Overview: Some guy is trying to find out the reason we exist. Voltage Pictures; Rated R; 107 min
Oh: Let’s talk about Terry Gilliam’s career for one sentence (just to get it out of the way): This guy’s films are smug. The Zero Theorem is a trippy movie, even if all its ideas are borrowed and formulaic. Here are all of the films I thought of throughout the entirety of this one: The Matrix, Holy Motors, A Clockwork Orange, any number of old-school Sci-Fi classics and B-films. Embracing your influences, even when your influences include your own movies, is not an immediately flawed method, but there is something insincere here in Gilliam’s borrowing.
The Acting: Christoph Waltz is unbelievable in his role as Qohen Leth, the aforementioned “guy” who is trying to find the reason we exist. He is onscreen nearly every single second of the running time. His character is sophisticated and possibly a bit psychopathic, which is most evident in the way he refers to himself as “We.” Melanie Thierry offers an entirely unsubtle, sexualized turn as Bainsley. The character is manipulative in the beginning, but, on the back Thierry’s performance, turns out to be the most heartfelt presence in this futuristic world. Matt Damon is on screen for maybe 4 minutes (rough estimate), and man, does he deliver as Management. This is an actors’ film. Or at least it should have been.
The Idea: The Zero Theorem offers an off-putting aesthetic and an uncertain construction. Is this religious satire? Is it Gilliam and writer Pat Rushin trying to impose religious perspective? Maybe it is an anti-technology film? Possibly a play against the government? Maybe Aliens? A reading is permitted that allows all these interpretations (maybe not aliens). We are given some very suggestive imagery to support any theory we construct. From a camera that replaces the head of crucified Jesus’ statue to a shot of Virgin Mary holding a baby Jesus as a red light blinks over him, the suggestion that we are being watched hides within the Judeo-Christian imagery. Then when it is communicated that Q has not left his house in months since he is always on his computer working, a blunt sledgehammer suggestion that we the audience are wasting our lives away, the screen switches back to the watchful Jesus statue. This film, like many of Gilliam’s previous works is willfully confused by its own symbolic construct, an insult to the viewer and a mess of a final product.
Over: The Zero Theorem showcases interesting performances. Outside of that there is not much This is not a good film. Skip it unless you’re willing to temporarily part ways with your sanity.