Friday, August 29, 2014


The films of director Terry Gilliam often tend to be a tough nut to crack. From 12 MONKEYS (1995) to THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS (2009), a person’s enjoyment of Gilliam’s work depends upon just how much work one is willing to put into it. Gilliam’s newest work, THE ZERO THEOREM, is no different.
In the future, Qohen (Christoph Waltz) is a genius computer programmer who is searching for his life’s meaning while working for a large corporate tech company, led by Management (Matt Damon). After a chance meeting with Management, Qohen is assigned a new project; to solve The Zero Theorem, a computer formula which holds the meaning of life. Qohen is assisted by his supervisor (David Thewlis), a prostitute (Melanie Thierry), and Bob (Lucas Hedges), the son of Management.

THE ZERO THEOREM is a film full of big ideas, mostly focused on finding the meaning of life. The entire film, from start to finish, is all a big metaphor for existence and technology. Figuring that out takes some effort, because the world that this story takes place in is a very bizarre one. People act and dress funny for no apparent reason, and the film often feels like a parody or Saturday-morning cartoon.
Once you cut through all of the wild set-dressing and try to focus on the story and whatever messaging director Terry Gilliam is supposedly trying to get across, there’s just flat-out disappointment to be found as the message, as clear as it is, doesn’t mean very much. It’s not a question of finding out the end and saying “that’s it?” as much as saying “so what?”.

While Gilliam is creating a narrative which goes nowhere, he’s creating a visual masterpiece with his sets and characters. The futuristic world is full of color and is an assault on the eyeballs. Characters are explored fairly well enough, with Qohen getting the most attention. The technology they use is greatly realized, and feels like the next step in our operating-system evolution.
Acting is very good despite everything and everybody being so weird. Christoph Waltz, with his shaved head, funny clothing, and social-awkwardness, feels like he’s channeling Christopher Lloyd’s Uncle Fester (and often looks just like him), but in this wacked-out world it works. Waltz goes through every range of emotion and is simply outstanding. Melanie Thierry is fantastic to watch, and the show is nearly stolen by young-teen Lucas Hedges. David Thewlis is also great, and the rest of the cast; Matt Damon, Tilda Swinton, Peter Stormare, Ben Whishaw…are treated like unfortunate cameos.

As off-the-wall as the film is, it goes for an ending that’s even more out-there and requires a fair amount of heavy-lifting to figure out exactly where things wrap up. There is a lot to admire in THE ZERO THEOREM in ideas, acting, and visual mastery, but even if you’re willing to put in the work to figure things out, the payoff is puny. Approach this one with extreme caution.


No comments:

Post a Comment

A few rules:
1. Personal attacks not tolerated.
2. Haters welcome, if you can justify it.
3. Swearing is goddamn OK.