Panned by critics, The Zero Theorem barely made it to the cinema at all (and not at all in Winnipeg). No surprise that Terry Gilliam is misunderstood. Brazil, my third-favourite film of all time, was largely ignored by critics and the masses when it was released in 1985, but now the critics love it and it’s a cult classic.
The Zero Theorem is clearly a Brazil for the 21st century, focusing on consumerism, our computer age and corporate capitalism instead of totalitarian governments, and adding theology and philosophy into the mix, which obviously isn’t going to discourage me. I knew zip about this film before I watched it - not even that the critics had panned it. All I knew was that it was a sci-fi directed by Gilliam. That’s all I needed to know.
I’ve wanted to watch The Zero Theorem since the day it was released on DVD (July 22), but it’s been a busy summer, so I let two months pass. I would be more upset by this if it were not for the fact that I ended up watching it, alone, on precisely the day when its subject would impact me the most. In my theology, God does this kind of thing all the time; when it happens, I can only sigh in grateful awe (even when I just missed a chance to watch it with Walter).
If you want to know no more (though I won’t spoil too much), stop reading this and watch The Zero Theorem (unless, of course, you don’t like Brazil, or other Gilliam films; me, I’ve always been a big Gilliam fan and most of his films have been profound experiences for me).
Christoph Waltz stars as Qohen Leth, a lonely man living in an abandoned church in a near future which features The Church of Batman the Redeemer. Qohen is some kind of computer genius who is given the assignment (from Management, played by Matt Damon) of proving that everything is for nothing in the end (i.e. there is zero meaning to existence). The trouble is he has been waiting for years for the CALL ( a call he is convinced he missed) from (and here I speculate) God (Waiting for Godot anyone?) to tell him what the meaning is to his life. This makes Qohen’s task rather ironic (and impossible). But a strange woman named Bainsley (played by Melanie Thierry) and Management’s son (Bob, played by Lucas Hedges) are around to help him. And then there’s Dr. Shrink-Rom (Tilda Swinton) and Qohen’s supervisor, Joby (David Thewlis), whose help may not be wanted. It’s all quite chaotic (like Brazil), right up to and including the ending which I can’t tell you about.
Every performance is spot-on, Waltz deserves an Oscar and the cinematography is glorious, as are the sets. The Zero Theorem is written by Pat Rushin, a rookie (which is amazing). He has written a screenplay which is mysterious, funny, tragic and, above all, thought-provoking in its depiction of where we are headed and its questions about the meaning of life. You knew what kind of rating I was going to give it from the opening word - ****. My mug is way up for another Gilliam masterpiece. This best of all years for independent films just keeps getting better! Waiting for the odd great film has never been this rewarding.