Yes, a London Film Festival review. That should give you sense of just how behind schedule this review is. I saw the film back in October but it is finally out in UK cinemas this week so I had best get to reviewing it…
Typical for a Terry Gilliam film The Zero Theorem is anything but typical. The plot revolves around Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) a man living in what Gilliam has described as a Utopian future (but one that comes across as quite dystopian) working on complex computer nonsense while waiting for a phone call that he hopes will explain the meaning of life. When Waltz isn’t sitting anxiously at his computer terminal working on a bizarre computer hacking programme, sometimes naked, he is being distracted by Bob (a teenage prodigy sent by Management and played by Lucas Hedges), Bainsley (a sort of internet porn star cum prostitute played by Mélanie Thierry), and Joby (his manager played by David Thewlis).
As for what actually takes place in what little plot the film actually has… I’ll be damned if I know. As usual with Gilliam (my new catchphrase for this review) the whole film is vibrant, energetic, and filled with ideas. Whether the resulting film works for you or not will, I feel, entirely depend upon how much patience or sympathy you have for Gilliam’s aesthetic.
If I had to pick one of his previous films to compare The Zero Theorem to then I would have to plumb for Brazil as it shares a similar theme of a man fighting against the system as he chases his dreams, literally. Both exist within a future that feels quite practical and manmade as opposed to slick and sleek and neither feels the need to pander to its audience. When rewatching Brazil in preparation for writing this review I found it a lot easier to accept on its own terms when I could watch it as a piece of cinema history rather than as a piece of contemporary cinema. The two films are far from identical but Brazil as a film of the 80s is a lot easier to swallow than The Zero Theorem as a film of thirty years later. The eccentric randomness seems much less enjoyable now in the same way you will excuse a baby for dribbling but not the same person for doing the same when in their thirties.
This sounds like I am putting down Brazil which I really am not… I am putting down The Zero Theorem. The film is enjoyable to a degree (hence the three stars) but beneath the surface of wacky characters and big, empty ideas there is nothing more going on that some nice set dressing and a group of actors trying their hardest to be wacky.
A great big shrug from me.
The Zero Theorem is in UK cinemas on 14th March 2014.