REVIEW: The Zero Theorem

17 08 2014

The Zero TheoremLondon Film Festival, 2013

Terry Gilliam’s “The Zero Theorem” is the kind of film that raises so many important and intriguing questions that it’s entirely possible to forget some of them along the journey.  This oblique tale, bordering at times on the absurd, stuns with the sheer density of the thematic issues that Pat Rushin’s screenplay can pack into 100 minutes.

The film grapples with conundrums as timeless as the meaning of life, the nature of happiness, and the imminence of death and nothingness.  At the same time, “The Zero Theorem” also has its finger on the pulse of many modern malaises, such as screen addiction, the fading appeal of observable reality in relation to virtual reality, and the electronic mediation of human connection.

We explore these through the work of a computer programmer known as Q, played by Christoph Waltz, as he attempts to solve humanity’s conundrums.  In a change of pace from the two silver-tongued Tarantino characters that won him a pair of Oscars, Waltz sits back and delivers a largely reactive performance.  As he attempts to unlock the zero theorem and get to the core of human existence, Q doesn’t instigate events so much as he lets them happen.  Because we’re less focused on a conventional narrative, “The Zero Theorem” can easily delve into the realm of the existential and philosophical.


Some of the topics tackled by “The Zero Theorem” are less perfectly realized than others, as is often the case with films of such lofty ambition.  But Terry Gilliam’s zany film glides by as it bizarrely illustrates some rather tough concepts.  At times, the absurdity is laid on a little too thick, yet the supreme intelligence of the filmmakers shine through at all times.

Like David Michod’s “The Rover,” it’s clear that the very specific future of “The Zero Theorem” has been thoroughly contemplated even though all the cards are not laid bare from the outset.  The odd, tacky production design of Gilliam’s future certainly intrigues with its omnipresent ticker tape and ads for the Church of Batman the Redeemer, but it never overpowers and distracts from the story at hand.  In fact, the peculiarities of Gilliam’s creation highlight the strange paradoxes of existence the so-called normal, real world.

And overall, the sheer weightiness of Rushin’s pinpoint analysis of so much contemporary malaise really does land a solid (if not entirely consistent) blow with a little help from Gilliam’s fancifully purposeful direction. I left “The Zero Theorem” not as if I had been talked at but rather as if I had been released into a deep contemplative state.  I felt as if I was left to cobble together my own takeaway from the film, which is quite fun and rewarding when gifted with such a unique array for building blocks with which to construct.  B+3stars



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