Monday Movie Musings: The Zero Theorem (2014)

My favorite thing about Terry Gilliam movies is the sense of clutter, the oddity of the world yet no one seems to recognize the absurd.

In The Zero Theorem, you could argue that Qohen Leth recognizes it, but that's because he's such an outsider that he doesn't even refer to himself in the singular. He lives a monastic life, as much as he can when working for the mega-corporation Mancom. His entire existence revolves around a phone call that might give his life meaning, to the exclusion of all else. In an effort to work from home, Qohen catches the attention of management and is given a special job: to prove the Zero Theorem.

One thing I definitely took away from this movie is that this is almost an inversion of Brazil. They are similar in that it's a world built around numbers, absurdity, and work, but Qohen Leth and Sam Lowry are characters on different sides of the same coin. Whereas Sam is out for love and to follow his dreams, Qohen feels nothing and is only focused on finding his meaning in life - love is only an obstacle, connections are only an obstacle. Still, both are forced into more extreme levels in their respective worlds in order to achieve their goals.

Where Gilliam really shines is in world design - the aesthetic is all encompassing. We've got a party where everyone is dancing to their own music, listening on headphones to their tablets and phones. We've got people cycling as a part of their job as they essentially play video games that complete formulas. Everyone's dressed in garish clothes while ads target them, including an awesome one for the Church of Batman, the Redeemer.

There are nods to love, friendship, and the soul. Some of it feels heavy-handed, but, then again, Gilliam hasn't been known for his subtlety. There were no characters that I felt were out of place and, I'm not ashamed to say this, I think this is one of his best movies. As of late, I've run into problems going back and watching his movies - Time Bandits, for me, has not aged well. I'm a huge fan of Brazil, but my old movie group did not understand it and the only way I've gotten people to revisit it is through the "Love Conquers All" version of the film.

As I mentioned previously, this movie as a whole seems like a counterpoint to Brazil. This feels like a "cleaner," more streamlined version of that story. If I didn't know better, I would've suspected this to be his answer to the opposition he had with Brazil, though you wouldn't have been able to tell any of this from the subpar marketing of this film. There's still the required Gilliam quirkiness, but even when it goes off the deep end, it quickly explains itself and reels itself back in. Another thing that I enjoyed about this movie is that, unlike Imaginarium, CG is used sparingly and enhances, rather than distracts, from the story.

Special props to David Thewlis (in a very Jim Broadbent performance) as well as the numerous cameos - the doctors, the leader of Mancom, and Qohen's therapist - all inspired casting.

If you're a fan of Gilliam, do not miss this one. If you aren't, but you enjoy quirky sci-fi, definitely give this one a chance. Christoph Waltz is phenomenal as always, without any jarring moments in his performance. As the story progresses, there's genuine character development and change that can be a blink-and-you'll-miss-it sort of performance.

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Justin D. Herd

Justin D. Herd is a purveyor of the weird and strange. He occasionally squawks at friends and family, but does so only under the cover of night. Okay, that's not true. He squawks in full daylight. Drinking games have been built around his peculiarities, but the truth of it is this: he is a loving husband, with two wonderful dem--children. One growls at things he likes, including pretty women. The other has started to learn hand-eye coordination. Neither had made it to the tender age of three. From there, things will only get more interesting. He spends most of his writing time either at a coffee shop or sitting at one of his many desks around his house. Any other place makes it nearly impossible for him to write. He uses horror movies and rock music to help get the juices flowing. His favorite authors are Jeremy Robert Johnson, Alan Campbell, Terry Pratchett, Justin Cronin, and Patrick Rothfuss. He consumes most of his books through audiobooks, but still loves his personal library and getting lost in the printed word.