Year: 2013 (UK Theatrical 2014)
Director: Terry Gilliam
Screenplay: Pat Rushin
Starring: Christoph Waltz, Mélanie Thierry, David Thewlis, Lucas Hedges
Synopsis is here:
The Zero Theorem frustrates in the same way that Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales (2006) does. The film feels it has something to say about the state of our world, but yells too much information way too loud to gain any real sense of clarity. I love Terry Gilliam for the simple fact that his protagonists are all dreamers. They throw caution to the wind as they become obsessed with their flights of fancy. The problem arises when the dream isn’t particularly interesting or involving. What we have here is a film that’s extremely loud about what it wants to say, but for some, they won’t really care about what is said.
I found myself reminded of The Ninth Configuration (1980) which treads similar territory of men who are looking for hope within the hopeless. Themes like this, I do tend to enjoy, as faith is that wonderfully human thing that brings up exciting conflicts within narratives. At the start of The Zero Theorem, I felt we were on to another winner. It’s clear that the budget was low but the imagination high, as we’re landed into an obscenely coloured and cluttered landscape which melds the grubby London setting of Children of Men (2006) with Gilliam’s own, satirical Brazil (1985). Orwell himself would be proud of the surreal production and art design on display.
It’s clear that Gilliam hasn't lost his sense of fun, filling the film with dry jabs of modern life. Advertisements of a church of Batman are slapped on walls, while the idea of party revelers dancing to their own iPods despite the room playing loud music is something that already feels closer than we think. There's even a certain dryness to Christoph Waltz’s character of Qohen working a pathetic number cruncher for an all-consuming company named Mancorp. Particularly when we find out Managements reason for being.
When summing the film up to more than its smaller parts, The Zero Theorem suffers from being a bit of a beautiful nothing. Waltz’ is having fun with a character far removed from what we know him for, but the character himself is far from engaging. The film's romantic relationship between Waltz’s Qohen and Mélanie Thierry’s Bainsley never really sizzles, while the feeling of wanting to replicate Brazil in more than just set design never really leaves us. The film blows a lot of smoke over the cruel search for purpose, unfortunately Gilliam’s worse indulgences take over and the film never really stakes a strong claim.
I say this as a bit of a Gilliam apologist at the best of times. I found Tideland (2005) nightmarish and evocative. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009) pushes Gilliam’s love of the messiness of imagination and storytelling while The Brothers Grimm (2005) brushes past its flaws with an interesting look on fairy tales that one could say, may have helped usher in this new breed of “gritty” fairy tales. The Zero Theorem has many of the pacing and organised problems of the director’s weakest pieces. The problem is this time round, I found myself unable to find the golden nugget of significance that usually resides in Gilliam’s mind’s eye. As gorgeous as The Zero Theorem is in parts, this tragic tale of The Big Crunch felt more than a little soggy.