Review: The Zero Theorem
Everything adds up to nothing. It’s a statement uttered often and one that doesn’t make sense, yet that is the goal of the world of The Zero Theorem, the latest mind trip from the imaginative Terry Gilliam. It’s a weird and wacky futuristic world, and a not-too-subtle allegory about the meaning of life.
Christoph Waltz is Qohen Leth, a menial worker looking to break free of meaninglessness, seeking something satisfying from his job and indeed the world. He wants answers and freedom from Management (a white-haired, sharply-dressed Matt Damon), and his sudden backbone and raised voice causes trouble for those around him. As a result, his life becomes subverted by the appearance of a whiz kid hacker and a beautiful coquette.
Leth’s apartment and existence is bleak and uncomfortable – he himself is made to look sickly, bald and sullen, and often bathed in orange. The world around however is visually assaulting, and almost as hypnotic to the viewer as it is to the people that inhabit it; they are preoccupied with computers and technology in another derivative view of dystopia. Gilliam also likes to dress people up in hideous attire that is funny and vibrant, but at the same time this existence is devoid of fun.
Life as a computer hacker is especially disenchanting, working tirelessly for a goal that maybe be impossible to achieve – the zero theorem- while constantly being watched by Management (there is nothing to hide apparently). All along Leth waits for a call – The Call – that would affirm his work and existence, offering him much sought after solace.
He is so out of sorts, Leth refers to himself as ‘we’ and ‘us’ in order to better associate with the rest of the world; or at least that’s what his cyber shrink (an especially weird Tilda Swinton) tells him will work. His difficultly in talking to a curious entertainer named Bainsley (Melanie Thierry) furthers sends him for a loop as he starts to develop feelings.
It’s all surface and style from Gilliam, as outlandish costumes, weird accents, and frenetic characters lack substance to give necessary meaning to this allegorical future. It’s a world of the colourful and bizarre, but still confined by rules and inherently not as weird as it wants to seems.
Despite the sensorial overload, The Zero Theorem isn’t decided and direct with its message or tone. We all strive to be unique, to be important, and to have meaning in life, especially amid the noise and chaos; it’s a simple enough idea. Leth struggles to stand out, as does Gilliam’s entertaining yet incidental film.