zero_theorem_2Year: 2013 (2014 US release)
Director: Terry Gilliam
Writer(s): Pat Rushin
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: R
35mm, Color, 107 mins

Synopsis:  A computer hacker whose goal is to discover the reason for human existence continually finds his work interrupted thanks to the Management; namely, they send a teenager and lusty love interest to distract him. (Source)

Director Terry Gilliam has built his career around dystopic visions of the future, but now those nightmarish visions get an eerie update in The Zero Theorem. In his latest, Gililam continues what he started with Brazil and 12 Monkeys, again forcing us to reevaluate the world around us. Perhaps more than any of his other films though, this one feels like a last ditch wake-up call, dissecting our perception of purpose, fear of the unknown and the human connection slowly escaping us as our lives become more digital. Despite the breathlessly realized fantasy world that lies in front of our eyes, The Zero Theorem is as real as it gets.

The story centers on a programmer named Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz), an introverted man who refers to himself as “we” and commits to a daily grind of crunching “entities” for a mega corporation called Mancom. At the beginning of the film, Qohen is suffering from an existential crisis, which he believes is manifesting through physical debilitation. Through it all, Qohen is waiting for a very important phone call which he believes can come at any time and basically give him the meaning of life. After a chance meeting with the enigmatic and illusive head of Mancom (Matt Damon), simply named Management, Qohen is granted a transfer to work at home (a repurposed cathedral). This way, he’ll be able to answer his life-changing call when it comes. In exchange, he has to work on something called the zero theorem, an unsolved mathematical formula that drives people mad after failure to solve it. Its meaning will change Qohen’s life forever and have implications for the rest of humanity’s ailing future.

As usual for a Gilliam project, the film is a sensory barrage of colorful characters, costumes and set pieces which fly towards us at light speed with barely any time to register their dense detail or meaning. At it’s heart however, this is a very intimate story about a lonely man coming to odds with his existence and how tiny he is compared to the big picture. Through his crisis, he gets lost in the big machine, struggling to find meaning while missing what matters most. It’s not a concept that’s foreign to anyone, but under Gilliam’s almost literal translation (both visually and thematically), it speaks volumes. The overstimulating execution is also a much needed look at the current landscape of excess and the impersonal digital lives we live through social various social media. Sure we’re connected but are we really connecting? The world that Gililam has created is truly breathtaking, an ADHD dystopia in which no one bothers to listen anymore because everything is always screaming at them, whether it’s more coupons for Occupy “Mall” Street, a get rich schemes or phony religions. It all culminates in a mad experience that mirrors the scattered and oppressive world we live in.

zero_theorem_3Adding to the film’s dense patchwork are a few performances that stand out through the noise. First and foremost, Christoph Waltz keeps us emotionally invested throughout, with his portrayal of Qohen. Any actor could easily get lost amidst the chaos, but he has an eccentric and endearing quality to him that makes us care about what’s happening. After he begins work on the zero theorem, he’s pretty much locked up at home for the entirety of the film, only occasional getting a few visiting characters to bounce off of. He carries the film with ease. The next best performance goes to Melanie Thierry as Bainsley, a girl who Qohen meets at a party. She comes into his life at a time when he needs it most, is a bit more honest with herself than he is and brings an emotional center to the film. Their interactions together crystalize the film’s tragic themes. Another knockout is Lucas Hedges as Bob, Management’s son. He’s sent to help Qohen solve the theorem and Hedges plays him with a perfect amount of disconnect and deadpan wit. As Matt Damon’s son in the film, Hedges subtly channels the actor without turning into parody or being too obvious. Matt Damon and David Thewlis share a few good moments as Qohen’s contrasting boss and co-worker respectively – they’re caricatures for sure but add color and layer to the film’s bustling energy. Tilda Swinton plays a digital Cd-Rom shrink given to Qohen, but her performance is too similar and done much better in the previous Snowpiercer.

Terry Gilliam films can be a bit to take in and The Zero Theorem is no different. At this point, you’re either on board with Gilliam’s loud, colorfully eccentric style of storytelling or you aren’t. Even still, it’s hard to deny the talent and distinct voice that he has and the passion of his message. As the world becomes a faster and more saturated place, Pat Rushin’s script and Gilliam’s tale urge us that the meaning of life is lost to those who let life pass them by. Like the best satire, The Zero Theorem is a double edged sword of beautiful visuals and a sharp message.

Crome Rating: 4.5/5

SG