‘The Zero Theorem’ Review
Terry Gilliam delivers another look into his fantastic imagination with “The Zero Theorem.”
[box_alert]Some Spoilers apply…[/box_alert]
Of all the films I’ve been waiting to see this summer, “The Zero Theorem” has been at the top of the list. I’m a big fan of Terry Gilliam’s work (“Brazil,” “Twelve Monkeys,” “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” “Monty Python,” just to name a few), and the trailer only served to entice me further. To make things better, I got to meet with Mr. Gilliam at a Dragon Con press conference this past weekend. Between the press meeting and a public panel, I was able to get a clearer understanding of Terry’s vision for this film. Despite this, I’m writing this review a few days after watching the film, because it’s a lot to digest.
“The Zero Theorem” follows Qohen (Christoph Waltz) as he agonizes through existence in a futurist world where capitalism has won the day. Waltz plays his character like a person suffering from Asperger’s disease. He is socially awkward, doesn’t like to be touched and prefers a solitary life. This is best exemplified when his boss Joby (David Thewlis) invites him to a party and Qohen responds, “I never know where to stand at parties.” It might seem like a funny line, but there are people who do really worry about such things. It was a brilliant use of dialogue that explained the character without over using exposition.
Qohen is charged by his company Mancom (the uber conglomerate he works for) to discover the meaning of life. To wit, to discover if life is meaningless in the form of “100% equals zero” (i.e. The Zero Theorem). The film contains a lot of metaphysics mixed with spiritualism. If you aren’t into either, this might not be the film for you. But if you do enjoy such things, there is a lot to digest in this film.
Waltz’s look is rather disturbing. He is bald and has no eyebrows. This is the side affect from a late night phone call he recieved. He was filled with intense happiness during the call, then was told he would be given his life’s purpose. Now Qohen sits waiting on the call again, so he will know what he is supposed to do. This is the overall theme of the film and will be further explored later in this review/open love letter.
The acting across the board is top notch. Mélanie Thierry plays call girl Bainsely. She is sent to Qohen to help him relax as he takes on the challenge of the Zero Theorem. She also appears to be not just a call girl, but Qohen’s call to live life. He is happy in their virtual reality sessions, just laying on a beach with her, but Qohen fails to see this. It’s tragic when she pleads with him to run away with her, but he chooses to wait on the mysterious phone call to tell him his purpose. While awaiting his call, he misses his call. A stern warning to us all.
Lucas Hedges plays another programmer, Bob, who vests himself in Qohen’s journey. The kid has some serious acting chops. Also, look out for fun cameos from Matt Damon, Tilda Swinton and Peter Stormare.
An interesting anecdote I picked up at Dragon Con was that Gilliam doesn’t see the film as a Dystopian piece. He further stated that it is a Utopian world, as everyone (except Qohen) is happy. To him, the world he has created is based on the world we currently live in. It is one aspect of the film I would have liked to have seen explored more. It is done very subtly with Qohen being attacked by advertisements every time he leaves his dwelling (an abandoned Church). Another aspect I would have liked to see more of is “The Church of Batman the Redeemer.” A great joke about where religion might be headed.
Using technology to his advantage, Mr. Gilliam continues to impress with strong visuals and highly creative storytelling. The budget got slashed from 20 Million to 8.5 million, so Gilliam stated that he had to “get creative” with the budget. One of the ways he did this was by filming in Romania. My understanding is, that is a very bad idea. Nevertheless, the majority of the film does take place in Qohen’s home. It would have been nice to see more of the world he lives in, but alas, the budget only allows so much. And truth be told, this is the story of Qohen’s inward journey.
The art department was fantastic. David Warren’s work as Production Designer is incredibly detailed. The outside world is a color infused assault on the senses, whilst Qohen’s hovel is dark and grimy. The set design really stood out, Gilliam loves to take old places and make them futuristic. Carlo Poggioli did a fantastic job with the costume design. From the vibrant consumerism all around, to Qohen’s drab lifeless attire.
There is a lot of metaphor in the film. At one point, Qohen rips down a crucifix (one that has had the head removed and replaced by a security camera [Religion has been replaced by Mancom]). It’s a nice touch when you put a man in an abandoned church and ask him to prove that all existence is meaningless.
The ending is largely open to your own interpretation. Gilliam stated the script called for a happier ending (which made the financiers happy), but was then changed in production to the bleaker, more open-ended version (which made the director and the writer happy). It’s a little annoying that after all these years, a master storyteller like Gilliam still has to fight “The Man(Com)” for his artistic vision. A happy ending where Qohen runs off with Bainsley would have been terrible.
“The Zero Theorem” is a film without answers, which is the answer! As is directly stated in the movie, waiting for life to show it’s meaning will cause you to miss the meaning, as life has no meaning unless you find it yourself. I loved this film! It might have had a downer ending, but it’s truthfully a message from the director to us. He’s pleading with us to stop asking pointless questions about existence and charging us to go live life! We must not be Qohen.
“The Zero Theorem” is available on VOD now and will receive a limited release in select cities September 19th, 2014.
Rating: 100% = 0
“The Zero Theorem” is everything you want it to be about, or at least that’s how I feel about it. What about you? Share your thoughts on the film in the comments below.-By Jeff Kaminski