Sometimes going out to the theater is hard work. If you’re anything like me, the fact that you have to put on pants is already a huge disappointment. You’ve reached the end of your queue and have already seen everything worth seeing on Netflix, so what can you do? That’s right, I have a solution that you don’t need pants for! Rent something on Video On Demand (VOD). There’s a recent trend where films are being released online before they even hit theaters, and it’s usually cheaper than the price of admission. Every week when movies come out on VOD, I’ll narrow down the best one for that week. This week’s pick is: The Zero Theorem.
Almost 30 years later and Terry Gilliam finally finishes his “Orwellian triptych”, but that is not a good thing. Gilliam is notorious for having natural disasters or other catastrophic events (most of them out of his control) happen that somehow mess up the production of his films. (See documentary: Lost in La Mancha). Unfortunately, none of that was the case with The Zero Theorem, which means the problems lie within.
Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) is not your typical data cruncher for Mancom. He is waiting. Specifically, waiting for a call from some unknown person (perhaps Godot?). This person, he believes, will give him the meaning that he feels his life is lacking. Qohen tries to convince his supervisor Joby (David Thewlis) that he can be more productive at home, but really it is just a guise for him to be home in case he gets the call. Joby just thinks he’s crazy and instead thinks he should talk to the therapist AI, Dr. Shrink-Rom (Tilda Swinton). Qohen is determined to find a way to stay home, and desperate enough to go to a party where Management (Matt Damon) will be in an attempt to talk to him.
Management thinks he’s pretty out of his mind, but in it enough to work on a special project from home. This project involves solving the Zero Theorem, which he learns later is meant to prove that there is no meaning to life. Qohen is sent help in the form of Management’s extremely smart teenaged son named Bob (Lucas Hedges), mainly there to make sure he stays on task. Bob has a tough job ahead of him when Qohen meets/is saved by Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry) at the party he went to. He falls for her, but Bainsley has a secret that Qohen hasn’t realized (although it is plainly obvious to us).
This world is done in a very specific, surreal style that Gilliam fans will be more than familiar with. In that familiarity is where the problems with The Zero Theorem lie. This is the final installment of his dystopian trilogy, but it comes off as an amalgamation of the previous two films. Elements of Brazil (and even a few from Twelve Monkeys) rear their head all throughout the film. The extravagant, neo-futuristic world in Zero feels like a higher budget echo of Brazil. Even the philosophy and symbolism seem like they were borrowed and slightly altered to make them appeal to contemporary life. I’m not saying the ideas presented are bad ones, since they still resonate in our society, but they do echo those of its predecessors.
Any Gilliam fan has pardoned more and received less, so getting over that small qualm will be easy, especially when you have such a talented cast to take you through the story. Waltz plays the neurotic character so deftly that even you might start referring to yourself in the plural. Tilda Swinton also needs special recognition not only for her role in this film, but also her cinematic year. She has shown us her comedic side with quirky character after quirky character, showing us her true range as well as how funny she can be as a secondary character.
If there is one thing Gilliam does extremely well, it would be creating a complete universe that probably only existed before in his imagination. Each set is visually stimulating, even if it does come off a little odd. The dream sequences are truly spectacular, most notably the symbolic scene involving being sucked into a black hole. The beautiful imagery would be diminished if it weren’t accompanied by a hearty score. Even now, I can still hear the catchy cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” that you hear every time Qohen visits Bainsley’s website.
Once you crunch the data, you will easily see that The Zero Theorem is much more ‘hero’ than ‘zero’. I couldn’t imagine a more fitting ending for this trilogy. Terry Gilliam transports us to a world of his own creation (again), and invites us to stay until the sun sets. Virtual reality suits are optional.
RATING: ★★★★★★★(7/10 stars)