There’s weird and there’s Terry Gilliam weird, and his latest exploration into the fleeting nature of humanity, The Zero Theorem, may as well have been watermarked with his name.
In a quirky corporate future, where office drones toil away at what look like 80/90s arcade game terminals we’re introduced to Qohen Leth (Christophe Waltz), a corporate slave that puts the ‘insane’ in ‘insanely productive.’ Leth is an outsider and loner desperate to get out of the torturous day to day grind of compulsory human interaction. When his supervisor Joby (David Thewlis) gives him the opportunity to speak to Management (Matt Damon) he’s assigned the seemingly impossible ‘Zero Theorem’ project that occupies his life thereafter.
It’s a pleasure to see that such a whimsical philosophical exercise like The Zero Theorem can even get made, let alone, distributed. In a claustrophobic colourful projection of the future Gilliam transposes a drastically kitsch mutation of tech atop the decaying shells of old world structures. It’s not endless data banks, with rows upon rows of servers humming with information; there are test tubes of luminescent liquid that somehow signify success of processing. There’s almost nothing happening outside of the future office that’s of any importance. Gilliam’s nosy camera imposes itself into the characters’ personal space. Its rodent like manner stalks Leth’s movements and locales, Joby’s house party, the office and through the dilapidated church where we spend most of our time. The ‘Zero Theorem’ is not necessarily asking about the meaning of life, instead it wants to document the (proposed) impending destruction of the universe. Writer Pat Rushin explores concepts of life/existence with an even greater futility through the prism of corporate number crunching and their gaming like methods. Health, recreation and even ‘living’ in a sense has been micromanaged to never allow for a moment of un-productivity. The galactic scope of the task dwarfs everything. There’s not a moment that you feel that it’s anything but some kind of masturbatory exercise. Gilliam and Rushin are vastly more interested in the organisation of that kind of enterprise, instead of being definitive with enunciating any kind of hypothesis.
At its core is the magnetic Waltz doing his best ‘Gollum’ by way of Good Will Hunting‘s maths skills. Leth is an odd concoction of tropes of antisocial behaviour with conflicting and confusing motivations. Gilliam has Leth continuously explain that he’s waiting for a phone call, from what he eventually discloses is higher power to grant purpose to his life. If religion is the opiate to the masses than the blinding logic of his task explains the character’s schizophrenia. All that said, it’s a credit to Waltz that he’s able to be interesting and add his indefinable gravitas to this peculiar weed of a human. Thewlis gets to jump into supervisor duties and relishes that slippery, duplicitous character that you’re not sure if he’s dumb or playing it. Damon is wonderful in his brief capacity as management, adding presence and reassurance to this mysterious figurehead, in all his weird camouflage. Mélanie Thierry’s Bainsley becomes the object of affection, connection to humanity and the tool for manipulation in Leth’s world. Keep your eye out for another great Tilda Swinton performance in the form of a psychiatrist computer program.
The Zero Theorem is a Gilliam carnival riding the vortex into oblivion and it’s weirdly enjoyable.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Terry Gilliam
Written by: Pat Rushin
Starring: Christoph Waltz, Mélanie Thierry, David Thewlis, Lucas Hedges, Matt Damon, Ben Whishaw, Tilda Swinton