The Zero Theorem (2013) Review

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I am a big fan of Terry Gilliam as a director, but let’s face it, the guy is capable of creating some bloody peculiar films, isn’t he? Twelve Monkeys is my favourite of his films, while I feel like Tideland was his most surreal, but however you view him, he is very interesting and his films are always visually stunning and thought provoking.

The Zero Theorem is somewhere between “what the frick…” and “oh… I see… wait, no I don’t, what just happened?” on the scale of ‘confusion’ to my ‘brain hurts’. Still, there is plenty to take away from the experience, and the metaphors are obvious, with nods toward 1984 and The Matrix throughout the landscape of wires, vivid neon colours and psychotic hallucinations. Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained) stars as Qohen Leth, a bald computer hacker who is attempting to discover the meaning of life by awaiting a phone-call from some unknown higher power that may never come. After requesting from the management of his job that he be able to work at home so he can answer the possible incoming call, Leth is given the job of prove the “zero theorem” and goes about attempting to do so, with poor results. The management in question watch his every move and send people to distract him while he works, including a seductive internet sex star and the son of the head of management.

The cinematography and overall tone of the film is, let’s just call it, Gilliam-esque, or, Very-Terry. I loved the way the world was designed, a torn and distorted future with hectic populations listening to headphones and traveling way too fast to appreciate or truly see anything. It’s a representation of a possible future based on how unfocused society can be today, and this explains Gilliams views of current social norms in the way in which it paints it’s locations, characters and dialogue.

The performances are great, especially from Waltz, a proven brilliant actor who further highlights just how good he is as a mentally crumbling curiousity of a man with a devotion, or perhaps rather, an addiction, to finding out the meaning of why he is alive. Melanie Thierry, as the temptress of the tale, Bainsley, offers a sexy and intriguing presence that brings out a different side to Waltz’s Leth and provides some of the film’s standout scenes as they “connect” through the use of their computer systems. With David Thewlis as Joby and Lucas Hedges as Bob, with a small part from Matt Damon as Management, the cast are great and while I would have liked to have seen more of Thewlis and learned more about his character, I liked each of them and enjoyed them all when they were on screen.

This is the type of film that will divide opinion. Some audiences will applaud its way of allowing interpretation from the viewer and how it deals with issues in a way that isn’t in-your-face and obvious. Some will find the surrealism too much, the chaos too chaotic and the dialogue too mysterious, but for me those things were reasons why I found myself sucked into the film, and why I will revisit it. Gilliam has created another story that doesn’t explain itself, yet doesn’t leave you irritably looking for answers on some random website as two in the morning. It’s a special film, with brilliantly realised characters and visuals that will knock your socks off. Plus, I kinda want one of those suits that plugs into my laptop.

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