Film: The Zero Theorem – sucks you in but doesn’t hold you
Like the ominous black hole at the center of Terry Gilliam’s repetitive and stylised dystopia/utopia, The Zero Theorem sees itself become a paradoxical entity that draws you in with its big, bold and beautiful ideas but it never allows you to crack the shell, bathe in the answers or experience catharsis.
The Zero Theorem is hard to explain. Full Stop. It is, at its basest, a study of mid life crisis through the conduit of Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz). But at its, rather mushy and stale core, is a narrative of epic proportions; one that asks questions of religion, the meaning of life, the existence of nothing and the quest for ones place in the world.
And that is where the problem lays – The Zero Theorem asks big questions in a timid and anxious voice. It sacrifices substance for style thus dejecting questions of morality and individuality to the periphery. We become enamored to characters like Qohen, Bob and Bainsley but we never truly understand or empathise with them. The Zero Theorem loses itself in its quirkiness and its somewhat plausible characters suffer as a result.
It is a film that rests far too often on the ever-compelling Christoph Waltz. His bare-knuckle physique is admirable but what impresses to a greater degree is his bare-knuckle emotions. The performance is visceral, raw and hazy-eyed, never wearing attention or focus, Waltz saved The Zero Theorem from mediocrity.
However, there is something to be said about the intuition and innovation at the heart of Terry Gilliam’s style. Like George Orwell’s 1984, The Zero Theorem, to a lesser but relatable measure, provides us with a believable look into the near future. The hysteria around marketing, billboards that follow you, pizza that talks to you and the worshipping of pop culture icons like Batman are uncanny and hilarious but always on the money. Like the charity workers we all rush by, The Zero Theorem’s vision of the future gnaws, yaps and annoys but is ultimately unavoidable.
Terry Gilliam may be repeating his old stories and messages like a broken messiah but his second coming is one that dances on the edge of a black hole – it sucks you in but doesn’t hold you and never satisfies us with the answers and relief that we want and endure towards.
Score – C+