Thursday, January 15, 2015

Zero Theorem, The (2014)

Director: Terry Gilliam
Notable Cast: Christoph Waltz, Matt Damon, David Thewlis, Melanie Thierry, Tilda Swinton

The continued presence of Terry Gilliam as a director to push truly thoughtful and outrageous concept films into the world is something no one should take lightly. From his early days in Monty Python to his latest film The Zero Theorem, his ability to blend the quirky awkward comedy, thoughtful high level thinking, and emotional punch of the human plight has been impressive. For The Zero Theorem, Gilliam goes back to some of the same thematic and structural elements he used for the iconic Brazil to deliver one of the strongest and – believe it or not – most straight forward films of his career.

Qohen Zeth (Waltz) has a dead end job as a sort of computer ‘cruncher’ for Management. He doesn’t see much use in it and his continued patience for a phone call to give his life meaning is running short. When Management (Damon) gives him a new highly secretive task working on The Zero Theorem from home, Zeth begins to crumble under the weight of his new work.

Web surfing.
On the surface level, Gilliam delivers another film that is both silly and utterly sarcastic in its interpretation about man’s role in the bigger scheme. The outrageousness of the world presented here (where ads follow you on the wall and a party is just a bunch of drunk people dancing with their mobile devices) is in stark contrast to the withdrawn and often skittish Zeth, who is played to awkward brilliance by Christoph Waltz. The Zero Theorem takes this sort of ‘future world’ and layers it with a lot of different themes about control, networking, and one person’s plight to find meaning. It’s Gilliam’s patented overzealous silliness of color and visuals in many ways that spurs much of the comedy and thematic thoughtfulness of the writing. This review won’t necessarily try to analyze the concepts (as it is VERY open to interpretation in many ways), but know that this is not your average science fiction-esque drama comedy. It’s much too deep for that.

Yet the best part of the film might not be the colorful and high concept stage that is set up by the plot or visuals, but by the intense and rather heartbreaking/heartwarming character work that comes about for Zeth and all of those around him. While the social and political commentary is a big foundation of the science fiction and plot, the character arc delivered by Gilliam and Waltz might contain more punch. Partnered with some stellar secondary performances (Melanie Thierry takes a rather one note character with her ‘call girl’ and gives it so much more depth then it had any right to have), the entire film becomes hypnotizing. Watching a man lose control of the life he has built and learning to find control of the life he wants is much more impactful and refreshing.

I love the sex shop next to the church. Classic Gilliam.
The Zero Theorem is certainly not a film for everyone. The slow pacing of the film, particularly in the third act, will try the patience of those who don’t buy into the plot or characters and the rather subtle and open interpretation of what the film is saying will definitely rub a more mainstream audience the wrong way. However, for cinephiles and those looking for film with much more depth and thoughtful character building than 98% of the films released in the last five years will want to go out and immediately purchase The Zero Theorem when it drops.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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