Terry Gilliam Utterly Fails With The Zero Theorem, The Final Chapter In His Dystopian Trilogy.
The Zero Theorem.
Director: Terry Gilliam.
Writer: Pat Rushin.
Cast: Christoph Waltz, Melanie Thierry, Matt Damon, Lucas Hedges, Tilda Swinton, David Thewlis.
Playing At: Texas Theatre.
After decades of dystopian literature and cinema being thrust upon consumers, the sad truth is this: There's just not very much new territory out there for Terry Gilliam to explore with his latest, The Zero Theorem.
And yet, even in the face of successful, scary not-so-distant futures seen in blockbusters such as The Hunger Games and Divergent, here The Zero Theorem comes just the same, the capper in the famed Monty Python member's messed-up-future trilogy of Brazil and 12 Monkeys. But, in lacking the former's wit and the latter's evocative imagery and commitment, it's hard to see The Zero Theorem as anything less than an utter failure.
The fact that newcomer Pat Rushin's script is little more than amalgamation of other, better dystopian fiction doesn't help matters. All of the expected tropes are present: There's a faceless corporation, demanding better results from its worker bees; there's a barrage of ads everywhere you look; and there's an abundance of cameras watching every person's every move. Worse, arguably, is this film's characters' predictable reactions to these burdens being thrust upon them: At one point, a character actually even says, “Yeah, right: Private!” and rolls his eyes when confronted with a situation that promises not to be watched by Big Brother. Unfortunately, he doesn't say this for comedic effect.
What's truly disappointing, though, is that, for a movie that traffics entirely in cliches, much of The Zero Theorem fails to make a lick of sense.
For one thing, the casting feels as if perhaps it should've been flipped: Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) stars as Qohen, a nearly unhinged office drone who finally gets his request to work from home full-time, from Management (played Matt Damon, and yes that's his character’s name). In turn, Management has assigned Qohen this film's titular project, which is essentially a mathematical formula meant to prove that life is meaningless. Damon seems much more suited to play a desperate rebel in a fight against The Man. And Waltz is far better at playing icy villains than heroes that audiences feel compelled to pull for.
As for the rest of the cast? There's just not much to say; the remaining characters are less people than they are mere sketches (see: Foul-Mouthed Kid and Hooker with the Heart of Gold). Save for Tilda Swinton's turn as Qohen's company-minded shrink, there's not much weight here. But Swinton, as expected, is of course magnificent as ever, completely committed to the mess that is The Zero Theorem even as her apparent purpose in the context of the film is flimsy at best, since all Qohen does is ignore her advice. Alas, she's frequently the only interesting thing happening onscreen.
But, really, this film faces a bigger issue than that. Worst of all, this is a film that sets out to explicitly disprove nihilism but ends up feeling utterly pointless on the whole. Aside from some colorful costumes and production designs, there's just not a whole lot to entertain, enjoy or even ponder here. And, yes, that's a major problem.
Simply put, though, there's just nothing in The Zero Theorem that hasn't been done better before and elsewhere.
Oh, well, Mr. GIlliam. Two out of three ain't bad.