“The Zero Theorem” is director Terry Gilliam’s latest dazzling dose of sci-fi eye candy, and the third film in what some are calling his “Brazil” trilogy.
Like “Brazil” and “Twelve Monkeys,” it’s about human connections in a technologically warped world rendered lonely and unlivable by the lack of those connections.
Christoph Waltz is Qohen Leth, a bald loner who is sure he’s being worked to death. He pounds away at his keyboard in some vague, vain pursuit of “catching up” on his job. That entails using “memory vials” handed to him through a sliding panel on his work station as he 3D models the problems that these vials somehow are related to.
It’s a future of “divinely planned obsolescence,” where the bureaucrats (David Thewlis plays his boss, Ben Whishaw the company doctor) aren’t so much faceless as heartless buck-passers.
“We detest working here,” Qohen complains, with rising urgency, always speaking of himself in the plural. “We are dying!”
“That’s a Management issue, Qohen,” the doctor sniffs.
The buck-toothed ROM psychiatrist on his computer (Tilda Swinton) is no help. She just raps, Dr. Seuss style, some therapeutic nothingness. Qohen is going mad and his new task, finding “The Zero Theorem,” is sure to finish the job.
“At present, We feel no joy!”
This “zero theorem” thingy is some sort of 3D computer model problem that could explain the meaning of life, what it’s all about. Just make sure it adds up.
“Zero must be 100%!”
At least there’s the distraction of this come-hither hottie, Bainsley (Melanie Thierry), who overcomes Qohen’s “We prefer not to be touched” and convinces him that virtual vacations — sex on the beach — are just the ticket.
Looming over it all is Management, the cryptic puppet-master boss of bosses, played with aloof chilliness by Matt Damon in a succession of stunning suits that match the curtains, wallpaper or furniture that’s around him.
That’s where the mind focuses in “The Zero Theorem,” those visions of Gilliamworld. Everything, from the street graffiti to the mod sci-fi costumes, Qohen’s baroque monastery apartment (it was filmed in Romania) to the stunningly stuffed-with-electronics office where Qohen works, is simply dazzling. It’s a “tomorrow was another day” retro-future tech in the fashion of “Brazil,” with ancient cathode ray tubes and rotary phones mixed with high, rectangular-screened computers (essentially HDTVs turned sideways — clever).
Gilliam is some sort of cracked genius, and actors love working for geniuses, which explains the top-drawer cast. As for the story and themes? It’s hard to say Gilliam is any closer to solving life’s big puzzle than he was with 1984’s “Brazil.” The answer then may very well be the answer now, a Monty Python-Beatles era holdover, as befits its ageing filmmaker — “All you need is love.”
(Link to Roger Moore talking with Terry Gilliam and his screenwriter).
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexuality/nudity
Cast: Christoph Waltz, Matt Damon, Melanie Thierry, Tilda Swinton, David Thewlis, Ben Whishaw
Credits: Directed by Terry Gilliam, scripted by Pat Rushin, based on his novella. An Amplify Media release.
Running time: 1:47