Monday, 21 July 2014

Film Review: The Zero Theorem (2013)

Director: Terry Gilliam
Screenplay: Pat Rushin
Stars: Christoph Waltz, Mélanie Thierry, David Thewlis

Terry Gilliam’s career as director has produced a filmography of varied result, from the highs of a modern classic like Brazil to total misfires in the shape of The Brothers Grimm and Tideland, but one thing has always been guaranteed; he has a unique sense for storytelling and an eye for visuals unlike anyone else. As such, The Zero Theorem is everything we could want from a Terry Gilliam film and much more; it’s one the year’s best films.

The story is a familiar one but has that likable Gilliam lead (think Jonathan Pryce, John Neville, Robin Williams) which allows the audience to go along with the madness, played here by the always great Christoph Waltz. A bald Waltz plays Qohen Leth, a computer hacker suffering from an existential crisis who is given the impossible task of proving that life has no purpose or meaning, or the ‘Zero Theorem’ as it’s known. Everyday Qohen (who has to spell his name to everyone he meets) waits for a phone call to explain to him the meaning of life, but the call never comes, so he continues to tackle the Zero Theorem in a classic Gilliam visual; a large controller hooked up to a flat screen with ridiculous buttons and switches, all which produces fluorescent liquid data in bottles. The bottles are handed over to an arm behind a counter only for an empty bottle to be put in its place and off Qohen goes again. You have to see it to appreciate the genius vision Gilliam has created, my words do it little justice.

As the final part of his dystopian trilogy following on from Brazil and Twelve Monkeys, Gilliam takes on the world of social media and the ever expanding desire for everyone to be connected all the time. ‘The Management’ which Qohen works for has cameras in every room and the technology and jobs seem without point or reason to exist, if only to besiege the users. When we’re in the real world (for some takes place in virtual reality) the film moves at such as speed, never allowing the Qohen or the audience a moment’s rest, which, coupled with Gilliam’s trademark off kilter angles and ability to make everything look so grand whilst man looks so small, makes for an experience like no other you’ll see this year. The film, I think, echoes the director’s feelings towards modern life;

I’ve never been an actual Luddite,” Gilliam says. “I don’t hate technology. I just hate the religion around it.

No coincidence that Qohen lives in an old church...

I won’t pretend that Gilliam is out of his cinematic ‘comfort zone’ here, but as the master of sci-fi fantasy there’s no place I’d rather see him working. The Zero Theorem is hands down the most visually appealing film of 2014 (as of late July at least) and in the hands of any other director the film simply would not have the same charm; and ‘charm’ is the key word here for the film has an old fashioned feel to it, they type of movie which made Gilliam a recognisable talent and stand out from the rest. Everything in the film feels tangible, from Qohen’s home in the church to the manic streets of London which Qohen has to navigate each day, to the madcap workplace he hates so much. It’s only when we enter a virtual world that Gilliam’s style changes and the film becomes much calmer, but these scenes also hold a visual beauty all of their own.

Stop thinking for yourself verdict: Visual beauty is what The Zero Theorem has with acres to spare, and it s a true joy to watch and marks one of Gilliam’s very best films. Personally it’s my third favourite after Brazil and Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas and I think that speaks volumes about a director who has clearly not sold out or taken the easy money and always offers audiences something new. The film was overlooked in the UK and barely promoted, and it’s being released only on VOD in Canada; a very sad state of affairs for one of the best sci-fi movies you could hope to see; and if my review encourages just one person to see the film, then all of Qohen’s hard work wasn’t all in vain.

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