Review: The Zero Theorem – 2/5

Director: Terry Gilliam

Certificate: 15

Cast: Christophe Waltz, David Thewlis, Matt Damon, Mélanie Thierry, Tilda Swinton

Running Time: 107 min

Plot: Introverted bi-personality Qohen (Christophe Waltz) is selected by Management (Matt Damon) as head number-cruncher for the unprovable Zero Theorem. Impossible turns out to be a lot harder than it sounds… ‘Zero must equal one hundred percent.’


 Every other review you read of The Zero Theorem will no doubt describe the film as a ‘dystopian Orwellian fantasy’. Upon strict instruction from Terry Gilliam himself, this review will refrain from such sobriquets; ‘It’s not dystopian. It’s our society, now!’ Terry Gilliam’s profound mistrust of the modern landscape is expressed in all his works, none more so than the enduringly brilliant Brazil, but his phobia of CCTV seems to have got the better of him on this occasion.


The Zero Theorem’s reclusive heroes, (just one person, but he’s a long-suffering nosist and thus refers to himself as ‘us’) Qohen Leth, is a terminally ill ‘number-cruncher’ in a parallel universe founded upon the most excessive, self-absorbed and otherwise undesirable elements of the Western world. Quohn (played competently by a miscast Chrsitophe Waltz) has been subsisting on the delusion that his life means something, but his employer, Manacom, (yes, he literally works for The Man) bursts his bubble by setting him to work on the Zero Theorem. To keep Quohn focused on his never-ending assignment and to prevent him from sinking into the black hole of his depression, he is kept sated by a robo-psychotherapist (Tilda Swinton) and a naughty nurse called Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry).


The Minecraftian landscape of the Zero Theorem program is as mind-boggling and pointless as can be. Although this feeds into the intended message – that attempting to explain life on a universal scale is futile, so we should learn to take joy in what we can, while we can – the computerised vista of Tetris-ian equation towers amounts to nothing, ultimately feeling like the product of Terry Gilliam telling a programming intern to go nuts. Like the computer program at the core of the film, there is no progress to the plot, no salvation in the characters, no depth to the technophobic satire (SitOnMyFaceBook… come on Terry).  During a 45 minute interview with Empire, Terry Gilliam was at his most animated when discussing the ‘Fat Tigger’ suit worn by David Thewlis’ snivelling supervisor, and this is indicative of the lack of inspiration behind the film; it’s ultimately just an excuse to hang around in listed buildings and dress up dwarves in shiny shell-suits.


The Zero Theorem, billed as a semi-sequel to Gilliam’s Brazil (1985), is not even worthy to kiss that masterpiece’s anti-bureaucratic boots. The flimsy premise, shuddery direction and mindlessly meandering plot make for boring -though occasionally pretty- viewing, and it may well be a sign of mental and creative deterioration on Gilliam’s part – now aged 75, perhaps the ex-Python should pack it in.


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