The Zero Theorem Review
Terry Gilliam is a director I admire quite a bit. He has made great movies that include "Time Bandits," "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," "12 Monkeys," "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus" and "Brazil." I'd like to talk about "Brazil" really quick. "Brazil" takes place in a advertisement-centric, dystopian future where the world is run by whimsical machines. The hero of "Brazil" is named Sam and he spends the movie trying to find a woman that appears in his dreams, all the while living in a totalitarian world with not Big Brother presence. If you can imagine this same exact movie, made almost twenty years later by the same director, only this time featuring a Big Brother figure, that's essentially "The Zero Theorem."
"Brazil" had a great cast that includes Jonathon Pryce, Robert De Niro, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Michael Palin and Kim Greist. "The Zero Theorem" has an equally equixset cast that includes Christoph Waltz, Matt Damon, Melaine Thierry, David Thewlis, Tilda Swinton, Peter Stormare, and Ben Whishaw. Both films have bright philosophies on their mind and it is quite clear in "The Zero Theorem" that Gilliam was channeling Orson Welles classic book Nineteen Eighty-Four. just like he did with "Brazil." When Gilliam made "Brazil," he added a slapstick quality to the themes presented by Welles and his book, with "The Zero Theorem" I was not quite sure which tone Gilliam was trying to strike. I honestly wonder if any other member of the cast or crew did too.
The future presented in "The Zero Theorem" looks like it could have been found in a "Back to the Future" movie. The world we find in this movie is full of bright colors, crude costumes and even more crude technology. There is a huge retro feel to the entire production, and it feels like Gilliam used some of the set pieces from "Brazil" when he decided to make this film. I don't want this to sound like a complaint, because it is not. I was completely absorbed by the landscape Gilliam created that I genuinely got lost. The details in the movie maybe a little different compared to the sleekness we are accustomed to in these kinds of films, but I could not help but love each corner of this world. This is a future in which pizza boxes sing to you, a future which suggests that Skype will become linked by the mind someday and, my favorite idea, that social media will completely destroy almost all human contact. There is scene at a party, where everybody is holding a tablet device of some kind. There is not much human interaction at the party, as the party-goers are all too busy recording and photographing everything that occurs. It is hard to see this scene and not notice the parallels.
While all of these small details are all quite cool, I can't help but feel that Gilliam essentially remade "Brazil," but made it less fun and less coherent. Christoph Waltz plays Qohen Leth, a computer programmer searching for the meaning of life. He spends his time working from home, waiting for a phone call which he feels will change his life. He is eventually given a project from work that will help him ease into working from home and he is soon seduced by a femme fatale (Thierry), who begins to open his life up to new possibilities. As his work project unveils, it points to some exciting story-arcs, but these arcs are never fully realized and it seems that in the end, "The Zero Theorem" ultimately goes nowhere. The film tackles big ideas, such as existential angst, the Big Crunch Theory, and the meaning of life, but does so with no prevail. It always seemed Gilliam had a good grasp on the story of "Brazil," something I don't feel he had this time. I also have to make note that some of the details of this movie I learned on the internet. The film has a hard time of explaining what is going on, which could frustrate some viewers in the end.
The cast gives it all they have, especially a bold, eyebrow-less Waltz who seems connected to this weird world we are seeing and I really identified to his storyline and the need to have some kind of connection in life. Had the movie focused more on his character and less about the project from his work, I feel the film would have been stronger overall. There are lots of rich extras that make this film pretty to look at, but I feel for the first time in a long time, Gilliam did not have narrative in his bag of tricks.
FINAL GRADE: C