thrive off that irony and they're both brilliantly executed, Zero perhaps not having quite a punch in the gut effect.

I loved Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds and quite liked him in Django Unchained, premature second Oscar be damned, but otherwise I'd only seen him in Carnage and I'm still not too confident what he can do in a non-Tarantino film. It wasn't until watching The Zero Theorem where I realised how I'd never seen him play such an emotional character, even if he is very reserved for the most part until a sexual awakening. Unfortunately, his performance feels inconsistent. Sometimes he absolutely nails poignant character-defining scenes and reaches heights of Basterds, albeit at the other end of the scale. Other times, he feels awkward, over- rehearsed and not in the moment. It's quite strange and rather frustrating because his good bits are so good.

Perhaps it's mainly due to the writing as its mainly the attempts at slapstick that falter. The script has a running character quirk where he refers to himself as "we" or "us" as opposed to "me" or "I" and it's rather confusing as to what it means and puts an unnecessary barrier between us and Qohen when it could be incredibly easy for us to empathise with him. The side characters more than make up for his lopsided parts though. At first they can feel like one- dimensional gag characters, but slowly they develop in an intriguing and welcome way, especially Melanie Thierry and Lucas Hedges' characters. While many of the film's jokes don't really land, David Thewlis is one of the best comedic relief characters in a while and he undeniably has the best lines. Damon and Swinton make delightful appearances too.

Along with its existentialism, it has a fascinating theme of sex in the 21st Century with the influence of internet. Thierry's character is a paid tease, 'you can look but you can't touch,' though she has a heart, a good one. But you still can't touch. It certainly hits a nerve for these 'more connected than ever yet more disconnected than ever' times. I would give anything to have the virtual paradise the film offers from Qohen's suit in the poster. The film attempts to have 1984-like themes of government surveillance which aren't as interesting but fortunately after Brazil, it feels like Gilliam's style rather than an NSA reference. Although the first act struggles in tone, it certainly builds to something very rewarding. The Zero Theorem won't be for everyone, but it at the very least offers an interesting answer to the big question, what is the meaning of my life?

8/10

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