The Zero Theorem (2014)

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Now here is another typical Terry Gilliam film, with his mind seeming to love crafting dystopian universes and this one is no different in its way of creating an odd controlling world always leaving characters watched and for Qohen in particular always waiting.

The story is about Qohen (Christoph Waltz) a data man who gets bumped up to working on some formula to get perfect zero. He doesn’t know what it’s for and under a mysterious guise called ‘Management’ he starts losing it as the job becomes harder and harder. The life he once had changes as people come into his world while he still holds out hope for a call telling him the meaning of life.

If that doesn’t sum up in some way how zany this story is then the only other thing is to just go see it as it’s hard to explain. To be honest it took me quite a while to get into it and at the end I still felt lost, like I’d been watching some madman’s creation or his joke to be pretty much lost on me, maybe it’s because I wasn’t as invested in the characters as I’d like to have been. Waltz is fantastic in his role as the angsty data cruncher, his mannerisms representing a cooped up creature like that of Igor or Quasimodo, even more fitting when you take into consideration the location of his home. The home set up in the church is clever and sets up opposing imagery of science and religion but after a while certain things like mice taking and eating pizza make no sense. It’s a weird place where Qohen breaks down and rebels thanks to the influence of a sexy outsider and ‘Management’s’ son. He starts to view the world differently and this sets up the big finale.

When I was watching it, it hit me that the main plot of him waiting for a phone call back was similar in style to Beckett’s play, ‘Waiting for Godot’. The constant waiting and wondering but not exactly knowing what for. I thought this was a neat idea if not something done before, the comment that ‘Management’ makes about Qohen waiting for a call about meaning leaving him a life with no meaning was devastatingly precise and makes you question your meaning of existence, though I doubt it’ll make any of us go crazy on some existential crisis like Qohen does.

Waltz steals the show and behaves like an erratic and lost creature forever trapped in himself and the world. He calls himself we and us and refuses to eat interesting food or touch women in the fear of his surveillance and the life he believes told him it’s not allowed. The female attraction from a tool hired by ‘Management is played greatly by Melanie Thierry who lights up the burnt out church and feeds Qohen desire and dreams if only for them to consume him and possibly lose everything around him. There’s nice little cameos in this movie which I won’t disclose in case you decide to watch the film but ‘Management’ is a strange chameleon like figure with a Hollywood stature to match their character status and the role of some shrink is another madcap performance from a typically strange actress perfectly suited to this madcap world Gilliam has made.

It’s a movie that looks very striking from it’s stalking talking commercials, the cross of banned activities in the park and the the sundrenched utopia of the imaginary island but it’s also a movie that feels just a bit too weird, even Waltz’s superb acting can’t save it. It doesn’t really hold much sympathy and it becomes a befuddling dystopia where you want it to have no meaning so it can finally come to a resolution – which when it does arrive is underwhelming. A film with certain good ideas and dazzling visual strokes of genius but falls apart at the seams when coming down to story and structure.

6/10

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