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United Kingdom 2014
Directed by
Terry Gilliam
107 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
3.5 stars

The Zero Theorem

Synopsis: Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) is a mathematician working for Mancom, run by Management (Matt Damon). He is assigned the Zero Theorem, an equation where 0 must equal 100%. Already unstable, Qohen starts to lose his mind.

Terry Gilliam is something of a religion (some may say, more of a cult) to me. His films are unequalled flights of visual fantasy but there’s always something more to them than just pretty pictures. They resonate. They are about something. But my faith is being tested. For the first time in decades, Gilliam has made a film that for all its visual splendours and leaps of imagination, is fairly insubstantial. Not only that, but it revels in juvenile depictions of women that serve no purpose, and flirts with the “manic pixie dream girl” trope (see Wikipedia for an explanation of the term). Thankfully, that fear was undercut by the end of the film, but if you like cleavage you won’t be disappointed by this film. I found it disappointing.

So why three and a half stars? Simple. It’s got a bunch of great performances, notably from Waltz and David Thewlis as his supervisor ,Joby. Melanie Thierry is given a fairly thankless task as Bainsley, a call-girl hired to try and lift Qohen from his funk and encourage him to work harder. Despite the way the camera leers at her, she gives her character some depth by the end. The look of the film is also impressive, a retro-futurist dreamscape, full of detail and wonder. It’s one of those films where you could take any frame of it, throw it up on a wall and sell it as art. The Zero Theorem is a truly gorgeous film to look at probably the most beautiful that Gilliam has given us in years.

Unfortunately, the script wears a bit thin by the end and this is especially frustrating given the material is clearly capable of better. There’s a wonderful sequence close to the end where Management lectures Qohen on how he’s wasted his life, and the themes contained in that dialogue are so tasty you wonder why they weren’t explored more fully. I suspect the limited budget played a part, as we’re restricted mostly to Qohen’s home, a burned-out church. The story really needed to expand and cover more ground or else find a way to develop itself further within those confines.

In the end, The Zero Theorem is a spectacular disappointment, but those two words should be taken separately. Yes, the film disappoints and more or less disintegrates in the third act, but it’s also full of ideas you can mull over and visuals that will arrest you in a way few films can manage. It’s deeply frustrating to see so many wonderful parts fail to come together into something amazing, but those parts are still wonderful. I’m going to keep the faith, but in the Bible of Gilliam, this may be the Book of Tobit.




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