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Terry Gilliam has never found it easy to make one of his downright
weird films. Studio interference has almost invariably led to project
delays, postponements, and outright cancellations, with his final cuts
emerging bruised, bloodied and - more often than not - broken.
Interestingly, The Zero Theorem suffers from next to none of the
scuttlebutt that usually accompanies a Gilliam film. Instead, this
dense, complex, thought- provoking odyssey of human existence and
(un)happiness feels like pure Gilliam: odd, uncompromising, but - at
its best - almost breathtakingly brilliant.
In some not-so-distant, sparkly-bright dystopian future, brilliant and determinedly solitary mathematician Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) suffers through the tiny indignities of daily life. He's forced to leave the burnt-out church he calls home to report for work, where he crunches numbers for his clueless immediate supervisor Joby (David Thewlis). But all he wants is to stay close to his telephone, waiting for a call he believes will help him unravel the mysteries of the universe and his existence.
When mysterious head honcho Management (a silver-haired Matt Damon) finally gives him leave to work from home, Qohen is assigned the impossible Zero Theorem, a mathematical conundrum that has defeated many a mathematician before him. To keep him from going completely around the bend, Management sends him company in the form of Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry), a nubile young woman with whom he forges an unexpected emotional connection; and Management's own genius teenage son Bob (Lucas Hedges).
If you're looking for a plot that makes sense and progresses in logical fashion, The Zero Theorem is not the film for you. In Gilliam's movie, based on a loopy, mind-bending script by Pat Rushin, plot points are more often than not metaphors for the human condition. The script can be simultaneously literal and obtuse: Qohen lives in a hollowed-out church, a blindingly obvious symbol of the fading of traditional religion; he's waiting for a call - read: calling - that will free him from the humdrum banalities of a worker-bee's life.
But that's also where the film's genius lies. It's an explosion of philosophical ideas, asking deep, difficult questions about happiness, humanity and hubris - often in the same scene. Few films and film-makers would dare to so boldly confront existential issues on this scale and to this depth. The titular Zero Theorem, after all, requires Qohen to prove that everything is nothing: that the entire universe, filled with people, ultimately has no meaning. Qohen's strange, isolated journey hints at some answers, but not anywhere near all of them.
Gilliam could easily have failed on two counts: the seemingly stereotypical blonde love interest; and the annoyingly precocious teenage boy. But, within these archetypes, The Zero Theorem finds something fascinating to say. Bainsley starts out as a ditzy blonde dream girl, but winds up offering Qohen plenty of soul and an elusive, transient kind of eternity. Bob, too, is a whip-smart delight, a child more in tune with the silent beats and rhythms of the universe than any number of people older and purportedly wiser than him.
The film would fail catastrophically without a leading man capable of handling the tragedy and comedy of Qohen Leth - a character who, in habitually referring to himself using the royal 'we' , is a metaphor for every human being that has ever been and will ever be. Waltz is more than up to the task. He is hilariously effective when called upon to wriggle into a skin-tight virtual-reality costume, and devastatingly heartbreaking in the moment when Qohen refuses a chance at freedom and happiness to stay locked into the dark, nihilistic world in which he lives.
There are also a pair of wonderful supporting turns - slightly larger than cameos - from Damon and Tilda Swinton. The former clearly enjoyed his time working on The Brothers Grimm, one of Gilliam's most disastrous on-set experiences, and here, he provides a grim, mysterious counterpoint to Waltz's Cohen - the latter only appears to be impenetrable and tough to crack. Swinton, meanwhile, is a hoot as Dr. Shrink-Rom, Qohen's at-home, virtual psychiatrist, fumbling through their sessions with tons of blustery, false cheer.
Perhaps most astounding of all is the fact that Gilliam made a film that looks so good - in its inventive, kitschy way - on a shoestring budget of US$8.5 million. That's pocket change for most Hollywood films, and there's no doubt that everyone involved took a huge pay-cut to make The Zero Theorem look as great as it does. The special effects are mostly wonderful, and the neon-coloured world through which the black-clad Qohen stalks practically bursts at the seams with detail and imagination.
The Zero Theorem is emphatically not a film that will appeal to everyone. There are those who will find themselves incredibly annoyed by its philosophical navel-gazing, and others who might find Qohen's entire journey pointless and irredeemably self-involved. But, when it comes down to it, it's hard to deny the weird, wacky power of Gilliam's movie. The Zero Theorem so bravely grapples with big ideas and complicated metaphors that it's hard not to admire the director's great courage and even greater ambition.
I'm not very fond of reviews so i will be quick.
I love his movies. Brazil, Bandits, Munchhausen. They represent wonderful memories from my childhood. These are special movies. Not that I don't like the 12 Monkeys and the others, I love them. But those are special. Dream injections in VHS format they were.
The Zero Theorem? I really liked it. It felt like one of the special ones. Very little CGI, beautiful sets, great actors, crooked angles and a compelling story. I think most people will relate to the main character and his very explicit dilemmas. It is a satire of the world we live in today, as Brazil was back in the 80's. In many aspects they are very similar.
If you are a fan, watch it. You'll not be disappointed.
Christoph Waltz plays a troubled man in an oppressive, apparently pointless job in his corporate cubicle. As you'd expect from Gilliam, he explores this not with a bleak gray background, but a garish cartoony near-future world full of madness and humour. I suspect this choice won't be for everyone, as the first hour of the film is slightly over-the-top, particularly David Thewliss's David Brent-like supervisor - though it's always entertaining. But by anchoring the film on Waltz, who is able to show a mannered but more serious side than his Tarantino roles, Gilliam gains unexpected levels of gravitas as he explores themes of isolation in a connected world, constant surveillance and feelings of doom. This can be filed next to Brazil in tone, and is highly recommended for Gilliam fans as his most successful film for many years.
I seem to have an accidental tradition of seeing new Terry Gilliam at
film festivals. Four years ago, I saw The Imaginarium of Doctor
Parnassus at the Munich Film Festival which had an intro and Q&A by
Gilliam, my first time seeing one of my favourite directors in person.
It was quite a treat. This time at the London Film Festival I didn't go
to the screening he attended, but it goes for any film that you see at
a festival that the excited atmosphere enhances the experience.
Parnassus held up on DVD and I'm sure The Zero Theorem will too,
securing my opinion that he can make at least one great film a decade
(since the 70s). Personally, I'm a big fan of Gilliam's bizarre chaotic
style, it never fails for me, and this is his best use of it since the
wonderfully disorientating Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Although the outside world can seem more like Ron Howard's vision of The Grinch, as many have complained they didn't buy the retro-world Gilliam created here, I loved the immaculate production design and especially the visual effects for the scenes where our protagonist, Qohen, is trying to solve the theorem in video game-like scenes. This is probably his most on- the-nose existentialistic film yet given its direct and ambitious plot- line, but it's very cleverly and often emotionally done. It's like the incredibly profound reverend speech in Synecdoche, New York expanded to 2 hours about each of our individual purposes in life and how that search of meaning affects our lives. Both Zero and Synecdoche thrive off that irony and they're both brilliantly executed, Zero perhaps not having quite a punch in the gut effect.
I loved Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds and quite liked him in Django Unchained, premature second Oscar be damned, but otherwise I'd only seen him in Carnage and I'm still not too confident what he can do in a non-Tarantino film. It wasn't until watching The Zero Theorem where I realised how I'd never seen him play such an emotional character, even if he is very reserved for the most part until a sexual awakening. Unfortunately, his performance feels inconsistent. Sometimes he absolutely nails poignant character-defining scenes and reaches heights of Basterds, albeit at the other end of the scale. Other times, he feels awkward, over- rehearsed and not in the moment. It's quite strange and rather frustrating because his good bits are so good.
Perhaps it's mainly due to the writing as its mainly the attempts at slapstick that falter. The script has a running character quirk where he refers to himself as "we" or "us" as opposed to "me" or "I" and it's rather confusing as to what it means and puts an unnecessary barrier between us and Qohen when it could be incredibly easy for us to empathise with him. The side characters more than make up for his lopsided parts though. At first they can feel like one- dimensional gag characters, but slowly they develop in an intriguing and welcome way, especially Melanie Thierry and Lucas Hedges' characters. While many of the film's jokes don't really land, David Thewlis is one of the best comedic relief characters in a while and he undeniably has the best lines. Damon and Swinton make delightful appearances too.
Along with its existentialism, it has a fascinating theme of sex in the 21st Century with the influence of internet. Thierry's character is a paid tease, 'you can look but you can't touch,' though she has a heart, a good one. But you still can't touch. It certainly hits a nerve for these 'more connected than ever yet more disconnected than ever' times. I would give anything to have the virtual paradise the film offers from Qohen's suit in the poster. The film attempts to have 1984-like themes of government surveillance which aren't as interesting but fortunately after Brazil, it feels like Gilliam's style rather than an NSA reference. Although the first act struggles in tone, it certainly builds to something very rewarding. The Zero Theorem won't be for everyone, but it at the very least offers an interesting answer to the big question, what is the meaning of my life?
First of all, I must state that I've been following Terry Gilliam since
the 1990s and that I have seen all of his films in retrospect. Most of
them I liked instantly, some required multiple viewings to completely
grasp but some were quite disappointing though. In my humble opinion,
ever since 'The Fisher King' every new Gilliam film was either better
or at least on par with the previous (with the exception of 'The
Brothers Grimm' which was a dud). Having said all of that, I feel as if
I still just wasn't prepared for 'The Zero Theorem'.
I usually don't make decisions about films to watch based on reviews (especially when it's a film by an author I admire), but I've read some very negative reviews on this one. What most of them had in common was that 'The Zero Theorem' was a shallow copy of 'Brazil' and/or 'Blade Runner'. Honestly, after seeing the film I think such superficial remarks are as fair as calling 'Saving Private Ryan' "a shallow copy of 'The Dirty Dozen'".
Although set in the future, 'The Zero Theorem' is a subtle but harsh critique of modern society much like the two aforementioned films it supposedly "copies", but it covers a completely different main subject. While 'Brazil' was a satire focused on a struggle between a small man and the bureaucracy, 'The Zero Theorem' touches much wider ground and asks some more important questions: Who are we? Why are we here? What is our purpose? What's great about 'The Zero Theorem' is that it refrains from answering and lets the viewers find the answers themselves, and as such it not only succeeds to convey the message that life is too short to waste on waiting for some divine call but also touches on the very meaning of our existence more than any film I have ever seen.
On the technical side, the film is beautifully crafted, astonishingly decorated, marvelously acted and masterfully directed. This is a work of a great author in his prime and had it been made earlier in Gilliam's career it would have no doubt been remembered as his defining masterpiece. Almost thirty years after 'Brazil' it draws inevitable comparisons and is unfortunately labeled as lesser by people who obviously and sadly miss its complete point.
It is hard to judge 'The Zero Theorem' just as a film, because it is so much more than just a moving picture. Seeing it only for entertainment will most certainly leave the viewer dissatisfied. Watching it as an art form but also a philosophic treatise, it becomes some sort of a Nietzschean abyss staring back at you: it is deeper than imaginable but a fully cathartic experience as such.
A full and perfect 10 out of 10.
Too bad movies like this don't get a bigger budget, specially to
enhance the special effects and futuristic scenarios, but that really
doesn't matter when you are a creative genius like Gilliam, he does a
great job with what he is given. This movie has great resemblance to
his other retro futuristic movie Brazil, which combines retro and
futuristic images and elements in a Dystopian chaotic Orwellian future.
Here we struggle with the main character (wonderful played by Christoph Waltz) and his meaningless solitary existence hoping to get an answer by a higher power of what life is all about.
So can the hero find out the meaning of life or the absence of it? and will he be willing to sacrifice his potential joy and happiness in order to get that mysterious call. Well you will be the judge.
If you like this movie I also recommend PI by Aronofsky, Brazil, Blade runner, 1984, THX1138 among other great ones. Hopefully this movie will become a cult classic and show new directors that they don't require 100+ million dollars to make good sci-fi movies. Thanks and cheers to Gilliam for sticking for what he believes in and daring to tackle difficult philosophical questions and having that original fingerprint he stamps in all his great movies.
Terry Gilliam is back with one of his better films in recent years.
It's also one of his more philosophical films, as it grapples with many
deep questions, including the meaning of life itself. Gilliam calls
"The Zero Theorem" the third instalment in his dystopian satire
trilogy, which began with "Brazil" in 1985 and was followed by "Twelve
Monkeys" in 1995.
"The Zero Theorem" follows the story of Qohen Leth, a number-crunching programmer at a large corporation called Mancom. While struggling with life in general, Qohen is given the job of solving the zero theorem, a mysterious mathematical equation that continually eludes his grasp. The task is complicated by some new personal relationships when he meets Bainsley, a tempting Internet stripper, and Bob, the 15 year old, genius son of the CEO of Mancom. Have they entered his life to help Qohen, or are they merely unnecessary distractions from his work? Qohen is often unsure about the answer to that question.
The world of the film resembles that of Gilliam's previous two dystopian satires, but this is its own film and it deals with some new themes and conflicts. I'd say the themes and questions are even deeper here, because Gilliam is struggling with the meaning of life itself. Anyway, it all works and leads to an intriguing and visually engaging story. "The Zero Theorem" gets a big thumbs up from me. You should definitely check out this one, especially if you're a fan of Gilliam's earlier work.
There's a black hole swirling at the bottom of Qohen Leth's (Christoph
Waltz) soul. He's waiting for a phone call from God, explaining the
point of it all. Because at the moment it seems like existence is an
erroneous quirk in the cosmic standard of nothingness. Everything will
return to nothing, so why make something of life? Love, in the form of
romance (Melanie Thierry as Bainsley), friendship (David Thewlis), and
parenthood (Lucas Hedges) provides Qohen with the answers, but he's too
absorbed in his work on the "Zero Theorem" to accept it.
There are elements of David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis in Qohen's philosophical quest, in the oddball characters he meets along the way, and his perennial absence of feeling. And in the Zen imagery of a nude Waltz spiralling through the void, there's a bit of Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain. Both of those films were more coherent and emotionally engaging than The Zero Theorem, although Terry Gilliam's film grows on you, once you accept that it's not Brazil Part II. There are definite touches of Gilliam's 1985 masterpiece here, particularly the awkward marrying of archaic and ultra-modern technologies. But don't expect a script of Tom Stoppard wit, swerve, and clarity.
Waltz is a fantastic presence which is necessary, because most of the story plays out in his home: an echochamber of a converted church, whose baptismal font now serves as a washing up bowl. We see him at work, attempting to order the universe via a 3D game block game, fighting against entropy; against the inevitable demise of conscious matter and with it the question: What does it all mean? The problem is, he's waiting for an answer. The very point is uncertainty, the propulsive force of our species.
Whether all this makes for a particularly cinematic experience, I'm not sure. The Cronenberg and Aronofsky films I mentioned were successful because, for all their vast questions, their focus was narrow and their plots simple. The Zero Theorem is at its best when at its least manic perhaps, its least 'Gilliam-esque' lost in the quiet intimacy between Qohen and Bainsley. Like Wes Anderson's latest, this feels like the film of an auteur fighting against two opposing impulses. The results, particularly when seen as a straightforward study of depression, are interesting, if not entirely successful.
i thought they didn't make movies like that anymore - visually wild and
beautiful, very confusing and crazy, deeply humane, with love passing
by and forever leaving its mark on everyone.
i just now thought that i feel in a similar way when reading some of brother strugatsky's books: the strangling system machine, the human pawns in somebody's heartless game, the desperate search for meaning of life, the dangerously feeble spark of love.
i was attracted by the visuals of this movie, but almost gave up after about 40th minute - it was all too confusing, a crazy circus of unexplainable characters and chatter. at some point though, i started to see more clearly what is happening and all started making much more sense, to the extent that i got hooked.
i don't remember much of Terry Gilliam's Brazil, but i have the feeling the two movies were very close in concept and realization.
not much of a review, i know, but i'm still under the impressions of this movie and really, if any of the above makes any sense to you - go watch it, you will enjoy it :)
10 out of 10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is Gilliam at his most aggressively, satirically metaphysical.
clearly enjoying pushing buttons in our brain.. and if you resist, you
will suffer. Clearly an answer to the big no-brainer sci-fi films of
the past few years. I've seen it claimed above that it relies on its
visuals over any substance, well that's simply not true... the depth is
there in spades.. you just have to dig for it yourself.. Notions of
religion, Love, Friendship, Perceptions and Belief are toyed with in
many guises. The interactions between Qohen, a socially awkward lost
soul with the other (equally lost, but faking it really well until the
end)characters is poetic and believable. - And the fact that nothing
seems to resolve in the end is clearly a massive point of the
narrative;and,personally,I would have been quite disappointed in any
Its not Brazil.. but nothing is... Gilliam always provokes thought and surely that's a good thing.
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