Friday, June 12, 2015

Zero Effect

The Zero Theorem (2014) is Terry Gilliam's latest bit of surrealist whimsy and despair. It pretty much follows Brazil and The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. So check it out if that's the kind of thing you like.

It stars Christopher Waltz as a bald, somewhat autistic mathematician who lives in ruined cathedral in a not very dystopian future. His name is Qohen Leth, and he refers to himself in the first person plural. The job of mathematician, at least on the corporate level where he works, resembles a somewhat abstract video game - which actually kind of makes sense. His boss is a somewhat Michael-Palinesque David Thewlis: He is brusque and dismissive, but actually seems to care for Waltz. You see, Waltz is anxious that he will miss the Phone Call - the one that will tell him about the meaning of his life. So Thewlis lets him work from home.

That's what I mean by not very dystopian: Although Thewlis is rude to Qohen and pronounces his name "Quinn", even when corrected, he's actually kind of a nice guy. He assigns Qohen to solve the Zero Theorem: To prove that all existence, all meaning, sums to zero. But it's only because Management (Matt Damon in some awesome suits) told him to. Management also sent over his son, Lucas Hedges, to intern or spy on Waltz. Hedges might or might not be called Bob - he calls everyone Bob because it saves time.

Bob is another nice enemy: he's a typically obnoxious teenaged know-it-all genius and hacker, but he orders pizza from the service with the cute delivery girls because he thinks Bob - er, Qohen - will enjoy it. In fact, Qohen does try to get out some at the insistence of his co-workers, and meets a lovely VR camgirl, Melanie Thierry, who does get Qohen to loosen up some. But will it be enough or will the Zero Theorem prove to be true?

The two big selling points to this movie are:
  • The wild surrealistic sets and art direction. I think it is toned down a little, but only compared to other Gilliam movies.
  • Waltz's bald, affectless presence. He is present throughout almost the whole movie and if he doesn't grab you, you won't like it much.
Fortunately, I did like it. I found him touching and interesting. His use of the plural for himself (himselves?) gives his statements a touch of universality: "We are generally, everywhere alone." And Waltz has the gravitas and personality to pull it off.

So, this may not be the deepest philosophical film of the year, but we enjoyed it. Hope you do as well.

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