Twitter Plot Summary: A bald Christoph Waltz tries to solve The Zero Theorem, which posits that all existence is meaningless.
Five Point Summary:
1. Nice to see the lips from Rocky Horror Picture Show found another job.
2. Exactly how I feel at parties.
3. Doctor’s sequence: feels very Twelve Monkeys.
4. Funky VR costume.
5. Er…. what?
Terry Gilliam has always been known for his visual style – he did of course make his start on television by animating for the proto-Python and latterly Monty Python series – and it is none more apparent in The Zero Theorem. It’s Gilliam at his most Gilliam-esque, if such a thing is possible. The story features Qohen, a lowly number cruncher who is certain that, one day, he will receive a phone call that will tell him his purpose. He gets his tenses mixed up, speaking in the royal pronoun (“We think this” etc rather than “I think this”), and is entirely at odds with the world around him – I know exactly how he feels.
The Zero Theorem stands strong against his other work, and has been linked thematically with the likes of Brazil and Twelve Monkeys. They’re appropriate bedfellows for TZT as they share a number of themes, and on occasion they share a couple of similar scenes, but otherwise this is its own beast, a commentary on consumerism, increasing technological reliance and the battle between faith and atheism in whatever form that may take.
Waltz is excellent as Qohen, world weary and always able to turn on the power in ihis performance at a moment’s notice. Melanie Thierry was cast as a seductress, and that’s pretty much all she has to do – there are attempts at giving her some depth, but they don’t quite come through. David Thewlis meanwhile is in full Eric Idle mode, channelling the cheeky persona that Idle is renowned for. Rounding out the core cast is Lucas Hedges as Bob, son of Management and a technical whizz kid sent to help Qohen solve the Theorem. Piece by piece, as Qohen gets closer and closer to solving it, he discovers more and more of his own humanity and, one could argue, his soul and his reason for existence. It’s a nice contradiction, finding something that he’s trying to disprove.
If you look at it close enough then you can tell the budget was infinitely small, as almost the entire film takes place inside the old church that Qohen has purchased and turned into his home. This allows a greater focus on the small cast of characters as Qohen is set the task of solving the titular Zero Theorem, which aims to prove that all life is meaningless. To solve said theorem, Qohen spends days/weeks/months sat in front of a screen essentially playing a video game – an all too real occurrence in this era of video games and modern technology. And that is where TZT is at its strongest, railing against our dependence on modern technology – while it may have everyday uses it’s all very much like the Zero Theorem itself – ultimately pointless. What happens to us when we get lost amongst all of this tech? The outside world is a constant noise, a never-ending stream of information, advertising and products. Retreating into the church, Qohen is surrounded by silence, shut away from the world and able to get on with his own particular kind of existence. Gilliam and writer Pat Rushin don’t force their message down your throat, nor do they make all the conclusions for you. The ending is ambiguous to say the least, and ultimately it’s up to you to decide what the actual resolution is, and what you decide to take away from it.