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8/10
Weird, wise and wonderful.
shawneofthedead11 April 2014
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.
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4/10
Waste of potential.
Tehmeh1 September 2015
I like pondering things. I like science fiction, philosophical themes, surreal and abstract. This movie is all of those, and considering it's a Gilliam/Waltz collaboration, I had to see it.

It was a mess. Many people probably insist that it was intended and that's the genius of it, but even if that was true, it was one mess I didn't enjoy.

The whole time I had a feeling that "Zero Theorem" was meant to be a weird play. I could almost see an amateur playwright taking some drugs, and then writing a quirky existential story set in a bizarro world mirroring ours, typing every single thing that comes to his mind in one night. Then Gilliam comes along, takes said drugs himself, reads the play and says: "I want to make a movie out of this".

Everything is quirky, in-your-face, colourful and tries to make a point. Every single sentence of a dialogue, every single character, every single weird costume, every single stage prop is either attention-grabbing nonsense, social commentary or an allegory. It gets tiring, and it doesn't take long when you know that this movie doesn't have any focus - it just throws things at you.

Waltz is wasted. He isn't that bad altogether, but there's no way for him to be in a character in a movie like this, where he has no character. Yes, we're told that he doesn't like to touch people and he's looking for the meaning of his life, but he eventually has to be whatever the scene is telling him to be - usually just someone people are talking to or acting upon him. He's almost an object. You can't get a grip of his character - and neither can Waltz, and it's not his fault at all. This is true of every other character as well, except beautiful Melanie Thierry. She does a good job and comes off as a real character in the end - and she is the only one. Perhaps David Thewlis has a few good moments too.

Much of the beautiful main set - interior of a chapel - is wasted too. It's atmospheric, well lit and obviously a fitting choice thematically, but soon it turns into a weird sitcom set where people just come in and out, spouting all kinds of crappy dialogue and bringing pizza.

The themes are wasted, because they're everywhere. They're hitting you on the head, on your face, on your chest, on your throat, on your arms - all the time. The themes, symbols and allegories are plentiful, but it all ends up eating itself. Again, many say that this is exactly what Gilliam intended because the movie is about finding a meaning to one's life in the midst of chaos and separation.

The script has loads of unnecessary moments in it, and I fail to see why this movie was made like this. This should've been a short film, 30 minutes tops.

But I give it one thing: Yes, it got me to think. It got me to think of existence, meaningless work, God, loneliness in crowds, disconnection from human touch, government control and surveillance and every bit of reference to the human condition and the world we live in. That's why I bothered to write this review in the first place. I can't say it's pure crap, because it isn't and I do love the fact that these kinds of movies are still made, but a mess is mess. Some messes can be charming, this mess was just messy and I wanted someone to come and clean it up.

For what it's worth, my friend who watched it with me, liked it. He's the smarter one.
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8/10
A true Terry Gilliam film.
photopunisher1 October 2013
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.
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8/10
this is a cult movie
jaimedelgado-113 July 2014
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.
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9/10
A satisfying companion piece to Brazil
reev014 October 2013
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.
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"Zero must equal 100%."
mote9928 July 2014
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.
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8/10
Waiting for the Call – What other reason is there to pick up the phone?
Drive-in_Zeppelin25 September 2014
Once again I find myself tired, weary, and insomniac struggling to find the words to describe a movie that has rooted itself in my thoughts for the better part of a week. I speak of course of Terry Gilliam's latest sci-fi venture The Zero Theorem (2013), which, even after a second viewing tonight, has left me bewildered, enchanted, and ultimately feeling hollow. Directed by Gilliam and written by Pat Rushin, The Zip-T, as they refer to it in the film, deals with that age old question of the meaning of life and whether or not everything is nothing or if nothing is everything.

While I imagine most of you dear readers will initially be turned off by that previous line of philosophical rigmarole, the first thing you need to understand about this movie and really the only accurate way to describe it is that it is a Terry Gilliam film. If you are unfamiliar with Gilliam as a director, you might have heard of a little known comedy troupe known as Monty Python. Gilliam was the only American member of the legendary group (though he has since renounced his citizenship), and the man behind the iconic cartoons and animations. While he has an extensive and cerebral filmography, I'm only going to confine myself to only referring to what has been dubbed Gilliam's Dystopic Triptych: Brazil (1985), 12 Monkeys (1995), and now the Zero Theorem. Gilliam's films are visually stunning and often characterized by being wildly imaginative and fantastical – generally being layered with satire, symbolism and surrealism.

True to his nature, the ZT is a visual and intellectual feast that is today what Brazil was in 1985; a surrealist commentary of the times. While Brazil was satirizing being a cog in the soulless bureaucracy, the ZT is treatise on dreams and the struggle of finding meaning in the digital world we live in. The film stars Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained) as Qohen Leth, or simply Q, who is a reclusive phobia-ridden programmer of sorts that believes that one day he will receive a phone call that will provide meaning to his life.

He lives in a burnt out church that he bought from an insurance company, and detests the vibrant and absurdist world he has to interact with on his daily commute to work. Preferring the solitude of his home, Q begrudgingly treks to his quasi-cubicle at Mancom, the 'big business' of the future, where he 'crunches entities' (basically playing a 3-d version of a Tetris/Sudoku hybrid). He is also joined on screen by that kid from Moonrise Kingdom, Lucas Hedges as Bob, and a ridiculously good-looking and often scantily clad Mélanie Thierry as Bainsley. Matt Damon also makes a few appearances as 'Management', often making a fashion statement and offering a few cryptic lines to Q.

Preferring solitude, Q is eventually rewarded with a home office in exchange for working to prove the Zero Theorem, which essentially is meant to prove existence is meaningless and from the chaos of the big bang, all of reality will eventually revert to nothingness. Pretty deep right? Well naturally Q finds the project overwhelming and is soon burnt out. Management enlists the beautiful Bainsley and wunderkind Bob to get him back on track, and in the process they irreversibly change the character and nature of Q.

While in my first viewing of the film I left satisfied, albeit a little confused, I find myself the second round feeling almost at one with the Waltz's character, intent on finding meaning in everything or nothing. Every scene in this film is so very dense with symbolism and subject to interpretation that I cannot begin to imagine what really goes through Gilliam's head when he directs. At times certain things feel extremely contrived like the fact that Q lives in a burnt out church, but they are all rooted in the Orwellian and Kafkaesque landscape that Gilliam so often likes to employ. Gilliam has a very unique visual style that rewards the audience with masterful set design that is complemented by what I'd call a 'Paranoid POV' type shot that is reminiscent of Carol Reed's famous crooked angle shots in The Third Man (1949).

The best way I can describe this movie is as a spiritual and existentialist journey that ponders the meaning of life and the nature of reality. It's fairly obvious that Waltz's Q is absolutely insane, but in that insanity he is also perceived as being the best candidate to solve these puzzles. The film features outstanding performances, most notably by Waltz, and admittedly I fell in love with Melanie Thierry every time she was on screen. The future Gilliam portrays is both unique and at the same time frighteningly absurd, although ultimately a distorted reflection of the world of 2014. Whether or not you find something meaningful from this film, it is the type to linger in your thoughts long after you've left the theatre. My friends will understand me as I excuse myself to go search for my own Shell Beach, and for all others I recommend you stop whatever you're doing and watch The Zero Theorem followed by Dark City (1998).

Read this and other reviews on DriveInZeppelin's website
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8/10
Chaos encapsulated. Gilliam fans rejoice, he delivers some interesting and satisfying existentialism.
Sergeant_Tibbs28 October 2013
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?

8/10
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6/10
Yeah, well, whatever
hoytyhoyty26 July 2014
This film is entertaining, but even though I like Terry Gilliam, there is just something missing. Possibly it's a point. The film has NO point. Maybe that's the point?

But for the whole length of it we are convinced there will be some kind of redemption, some kind of explanation, some kind of reason to watch the damn film in the first place.

Most of it just seems to be ticking boxes for Terry. Awkward protagonist, dystopian future, love interest, people in silly costumes, lots of colours, steam-tech gear, and strange delivery-people.

Yeah and... yeah, where's the point, again? One bit of visual eye-candy I liked was the data-representation system, but I can't describe it here, for the sake of those who haven't seen the film yet.

Look, it's not a crap film, it's just not blindingly evocative and moving. It's certainly no Brazil even though it has things in common (and its a LOT more cheerful). It's no Fisher King. It's not even a Doctor Parnassus.

One purely for the fans I think.
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10/10
i thought they didn't make movies like that anymore
ssto28 July 2014
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
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10/10
The best Gilliam film so far
hudini66920 March 2014
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.
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6/10
Exit the void
rooee17 March 2014
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.
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7/10
Gilliam has delivered a long-awaited return to Sci-Fi, which repeatedly bewilders, in that classic Gilliam style, which is set to dazzle the least likely of Sci-Fi fans.
ScottGentry22 October 2013
"The Zero Theorem" (TBC) Director: Terry Gilliam. Starring: Christoph Waltz, Matt Damon, Mélanie Thierry and David Thewlis. Rated: TBC Running time: 107 minutes. Release date: 2014.

Set in the near future, Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) is constantly sat at his computer, working. Never able to enjoy his life, Qohen is constantly waiting for the a phone call, which he believes, will describe the purpose of his life. When re-assigned to work on 'The Zero Theorem' program at work, he begins to realise what life is really about.

Every year the BFI (British Film Institute) organises a brilliant event, named the British Film Festival. At the festival, film is honoured in spectacular form, with films being submitted from all over the world, including Britain.

Unfortunately (due to unforeseen circumstances) , I was only able to watch one film. I'm just glad it turned out to be, "The Zero Theorem".

Terry Gilliam ("Life Of Brian" and "The Brothers Grimm") has been directing films since 1968. Often though of (by me anyway!) as the director who defines, 'cult' films and nicknamed Captain Chaos, Gilliam constantly surprises audiences with audacious pieces of cinema; which really do entertain.

In recent years, Gilliam's works have (arguably) become slightly worse, than his more fresh and original films, such as "Brazil". From mystical beasts to a story following a travelling theatre company, Gilliam just hasn't delivered a fine piece, for at least fifteen years. Thankfully, we can put those mistakes behind him; as, "The Zero Theorem" is a fantastic ride.

Approaching this storyline with stunning visuals and and an addictive style, "The Zero Theorem" has a plot which may not explore it's ideas to a further degree, but entertains extremely well.

The film is quite daring, because it talks about exploring the purpose of life and the effects that it might leave on certain people. Nothing quite like his past efforts, Gilliam approaches this piece lightly and lets the film develop slowly as it goes along.

The cast are exceptional, with Christoph Waltz delivering an often comedic performance, that frequently mirrors the portrayal of his character (Dr. King Schultz) in "Django Unchained". Mélanie Thierry plays Bainsley (A future type of prostitute) in an entirely believable role, which often proves how good an actress she really is. Matt Damon also acts well with his short, but pivotal role as 'Management' in a commonly bewitching cameo.

Gilliam has delivered a long-awaited return to Sci-Fi, which repeatedly bewilders, in that classic Gilliam style, which is set to dazzle the least likely of Sci-Fi fans.

7 stars out of 10.

Written by Scott Gentry.
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8/10
Zero or Infinity?
dromasca4 October 2014
'The Zero Theorem' is directed by Terry Gilliam, a highly original creator and an explorer of the future, which he already described in rather dark colors in several memorable films like 'Brazil' and 'Twelve Monkeys'. His other principal title of glory, the 'Monty Python' series, somehow balances in his filmography the concept of anticipation with the one of an alternate present or past in the comic registry. 'The Zero Theorem' was shot mostly in Romania, and part of the technical team and actors are Romanian, to the extent the in the program of the festival I saw the film in it was classified as a an English-Romanian co-production.

In the fantastic scenery of an abandoned church that some of my Bucharest friends might recognize we find the hero of the film (played brilliantly by Christoph Waltz), a specialist in 'processing entities'. working frantically on a mission entrusted by a large corporation whose chief is called impersonal 'The Management' (Matt Damon), a mission whose goal may be finding the meaning of existence, or an absurd demonstration that accumulation of full (100%) is equal to the Great Zero. Or perhaps the essence of human existence and the absurd are the same? Actually it does not really matter, because the story and the logic of the film is focused on the frantic and obsessive search of the main character. Or maybe this is human nature, a continuous search that ends in nothing? Or in the Infinity?

We find in this film's many of the visual metaphors Terry Gillman used us to, in a colorful world activated by a strange retro-advanced technology, like belonging to a branching of time for human scientific developments that extends the early 20th century. We also find a fierce critique of large international corporations - the main character is provided with such items of 'personal development' like a virtual-dream love relationship (with gorgeous Gwendoline Christie) or psychoanalysis through tele-presence (by severe Tilda Swinton). He is subjected to tracking methods that infiltrate his privacy inspired by Orwell's '1984' and Gilliam's own 'Brazil' and also terrorized by a small and despotic manager, a familiar figure many of those who worked in large global corporations may find familiar.

'The Zero Theorem' is first of all a wonderful visual experience. It is also a film that does not open immediately all its secret doors, but gives the impression of depth and complexity that calls for a second and maybe more viewings.
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9/10
Classic Gilliam
christopher-scott-maynar16 September 2014
Qohen Leth (Waltz) is a reclusive computer programmer working on the zero theorem, a theory that all existence is meaningless and nothing is connected. This film fits in perfectly with Gilliam's other future films Brazil and 12 Monkeys and I can comfortably say this is Gilliam's finest film since 1985s aforementioned Brazil. While the film is dealing with the meaning of life and existence its never heavy handed and is often quite funny. Familiar themes from other Gilliam films like big brother, government and madness are all explored but he clearly was thinking about technology with this outing.

During the opening sequence Qohen is bombarded by advertising while walking to work. A moving video billboard mentions a promotion called "Occupy Mall Street" and while this is clearly satire its sadly not that far off from our current reality. Most of the satire in the film is rooted in our overall relationship with technology, from the way characters in the film are all wearing ear buds to how people at a "party" all carry iPads. We are shown a reality that plays closer to an actual mirror than an exaggerated self image. Clearly Gilliam is asking us to disengage from our distractions and engage with our surroundings.

Bob (Hedges) a 15 year old programming prodigy helps Qohen to interact with the outside world and find meaning in his life or at the very least he begins to open up to the possibility of experiencing the world outside of his job and home. Bainsley (Thierry) is a woman Qohen meets at a party and shows immediate interest in him. She Bob and Bainsley act as agents of change, both characters represent opposing sides of the same idea. Both want him to connect to a world outside of himself but Bob encourages him to go physically outside and Bainsly wants him to connect through a computer. She says "It's better than real. You're in your computer and I'm in mine. We're connected by memory chips and fiber optics. We're safe here"

Most films about the existential questions in life are somewhat dense and academic in their approach but this is a film by Terry Gilliam so its really only fair to compare him to his previous work. Gilliam's films are always stunning to look at but sometimes his subjects are not worthy of the beauty he surrounds them with. This is not one of those films. This is classic Gilliam where both the story and the setting are deserving of one another. That symmetry that few film makers can achieve the way he does.

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7/10
Thought provoking
Steven87026828 July 2014
This is a cult movie with a message, not written for money or for cheap visual entertainment. It examines human purpose and how we look for the answers to our very existence. A theme often found in Gilliam's movies but one that can only be addressed directly once you have already achieved credibility and fame as a Director and here it is. The main character "Qohen Leth" teeters on the brink of the Abyss both spiritually and physically. A mathematical genius given the task of proving the "zero theorem", to prove the futility of life. Ironically everyone who has previously tried has failed or been driven insane by the task. Qohen already half way to insane has been awaiting a phone call from God, a call in which his purpose and the meaning of life will be revealed. During the movie Qohen realises his delusions yet still persists in trying to prove the Zero Theorem, all the while pushing away all human contact and any possibility of having a worthwhile life. Gilliam's point is this; there are no definitive answers to our purpose, life is for living. The very act of trying to prove the point of existence is a waste of a persons existence. Qohen Leth's tragic tale is the epitome of this message.
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3/10
boring, I kept waiting for it to end
roedyg28 October 2016
This movie is similar to Gilliam's earlier Brazil. It is filled with crazy people dressed in Day-Glo plastics and flexible pipes.

It is ostensibly about a mathematician trying to solve a mathematical problem. I am pretty sure they refused to hire any mathematicians to help them with the dialogue or the computer programs. They are just nonsense and error, reduced to a sort of 3D Tetris.

Our elderly protagonist works non-stop for a paternalistic corporation. This is a rather bleak, boring existence. A robotic Scottish psychiatrist, a teledildonic hooker and a smart ass Marty McFly clone gradually come into his life to give it some colour.

The most sympathetic character in the movie is a rat the eats the half- eaten pizza they always throw on the floor.

The movie is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. There are some infantile philosophical musings, but they are frustrating because no one argues against their foolishness.
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1/10
An overblown exercise in futility
szabocsaba6 June 2015
There is no deeper meaning of life in the 'god sense', or in the 'metaphysical sense'. There is no personal god. All of it will end in the "big crunch" and meaningwise - all of it adds up to nothing. I don't think in 2015 these things come as surprises to any thinking person who knows a little bit of physics and contemporary cosmology. So what can you do as a single individual on Planet Earth? Go out and try to find something that gives some meaning to your individual life, and make some use of it. And - almost needless to say - don't wait for imaginary higher powers to do the job for you. Terry Gilliam (together with the rest of the Monty Python crew) fully covered this subject in the "Meaning of Life" and a variety of other works.

Why then, go back to this boring non-question in 2015, and make a 2 hour borefest from it? Are there no better topics for Terry Gilliam to tackle??

As a huge fan of the director, I can't give any stars for this nonsense. The striking Gilliamesque visuals, the dystopian future, the great actors... all for nothing in this case. The movie looks like "Brazil" and "12 Monkeys", but does not give the viewer any catharsis, does not convey any novel message, does not trigger any deeper philosophical conversations and does not illuminate anything. Very, very disappointing, especially given the directing and acting talent involved.
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8/10
It feels like the grand finale of Gilliam's filmography. I really hope it isn't.
willwri1414 July 2014
Terry Gilliam is like a fine wine, except the older he gets, he is all the more bizarre. And like a hangover from a jolly night of inebriation through Time Bandits (1977), Brazil (1981), and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), The Zero Theorem is the snow settled after the blizzard, a grand encore to remind you of your past adventures. The Zero Theorem is as much a Gilliam-sized hit of nostalgia as it is a cocktail of longing, gazing back on the days of old. In those days, there were no spying cameras hidden throughout your home and no dazzling virtual reality tech to make you ponder the existential, just a simple life to enjoy your imagination. I'm torn on whether Gilliam enjoys his world or loathes it. I think it's a bit of both.

And if The Zero Theorem is a companion piece to Brazil – which it undeniably is — it would better serve as its counterpart. The streets aren't governed by Brazil's grayscale monotony, they're a bizarre flurry of colour, advertisements chatting and stalking you down the streets. It's a world devoid of minimalism, but not too far from todays. Our hero, Qohen Leth, is a computer hacker extraordinaire, housed in a run down cathedral precariously located next to a sex shop. He is an agoraphobe, a claustrophobe, and just about any other phobe you could imagine. He loathes his workplace and begs to hack from home. His manager — not to be confused with resident Big Brother, 'Management', helmed by a strangely suited Matt Damon — advises him to be careful what he wishes for.

So Qohen's workstation, a flashing retro-hipster fusion of plastic and neon vials, joins him in his towering cathedral. His door is secured by seven different locks, and the building is home to a colony of rats, doves, and oodles of microwave meals. Whenever the phone rings, he darts to its side. It's not the call he was hoping for, "his call" that explains every iota of existence, just another disappointing deadline from the mysterious Management. Deadline for what, you ask? Qohen is tasked with decoding the titular 'Zero Theorem', a mish-mash of data that could explain all or nothing. Qohen thinks all and nothing is the same thing. He's not wrong (and, at the same time, perhaps he isn't right?).

The process seems impossible, but Qohen is making progress. To him, he isn't, it's just one step forward and a dozen back, his house of cards crumbling as he perfects its steeple. Hacking seems fetishistic: keyboards are gone, replaced by the future equivalent of an Xbox controller, joysticks twiddling and flashing buttons twanging. This future seems to beg for attention, a world of flashing lights and arcadey sounds to captivate our ever degrading attention span. Even work is a game, just a twiddle of joysticks and a colourful computer screen. It's quite unlike Brazil - Lowry's world was uninteresting and bleak, distractions were a temptation. The Zero Theorem is its pole.

But Qohen avoids distractions like the plague, never daring exit the security of his towering cathedral. Along comes a pretty blonde strippergram dressed in a latex nurse suit. He avoids her and recoils from her touch, enjoying loneliness more than her charming company. Nor is he the life of a party, nearly choking to death on a piece of candy. Soon, the colourful strippergram Bainsley introduces Qohen to the future equivalent of phone sex, where they plug themselves in and go at it online. The web extension is .sex – subtle. Technology is a fetish.

Gilliam is less a filmmaker than a magician. He conjures up the wackiest location you could imagine, only to whirl you there with a wave of his magic wand. The journey is exciting, like traversing a tunnel of colour and lights, a carnival of the strange but delightful. Behind the colour nestles a drunken nostalgia, an understanding of something more, a little something you may have missed. The colours pop and scream, but his alarming cynicism bleeds through the picture. Qohen is sad, his cathedral Gothic and ancient. He is reluctant to live in his new world. Perhaps Gilliam shares his reluctance.

Qohen's obsession with nothingness is existential, of course, but far from nihilistic. It's his faith, the God that echoes throughout his cathedral of memory and sadness. This faith saps his life, sucking it into one of Gilliam's neon-lit vials. He doesn't refer to himself as 'I', but as 'we' and 'us'. He is so distracted that he is no longer his individual self – he is as selfless as the monks who lived in the cathedral before him, sworn to chastity and silence.

Gilliam once said "People in Hollywood are not showmen, they're maintenance men, pandering to what they think their audiences want." If that is true, Gilliam is like the dashing terrorist of Brazil, lobbing a spanner in the works to grind against Hollywood's corporate gears. Unlike Brazil, his latest film is far from perfect. But to Gilliam, Time Bandits was about childhood, Brazil was about adulthood, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausenen is about old age. The Zero Theorem is about the in-between, the moments in life where you don't know who you are. In the end of his tale, I hope Qohen has figured out who he is. I want him to move into the next stage of Gilliam's master plan.
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1/10
So bad, it's atrocious
rafael1052 January 2015
As a fan of Terry Gilliam's prior work, I was confident that this film would live up to 'Brazil' and 'Twelve Monkeys'. Couldn't be more wrong. The screenplay makes Forrest Gump look sophisticated. The characters are uniformly caricatural: the tortured genius looking for truth, the hooker with a heart of gold, the tech-savvy adolescent wise beyond his years, the shrewd business mogul who manipulates all, and so on, and so on. Art direction, musical score, set design, range between annoying and just plain over the top. Special effects and computer graphics straight out of the late great Cannon Studios tradition of C for cheeeeesy. As regards the cast, Matt Damon is wooden and Tilda Swinton (who I revere), histrionic. Only Christoph Waltz manages to keep his character afloat, through stilted dialogue and terrible costumes, for which he deserves a better part. The worst thing, by far, is the mannered camera work, which makes every one of the seemingly endless 107 minutes excruciating to watch. This film is an embarrassment to all involved. If you like Terry Gilliam, do yourself a favour and skip this one.
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3/10
Flip a coin. Twice!
babis-zouboulides13 July 2014
OK. Of course it's a Gilliam movie but i saw this mainly because of Waltz. I've always loved every single role this man played, even the smaller ones.. until now. Still, his performance almost shined given the material he was given to work with, but the overall impression is he could do better if the script inspired and motivated him.

The movie? Colors.. everywhere! Distracting colors. Everywhere! There had to be a reason for this which i failed to discover. Maybe it's just me but as i watched this i couldn't help myself thinking that something was terribly wrong. I guess the visual combination of the cinematography of Dark City and Austin Powers is not my cup of tea.

But artistic expression in a movie is a matter of taste which should be respectfully received IF there are other things to hold on to.. like an interesting plot.. or in this case.. any plot! No, no plot in this one folks, just a flat tiresome script with lots of meaningless repetitive dialogs, plenty of silly costumes, a few caricature-like characters, some easy acting, and.. colors!

Was it that bad? Well, kinda.. yeap! Mainly because it had the potential to be a great movie given the people involved and the concept it was based. Do i recommend it? Hmm.. let me put it this way, flip a coin twice, if it's heads both times go ahead and watch it!
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7/10
Marmalade.
The_moan_of_all_moans20 March 2014
This will not grasp the attention of everyone; it will not satisfy droves of cinema-goers, it will most definitely garner some negative feedback; it's inevitable. It just simply isn't for everyone.

I enjoyed it, however, I will admit i am slightly biased as i am a big fan of Christoph Waltz; for me everything he touches turns to gold; some with more carat than others, but gold nonetheless. I think he's great in this film. It's not an easy part to play. He has to sink into a sea of solitude and it seems by his performance that he was genuinely incapable of communication; emotionally or physically. Wither it was him conveying distress, or hope, or insanity I believed him. He has the power as an actor to do that. He bounces well off of Melanie Thierry and i enjoyed their collective scenes.

The film delves into the ultimate unanswered question; Why are we here? Choosing to go down the scientific route rather than the religious one i am sure it will be slammed by those with other beliefs. And it is a very interesting subject and with Terry Gilliam at the helm it is handled with intelligence and has elements of comedy mixed in; it explains itself with intellect and also breaks things down along the way; a lot of information is thrown about and it would be very easy to get lost or lose concentration, but i feel Gilliam makes a worthy effort to divulge the information accordingly.

I thought the visual of the film was excellent and in ways it seemed like a plausible outlook to what the future may look like. There's no flying cars, but what is a focal point is the bombardment of advertising; in the film it is everywhere; and it is something that i could envision happening in the future. Clothing is more colorful and elaborate and with evidence of some baffling things that people wear these days, again, i could see this being what the future of "fashion" looks like. Gilliam's perception of the future is displayed with a sense of realism and reasoning to it.

I was expecting better and was hoping it would fall into the cult classic category like "Twelve Monkeys". And although i enjoyed it i think it falls short of being timeless and i worry it will be forgotten about after a short time.
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4/10
Cringy, superficial '90s technoflick
VHSdynamite3 February 2019
You know you're up for some hefty satire when a film starts off with puns like DuMBC and Occupy Mall Street... And some hefty existentialism when you are fed quotes like "life might be seen as a virus infecting the perfect organism of death." No, the cognitive level of this film is juvenile, and that would have been perfectly fine if the film wasn't so pretentious and self-important.

Also, it's from 2013 and looks like a '90s technothriller. (Even the word cyberspace is used unironically.) It's not deliberately retro, I suspect. It's just that Gilliam hasn't evolved since, and not the writer either. For Pete's sake, one of the jokes is about time shares in Mallorca. And it's made by a young woman. Likewise, a young boy is referring to the Queen of England's use of royal "we". The characters don't speak like you expect them to and sound just like different channels for the same writer.

The dark theme of existential despair could have had some weight were it not for Gilliam's trademark carneval aesthetics and hyperactive camera angles. It undermines the theme and is supposed to add comedy, I guess. It's just that the film isn't funny either, just stale and cringy.
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2/10
Good acting, poor material, trashy set
cindysbr3 February 2015
The plot to solve the "zero theorem" intrigued me, expecting at least some real interesting flow leading to its discovery, or maybe not. Wasn't quite I imagined, in a disappointing way. Instead, they fashioned the entire thing with cheap props, over acting extras to keep those who are easily entertained seated, and dialogue just for the sake of having them something to say. Nonsensical and boring. I can't even repeat the story and give spoilers if I wanted to without insulting anyone's intelligence or fear of them dozing off on me. But one can readily imagine the lot who'd be thrilled at this sort of movie based from the reviews. My bad for taking the bait, curiosity once again got the better of me. Had I walked in the theater for this and saw the kind of people sitting through this, I'd have walked out backwards slowly with my head down.
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10/10
probably Gilliam's best ever
jrwygant4 November 2014
Nietzsche would have loved this movie. It is probably Gilliam's best work, again casting the "corporation" as the villain, much as he did in Brazil. It is about a man searching for his purpose in a world full of distractions. Those are, of course, the same that our contemporary culture produces: pervasive surveillance, addictive computerized gadgets, porn, intrusive advertising, to name a few. The humor and satire are brilliant, and a second viewing might be necessary to catch all the satirical stuff going on in the background. Love and personal connection are raised as a possible answer to the question about purpose. The main character's struggle with that issue cements the plot into something that is not just preachy and philosophical. The acting is uniformly great and all of the main characters, played by Christoph Waltz, Gwendoline Christi, David Thewlis, and Lucas Hedges, are a delight to watch. The same can be said about the smaller parts filled by Tilda Swinton and Matt Damon. But if you're not into big questions that seem to be without answers -- things like the meaning of life -- it might be better to stay home and watch reruns of The Budapest Hotel.
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