Terry Gilliam once again tackles the meaning of life in The Zero Theorem, a near future London-set sci-fi flick in the vein of Brazil in which a man goes head to head with "Management" and brings his work home with him only to find that the job he's being tasked with has shady ramifications.
Christoph Waltz is Qohen Leth, an antisocial Uncle Fester-looking dude who is always waiting for a phone-call from an unknown caller. So far, so Waiting For Godot. After running into Matt Damon's Management clones at a party, he is given a new task which involves him playing some kind of CGI game peppered with cubes which should eventually prove that 0 = 100%. What he hasn't realised is that his bosses are essentially testing him, trying to get him to prove that existence is completely meaningless. His faith is shaken as he meets Mélanie Thierry's sexy gal Bainsley, who distracts him with a new virtual reality program and he starts to struggle with his job more and more. His psychiatrist, a program called Dr. Shrink-Rom, played by a goofied-up Tilda Swinton, doesn't help either. After a breakdown of sorts, Management's son Bob is sent in to help fix Qohen's computer and, from then on, most of the action happens in the crumbling church the latter lives in.
With The Zero Theorem, Terry Gilliam tackles big questions and big themes but he does so in the smallest way possible, which is both a good thing and a bit of a shame. We stay intimately close to Qohen as we learn more and more about his character and follow him as he finds out more details about what he's been tasked to do. The film does really well to bring all these main characters to life and giving them the occasional "real" moment amidst all the cartoonish folly. It's a hard movie to get into at first, chances are you'll only start getting into it about half an hour in, but if you stick with it, it definitely has a lot going for it. It's a shame the film is as stagey as it is, even if it makes sense for the main character, because the world we're introduced to is so interesting and quirky that it would have been nice to see much more of it. As it stands, this is mostly like a filmed play with the odd goofy visual here and there.
Luckily, The Zero Theorem has enough funny moments, charming satirical touches and great performances to make it worth your while. Yes, the ending is somewhat abrupt and there are inconsistencies every so often, but overall, unless you refuse to allow yourself to get into the spirit of things, you're unlikely to be bored at any point. Gilliam's playful piss-take of current technology is tons of fun and occasionally spot-on, the man clearly has a ball bringing this fluorescent and obnoxious future to life. Meanwhile, Waltz, Thierry and Lucas Hedges all do a brilliant job hooking you in to their seemingly OTT but ultimately human characters. The film brings up really good ideas but, by the end, you unfortunately do feel like more could have been done with them. Perhaps a fuller, more constantly visually surreal adventure like The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus could have been the way to go instead of the static location the film chooses?
While I did personally enjoy The Zero Theorem and Gilliam's fans should have some fun with it, this might alienate most viewers. It's a minor work from the director but even average Terry Gilliam is miles ahead of most stuff so I do recommend you check it out. At the very least, it'll make you think a little bit and that's never a bad thing.
We like it.