Jan 20, 2016

[Movies] The Zero Theorem (2013)

Terry Gilliam movies live in a world, or maybe even a universe all to their own. They range from the thought-provoking to the absolutely crazy but either way you end up with a memorable cinematic experience. And I can totally see how this movie may not be the sort that might get universal praise, especially given what a head trip it is.

With a title like The Zero Theorem, you know you're in for something head heavy and not necessarily mass market. Throw in the fact that it's a Terry Gilliam movie starting Christoph Waltz and you really have a quirky movie experience ahead.

Up front I have to admit that I didn't exactly love this movie, but at least I didn't hate it either. It's one of those movies that is just so strange and unusual that it's hard to form a solid enough opinion whether for or against it. There are bits that are funny and there are parts that are disturbing. And you have all the other bits that you aren't quite sure how they all come together to tell a single story. And yet they still manage to do this to some extent only to culminate with the sort of vague, uncertain resolution that I really wished the movie hadn't done.

Synopsis: The Zero Theorem is a science fiction drama directed by Terry Gilliam. I thought he had also contributed to the writing, but the screenplay is actually the work of Pat Rushin.

Our protagonist is Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) is a socially awkward programmer who only refers to himself in the third person plural. He works for a massive company known as Mancom and his role is to "crunch entities" which is really hard to understand since it seems to be a lot of meaningless grudge work. He constantly seeks to be put on some sort of a disability status and he eventually gets this after an accidental encounter with Management at a party. Thus he is put on a new project and is allowed to work from home. But his new project is to try and solve the "Zero Theorem," which is a massive mathematical formula that seems to try and conclude that everything equals nothing.

We've seen a good number of introverted characters in different movies but Qohen is someone else entirely. Waltz does a stellar job of defining this character through his acting as a socially-inept individual who is yet another cog in a much larger corporate machine. We've seen this theme a lot in various Gilliam movies and combing that with his signature aesthetic style makes everything feel quite familiar. Tie all that together and we have a true worker ant who is feeling the crush of being around so many other ants.

The movie has all the trappings of a Gilliam dystopia as we had seen in prior movies like Brazil. Things are somewhat dark and members of management seem beyond reach either because of bureaucracy or literal distance or a combination of both. We have unusual camera angles and repetitive tasks that don't seem to have a point and yet sort of do. All good stuff. And thus the larger nature of the company and those that run it feels like an oppressive weight pushing down on our protagonist and perhaps even on the audience.

But then things just continue to go in stranger and stranger directions as we explore Qohen's own mental difficulties in the form of dreams and eventually virtual reality empowered visions and computer simulations. We have him working in a most unusual home this being an abandoned cathedral of sorts. We have him trying to form a relationship with a beautiful woman but of course things aren't as they had seemed to be initially. And Tilda Swinton gets to cameo as a sort of AI-therapist called Dr. Shrink-ROM.

I mentioned earlier that the movie ends on a rather odd note. It's a decent enough ending and one that leaves a lot of room for the viewer to come to his or her own conclusions. But at the same time you'd think that with a run time of over 100 minutes it would have at least figured out a more direct ending. But yeah, the artistic side of things sort of won out (is this winning) and we got the vague, big question mark ending to wrap things up.

The Zero Theorem is still an interesting movie and one that I don't necessarily regret watching despite how challenging it was. It took me more than one sitting to watch it with Tobie and if anything it did make me think. Thus the movie gets 3 strange visualizations of Qohen's work out of a possible 5.


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