The Zero Theorem
2014, R, 107 min. Directed by Terry Gilliam. Starring Christoph Waltz, Lucas Hedges, Mélanie Thierry.
REVIEWED By Louis Black, Fri., Sept. 19, 2014
More cinematic than narratively focused, more intuitive than coherent, this science-fiction romp from director Terry Gilliam explores a demented and surreal technological future. In keeping with his endless attempt to film Don Quixote, Gilliam’s film is about a lone, slightly mad hero's picaresque journey through a distorted reality that is inhabited by the abstract, the exaggerated, and the grotesque. Extremely stylized, Zero Theorem offers a cacophony of sound, action, and visuals designed to overload one's senses much more than tell a story.
Haunted, tortured computer genius Qohen Leth (Waltz) ends up working at home on a secret project thrust upon him by his superior. Searching for nothing less than the meaning of life, he's feverishly engaged. His work is continually disrupted by an odd array of visitors. These include a temptress sent to seduce him (Thierry). Meanwhile, he is hounded about how the work is progressing.
Gilliam's films form a complex, idiosyncratic vision, paranoid yet expansive, one far more fantastic than mimetic. His most naturalistic films, such as Time Bandits and The Fisher King, boast a feverish cinematic energy, while the more extreme works, such as Brazil and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, happily veer completely off the known track. They are like those characters in Tex Avery cartoons that are racing along so quickly they end up flying out of the frame into space.
Really a constructed mosaic of his defining traits and obsessions, The Zero Theorem is pure Gilliam: mad, dense, and layered. Imagine Brazil stripped of the little conventional narrative it has, and you get an idea of the sensory overload of this exploding, discordant tapestry.