"The Zero Theorem" isn't Terry Gilliam's sequel to what may be his definitive film ("Brazil"), but it's certainly its sibling in spirit.
“The Zero Theorem” isn’t Terry Gilliam’s sequel to what may be his definitive film (“Brazil”), but it’s certainly its sibling in spirit.
Gilliam’s madcap style has been more misses than hits in the past decade, but this film finds him back in his sweet spot, which is, of course, a weird and baffling place for most people.
In a neon-colored future dystopia, Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) does mindless computational work all day. He’s reclusive and paranoid, traits that are amplified when he’s placed on a new project: discovering the reason for human existence.
Qohen’s existential musings are interrupted by the introduction of the colorful Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry), a beautiful girl Qohen meets at a party (in which he is, as expected, terribly uncomfortable).
Gilliam loves cinematic chaos, and “Zero Theorem” is him at his most unhinged. The results are sometimes beautiful, always bewildering.
His vision of our future is an indictment of our present, a world bombarded in advertising and swamped in the bureaucracy of an all-powerful corporation, ominously named MANCOM. Qohen’s world is run by the ubiquitous “Management,” although “Nobody speaks to Management. You know that.”
Waltz delivers a performance that is pure Gilliam, for better or worse. His rapidly firing thoughts are shared in the first-person plural — a suggestion made by a therapist to make Qohen feel less alone. “At present,” Qohen says, “there is very little that brings us joy.”
Thierry’s Bainsley introduces some love in Qohen’s life. The character is at times a tired trope — a “hooker with a heart of gold” — but this story is all seen through the wild eyes of Qohen.
As Gilliam toys with his larger themes, this film is best enjoyed as a big picture, rather than getting hung up on the attention-deficient plot. This is a true “love it or hate it” film, and it’s tough to keep up, even as the ride is visually dazzling.
The bombardment of bewilderment from the plot and an air of existential dread will thin out the potential audience, but with the change of the season, I’m in the mood for just that.