Film Review: Zero Theorem

THE ZERO THEOREM ★★ 1/2M 106 minutes Limited releaseReviewed by Philippa Hawker Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem, with a screenplay by Pat Rushin, is said to be the third element of a loose kind of trilogy, following the director’s Brazil (1985 ) and 12 Monkeys (1995). It’s a vision of the future, of an idiosyncratic kind. There are satirical digs at consumption and globalisation, but the aesthetic is techno-whirligig junk shop – indoors and outdoors – with a touch of 1984 and a hint of funfair. It’s a world as cluttered as a Steptoe & Son junkyard, but there’s definitely something empty at its heart. Christoph Waltz, bald as a hard-boiled egg, plays Qohen Leth, a reclusive programmer-cum-drone employed to crunch numbers that will produce evidence of the meaning of life. He’s solitary, phobic and convinced he’s dying, but he’s also desperate for permission to work at home – which happens to be an abandoned church – because he is waiting for a phone call he believes his life depends on. As a trade-off, he’s asked to work on the company’s most insoluble problem, the zero theorem.  The solitary Qohen has encounters and distractions, most of all with a voluptuous yet somewhat virtual femme fatale, Bainsley (Melanie Thierry) and a young computer prodigy named Bob (Lucas Hedges) who calls everyone else Bob. With them, Qohen starts to develop some kind of connection, but it’s a tenuous one given his single-minded focus on his own obsessions. Things happen, literally and philosophically, in The Zero Theorem, but without much real conviction; there’s an odd kind of lifelessness to the film, despite the energetic paraphernalia and potentially high stakes that Gilliam conjures up for us to contemplate.

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