THE ZERO THEOREM DVD (2013)
SYNOPSIS: Set in a future London, THE ZERO THEOREM stars double Academy Award® winner Christoph Waltz as Qohen Leth, an eccentric and reclusive computer genius plagued with existential angst. He lives in isolation in a burnt -out chapel, waiting for a phone call which he is convinced will provide him with answers he has long sought. Qohen works on a mysterious project, delegated to him by Management (Matt Damon), aimed at discovering the purpose of existence - or the lack thereof - once and for all. But his solitary existence is disturbed by visits from the flirtatious Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry), and Bob (Lucas Hedges), Management’s wunderkind son. Yet it is only once he experiences the power of love and desire that he is able to understand his very reason for being.
‘The Zero Theorem’ is about the search for the meaning of life, or to be more precise, one man’s search for the purpose of his life. Yes, we thought we’d get that clear before we plunge into our review of Terry Gilliam’s latest, said to be the final part of a dystopian trilogy that began in 1985 with ‘Brazil’ and which continued with the critically acclaimed Bruce Willis-Brad Pitt starrer ’12 Monkeys’. Through and through a Gilliam invention, this thematic capper boasts Gilliam’s trademark visual inventions, what with its carnival-type sets and wacky-coloured costumes, but as Gilliam’s fans will also tell you, it can be overdone and underdeveloped at the same time.
Pat Rushin’s script provides Gilliam with a familiar protagonist – a drone named Qohen Leth (pronounced Co-hen, rather than Quinn) working for a vast corporation called Mancom, in the not-too-distant future. Qohen is excellent at his job of “crunching entities”, but he isn’t happy; on the contrary, he’s anxious and jittery waiting for a phone call, one that apparently promises the answer to the meaning of existence which he had missed the first time. So obsessed with he with the call that he applies repeatedly for disability, just so he can work from his home in front of the phone. His wish is granted on one condition – he is to work on proving the zero theorem, which posits that everything in the universe really adds up to nothing, “a one-time glitch” that will contract into a perfect nothing.
If you’re a Gilliam fan, you’re probably already tearing element by element of the story apart to analyse – and possibly over-analyse – it for some meaning. Far as we know, Qohen is meant to reflect us, caught up in our humdrum lives wondering what the purpose of us living is for. And so when someone calls offering that answer, we jump at it immediately; but in the midst of that search, we, like Qohen, tend to forget living in the first place. Among Qohen’s cheerful supervisor Joby (David Thewlis), a red-wigged sex worker named Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry) and his delightfully nutty online therapist (Tilda Swinton), the one character that isn’t window dressing is Management’s lively wunderkind son Bob (Lucas Hedges), the only one in the movie in fact who offers more answers than questions.
True to Gilliam’s style, there is plenty of excess and extravagance, including a pair of tall-short henchmen called the Clones (Emil Hostina, Pavlic Nemes) and pizza deliveries that sing whenever the box is opened for the first time. Yet amidst that, there are also moments of brilliance that you can’t quite ignore. It isn’t coincidence that Qohen’s residence is a former monastery, which he had acquired in a fire sale. Nor is the fact that Management’s camera watching Qohen’s every move is positioned right at the top of a cross whose vertical dimension has broken off. There is also a fantastical depiction of a totally Qohen falling through the cosmos which resembles Michelangelo’s painting of the creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel. Gilliam’s imagination is unbridled here, without the kind of studio constraint that made ‘The Brothers Grimm’ a far too conventional picture.
As his muse, German actor Christoph Waltz is excellent. Yes, since bursting into Hollywood on the back of Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Inglourious Basterds’, Waltz has established himself as one of the most versatile actors of his generation, and he here slips into a role that had both Ewan MacGregor and Billy Bob Thornton cast at different points in its production. Despite the demands of the multi-faceted role, Waltz portrays his character’s obsession, desperation and delusion with poignancy and persuasiveness. And oh, Matt Damon does make a memorable appearance in a few scenes as Management, a firm supporter of Gilliam since ‘Grimm’ and ‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’.
In order to appreciate ‘The Zero Theorem’, you’ll have to first learn and accept Gilliam’s style, which doesn’t have the discipline of modern-day filmmaking but is nonetheless peerless in terms of sheer inventiveness. Though Gilliam doesn’t exactly cover new ground with this movie, there is still more than enough Gilliam here to entrance and intrigue you, notwithstanding that you probably won’t get closure with the ending. Yes, this is Gilliam at his best and his worst, but there is no mistaking that this is through and through a Gilliam invention.
The visuals deserve to look better in a Blu-Ray presentation but are otherwise acceptable in this DVD format. Audio is passable.
DVD RATING :
Review by Gabriel Chong