“The Zero Theorem” – the epitome of self-indulgence

the zero theorem poster logo

The film opens with a long shot of space with some kind of black hole swallowing a galaxy in the very centre of the frame. The camera then slowly zooms out to reveal that what we’re looking at is a computer screen, in front of which sits naked and hairless Christoph Waltz. He’s not moving nor is he doing anything other than gripping a wireless controller, which looks like a re-appropriated toy. Having quickly scanned the background of that wide-angle take, I notice he’s sitting in a rundown church surrounded by a mess of steampunk-esque knick-knacks. And he just sits there looking at stars being eaten by darkness. And by that time, my suspicions as to what was to come were at an all-time high.

The Zero Theorem (2013), produced by Terry GilliamDirected by Terry Gilliam, “The Zero Theorem” is supposed to be a ribbon wrapped around what Gilliam himself called a ‘dystopian trilogy’, which includes “Brazil”, “12 Monkeys”, and now “The Zero Theorem”. Continuing on the theme of oppression and mockery of our modern times, this new film tells a story of Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz), a programmer (or as it is referred to in the film – an entity cruncher) who lives in what once used to be a church. He works for a mysterious Orwellian ever-present corporation led by The Management (Matt Damon) where he spends every living minute doing what can only be complex math disguised as a hybrid of Minecraft, Tetris and some other classical logical video games. However, what he is really doing, is waiting for a phone call (from God, possibly) that would tell him the meaning of his life. One day Qohen receives a very special and ultra-difficult assignment of proving the so-called ‘zero theorem’, which stems from the great crunch theory that assumes the universe will one day collapse upon itself, thus confirming that everything is meaningless – in short, that zero equals everything… Take it or leave it. Though, when the socially awkward Qohen meets Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry), a seductive, frivolous and straightforward girl, and The Management’s teenage son Bob (Lucas Hedges), things get progressively crazier…

Still from Terry Gilliam's The Zero TheoremNow, I’m struggling for words that would aptly describe how disappointed I was by Terry Gilliam’s “The Zero Theorem”. Even the simple act of skimming over this last paragraph, where I tried my best to summarize its plot reflects perfectly what this film is – a pile of pretentious abstract wannabe ironic commentary on just about everything. Made up from a bunch of clichés and cheap tricks, the only thing “The Zero Theorem” succeeds in proving, is that you can’t smear shit on a canvas and convince me it is art… …unless you’re the first one to do it. I mean, it is fine to throw in an important message to a film, especially if it’s science-fiction. After all, most Sci-Fi does that, but it has to be done with at least a small degree of subtlety and, in my view, the poster to that film should be henceforth found in the Oxford English Dictionary as a pictorial definition of the phrase ‘heavy-handed’… or boring… or both…

I remember the days of my youth, when I used to play with Legos. Whenever I got a new set, I would assemble what it showed on the tin, then take it apart and use the pieces to make some new cool things, which to my knowledge was the best part of it all. I would then build forts, boats, houses, castles, big trucks, small trucks, space ships, space stations, rockets, planes, and helicopters – all of them made of pieces that were once planned to build something else. Every once in a while, an idea would pop into my head to assemble something really grand and awesome, like a big-ass plane from “Operation Dumbo Drop” and I would be hell-bent on trying to make it look as realistic as humanly possible. So, I would assemble the cockpit with seats and everything, and then move onto zero-theorem-christoph-waltz-terry-gilliamthe hull, which would have working doors, little windows and that huge hangar door in the back where the trucks, tanks and elephants go. Then, onto the wings and propellers, then the tail… And when the job would be almost done and my creation would look like a parrot-coloured army plane lookalike, thing would start going horribly wrong. Because a good plane needs a cannon, so I would slap something fallic-looking in the front and then on the wings as well, because why not. And one on the tail, because I don’t want my plane to be defenceless from behind… And maybe a machine gun nest in the middle… and a barbecue rack inside… You get where I’m going with this… By the time I was finished with my creation, it looked nothing like the plane I envisioned, more like a grotesque abomination straight out of “Alien: Resurrection”. So I would play with it for a while and quickly take it apart before anyone could see it. Somehow I wish Terry Gilliam would have done the same with his film, I won’t deny that…

 

In my opinion, “The Zero Theorem” is just that – a colourful mish-mash of ideas and visuals continually slapped onto a barebone idea until it turned into a gargantuan entity incapable of supporting its own weight. I understand that somewhere underneath the neon glow-in-the-dark costumes, inconsequential and pretentious quasi-techno babble disguised as dialogue, the overblown production design and overstretched pointless dreamlike sequences there was an idea to this whole charade. “The Zero Theorem” might have been at one point something digestible, but I failed to see it through the thick layer of ostentatious, artsy-fartsy add-ons.

zero-theorem-waltz-3Honestly, after a while I stopped caring about anything that went on the screen. And it’s a shame, because there are a few nice performances in this film (which includes Tilda Swinton as the Dr. Shrink-ROM), as well as some of the sarcastic caricatural Gilliam-isms are interesting on their own. I enjoyed the vivid retro-looking world filled with billboards, holograms and personalised advertisements. Hell, the ad for The Church of Batman The Redeemer even brought a smile to my face. Yet, after a short while in this universe, the claustrophobic frames stuffed to the very top with details and the never-ending mumbling jargon started to get on my nerves, and – which happens very rarely, I might add – at some point I even dozed off for a few seconds.

I think this sums up the review quite nicely – “The Zero Theorem” was so boring that I struggled to stay conscious. In fact, it may have been my brain’s attempt at self-defence out of fear I’d start contemplating taking my own life; I don’t usually walk out of screenings, so suicide might seem like a viable option at times… I appreciate when a film wants you to use your brain a bit, but – as I said before – it doesn’t always work, especially whenever there’s nothing else in the film. “The Zero Theorem” when stripped of its colourful feathers is nothing more than a ham-fisted, pseudo-philosophical mumbo-jumbo about how our lives are meaningless, and how we’d better enjoy what we have… or something like that. As much as I regret to say that about any film, this one is borderline retarded. I’m out.

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