The Movie Waffler New Release Review - <i>The Zero Theorem</i> | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - The Zero Theorem

A socially awkward low level employee finds himself at the whims of his employers.

Directed by: Terry Gilliam
Starring: Christoph Waltz, Mélanie Thierry, David Thewlis, Matt Damon, Ben Whishaw, Tilda Swinton

In a near future London, computer programmer Qohen (Waltz) spends his time working from home, an abandoned church, awaiting a phone call that he believes will explain the meaning of life. The leader of the strange corporation whose employ Qohen is under, a man known only as Management (Damon), presents Qohen with a new assignment: crunching "entities" to solve the Zero Theorem, a mysterious and elusive mathematical theory. However, it seems Management is determined not to allow Qohen to complete his task, and sends a beautiful young woman (Thierry) to distract him from his work.
I've always been baffled by the cult following former Monty Python member Terry Gilliam has developed as a film-maker. I have the same issue with Gilliam as  with Tim Burton, namely that he seems to me a supremely talented art director or production designer who insists on wasting his talents on something he shows little flair for, directing. For all the eye-popping splendor of Gilliam's costumes and sets, visual storytelling is almost non-existent in his films and he relies far too much on expository dialogue to guide us through his often labyrinthine, yet ultimately shallow, plots.
To me, Gilliam's most successful movie is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, simply because the film's absence of plot allows the director to concentrate on exercising his imagination. When he gets bogged down in narrative, Gilliam's films become extremely tedious and didactic, none more so than Zero Theorem, a film that feels like a parody of Gilliam's now well worn milieu. While it may have seemed revolutionary in the post-Python eighties, Gilliam's aesthetic looks all too dated now, resembling the work of an unimaginative film student desperate to inject a naive sense of "style" into his work. Dutch angles? Check. Wide angle lens? Check. Gratuitous dwarf? Check. Here, his vision of future London borrows from every sci-fi movie from Metrolpolis to Minority Report and is all too lacking in originality.
The comedy aspect of Zero Theorem is particularly unbearable, relying on material that Benny Hill would have found tired three decades ago. Gilliam's idea of quirky character traits include Waltz referring to himself in the plural, Damon wearing suits that blend into whatever furnishings he happens to be standing in front of (a gag we previously saw a decade ago in Zach Braff's Garden State),  and a programmer's insistence on calling everyone by his own name. It all becomes grating very quickly and by the time Thierry arrives with her Babs Windsor schtick you'll be mentally burnt out.
The science fiction genre has always been a useful tool for disguising messages within outwardly superficial entertainment. The message of Gilliam's latest is clear: the distractions of modern life keep us from focusing on the bigger questions, and that's how our overlords like it. The problem is Gilliam neglects to wrap his theme in anything resembling entertainment. Not since The Matrix has such a heady theme been represented in such a hackneyed fashion.

Eric Hillis