Terry Gilliam’s ‘The Zero Theorem’ fails to register on the sensibility scale
Terry Gilliam has a pretty sick sense of humour. It was evident when he first partook in shenanigans with Monty Python’s ‘Flying Circus’ back in the ’70s. Consecutively co-starring in the Python comedy franchise, then co-directing them – beginning with ‘The Holy Grail’ – Gilliam always saw life through the lens with more distorted perception than your average film director, and therefore presented his movies as such.
Occasionally he has managed to direct films of an intense fantastical nature where the overlay of special effects and bizarre mis-en-scene don’t necessarily overshadow the narrative: cases in point being ‘Twelve Monkeys’ and ‘Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas’. Yes, these were very trippy flicks, but at least their storylines had a certain ‘sense’ to them.
Then again, the director has occasionally fallen off the sensible bandwagon and gone absolutely bonkers with his plots – losing it, metaphorically, while viewers lose it, literally; ultimately overwhelmed and confused by the layer-upon-layer of super-rich imagery and awkward scripting.
He did it with ‘Jabberwocky’ in 1977, and with 2009’s ‘The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus’, the latter such a complete waste of celluloid that, had it not taken up a chunk of Heath Ledger’s precious time, might have seen the late actor divert his attentions to more meditative ventures.
Anyways, to the here and now… Terry Gilliam’s latest cinematic venture ‘The Zero Theorem’ focuses on a computer hacker named Qohen, whose employer charges him with the task of discovering the reason for human existence but who is constantly disrupted by ‘Management’ and so cannot get the job done.
The focus quickly becomes blurred as the tactics that Management adopt to interrupt Qohen become more and more bizarre (eg: a hooker who hooks him into a world of virtual reality; the GM’s son who steps in to ‘help’ with his work but swings back and forth from assistant to pest…).
Not even Matt Damon’s chameleon-like approach to playing a hard-ass boss or Tilda Swinton’s quirky delivery of a virtual psychotherapist redeemed this OTT movie for me.
The ‘Bladerunner’-type scenarios of a world oversaturated with advertising, hype and titillation are tacky, to say the least, complete with ads emblazoned with fonts so dodgy, it’s a postmodern typographer’s worst nightmare.
Perhaps the best way to approach ‘The Zero Theorem’ is to consider the film’s title alone. Any number of theories are a total waste of time and contemplation if their premise is over-the-top/unbelievable/unattainable to begin with. Absolutely no theory (as in ‘zilch’, ‘zip’, ‘nada’) would serve just as well.
In sum, don’t go looking for answers to tricky questions in this fantasy film which could hardly be considered sci-fi grade. It’s less science, more fiction, and filled with way too many gratuitous distractions to bother working out if there ever will be resolution to the protagonist’s dilemma.
And even if the entire story is all in the dude’s mind, it’s still, well, stupid: less mind-bending and more of a mind-fuck.
That said, perhaps a tab of LSD would reveal something I’m not quite seeing in this picture…
‘The Zero Theorem’ screens in Luna/Palace Cinemas.
View the trailer here.