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The Zero Theorem – film review

May 14, 2014


A joyless and empty exercise in meaninglessness.

Reviewed on Tuesday 22nd April 2014

the zero theorem - terry gilliam 2014

A United Kingdom, Romanian co-production. Directed by Terry Gilliam. Written by Pat Rushin. Starring: Christoph Waltz, Mélanie Thierry, David Thewlis, Lucas Hedges, Matt Damon and Tilda Swinton. Running time: 109 mins.

In a dystopian future world obsessed with frivolous pursuits; an introverted computer programmer, Qohen Lith (Christoph Waltz), a disillusioned man who feels a distinct lack of meaning in his life; becomes tasked by his manager (Matt Damon) with solving a scientific theorem with no solution. As Qohen’s frustration mounts and his enthusiasm flags, his supervisor Joby (David Thewlis) provides him with a thereputic distraction in the form of a hot young virtual sex worker, Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry). When this fails to gain results, the manager’s son Bob (Lucas Hedges) elects to assist him in his search for the solution and, in the process, help Qohen overcome his preoccupation with the meaninglessness of existence.

Visionary auteur (and former Python) Terry Gilliam has always been a little hit-or-miss with his offerings, and his latest – The Zero Theorem, is unfortunately another misfire. Gilliam has called The Zero Theorem the final part of an Orwellian triptych; a trilogy of alternate dystopian futures which also includes Twelve Monkeys and Brazil. And it is easy to see why – as this latest film does indeed incorporate thematic and visual aspects from both those superior earlier works. There are the visual flourishes – the dutch angles, wide-angle lenses, industrial decay – which are straight out of Twelve Monkeys, and the frenetic and incomprehensible, yet incredibly banal pop culture fads also found in Brazil (among other works) which are unmistakably Gilliam. The first third of this film is, in fact, quintessentially Gilliam; immersing the viewer within its depiction of a garish and chaotic future world; built upon decay; dressed up in neon and day-glow frivolity (meant to distract its inhabitants from thinking too much). Unfortunately, once the character of Bainsley becomes effectively side-lined halfway through and is replaced by the Lucas Hedges character – interest quickly wanes. Also, the fact that we find ourselves confined to a single location for pretty much the entire second half of the movie doesn’t help none with the narrative’s sudden loss of forward momentum either.

Christoph Waltz gives an appealing and nuanced performance in the lead; echoing Gilliam’s previously put-upon and harried heroes from Brazil and Twelve Monkeys. Mélanie Thierry, as sex woker Bainsley, is suitably sweet and saucy (resembling     at times a young Angelina Jolie). And Tilda Swinton is hilariously over the top and virtually unrecognizable as Waltz’s psychotherapist self-help program, Dr. Shrink-Rom. Lucas Hedges is also quite good as the son of Waltz’s boss (despite the fact his character is kind of superfluous and ultimately derails the film).

There is no doubting the world is a richer place for having a crazy visionary like     Terry Gilliam making movies. It’s just a shame all the idiosyncratic lunacy of Gilliam’s vision ultimately counts for nothing; when faced with a tale with nothing     all that meaningful to say. It is a film which pontificates on the meaninglessness       of existence – but offers little comfort and zero solutions – ultimately ending up as meaningless as the world it portrays.

2 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Palace-Nova Eastend Cinemas, Adelaide, April 22nd 2014.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.


From → film reviews

  1. Shame, I was really looking forward to this. Gilliam’s one of those directors easy to root for, you know? Loved Brazil and Twelve Monkeys.

    • gregory moss permalink

      Yeah, I know what you mean. The problem here isn’t so much Gilliam – but the front-heavy screenplay … which was written by someone else. Brazil and Twelve Monkeys both have fantastic scripts and Gilliam needs good writing as a solid launching pad for his flights of fancy …

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