Review: Terry Gilliam's The Zero Theorem (GFF)

It’s hard not to get excited by prospect of a new Terry Gilliam film – despite the filmmaker’s misses far outweighing his hits in recent years. His latest project, The Zero Theorem sees him team-up with the always outstanding Christoph Waltz – a collaboration that sounds like cinematic gold, yet unfortunately serves as little more than a half-baked mess.

Qohen Leth (Waltz) is a data cruncher for the Management (Matt Damon) of corporation Mancom, who desperately seeks to find the meaning of his existence. However, Leth is plagued by constant distractions from his employers in the form of an overbearing workload, Management’s carefree teenage son (Lucas Hedges), and a shifty romantic interest (Mélanie Thierry).

From the onset, the vibrancy of Gilliam’s visual style hits you with the weight of a sledgehammer. This is not a conventional sleek vision of the future, but Gilliam’s vision where everyone appears to be an individual but clearly follows the behavioural patterns dictated upon them. This future depicts a world of people who rarely look up from their electrical gadgets, wear garishly bright costumes and live in a strange decaying urban world filled with continual background noise. At times this can be all rather overbearing: his sets are too congested, too noisy, too colourful – so much so that it becomes unpleasant to watch. Of course, Gilliam wants to showcase a chaotic future that is in no way pleasant, but here he goes expectedly overboard.

In opposition to the overwhelming visual style, Gilliam’s narrative is particularly flat. Given that The Zero Theorem centres around Qohen attempting to find his purpose in life, there is very little to stimulate the mind here with most of the film centred on the data whizz living in his burnt out chapel processing calculations (that looks somewhat similar to something from Minecraft). There are moments of slight interest when Qohen interacts with management’s son Bob and potential love-interest Bainsely but these scenes do not actually appear to add anything integral to the narrative. There is generally an atmosphere void of any form of cinematic excitement.

This vehicle appears to be an excuse for Gilliam to make the now incredibly tired point that we live in a society that is too fixated on technology and the nine-to-five existence to relax, enjoy our lives, and follow our dreams. Nothing particularly fresh then.

Waltz’s Qohen is a curious character and a difficult protagonist to watch. He’s a neurotic, fixated on his work and struggles to socialise which ultimately appears to be an extension on Gilliam’s theme on the effects of technology. However, like the overbearing visuals, Qohen simply becomes an annoyance – perhaps mostly as it squanders Waltz, who is one of the most fascinating actors in recent memory.

There are slight moments of interest: scenes where we see Qohen enters his dream-like world filled with sandy beaches and tropical sunsets is a fun narrative device, Matt Damon gets the chance to wear some terrifically trippy suits and Tilda Swinton dons a full-out Scottish brogue. These are trivial bits of fun which unfortunately cannot save The Zero Theorem from being sucked into a void of flat out boredom. Rating: 2/5


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