If Brazil was ahead of its time and still looks avant-garde nowadays, The Zero Theorem already feels outdated at the time of release. Set in a dystopia regulated by the enigmatic “Management” and dominated by neon colours, digital images, memory chips and fibre optics, a hermitic computer hacker Qohen Leth (Waltz) strives to decipher the meaning of human existence through algorithm. His only ‘interpersonal’ contact consists of a simulated love interest, a teenage hacker and a virtual psychiatrist.
This time Gilliam’s trademark labyrinthine narrative thread is more alienating than thought-provoking, and his female protagonist is diminished into a bland, blond sex object. In Gilliam’s attempt to create Leth as someone who is waiting for some form of a digitised Godot while being physically entangled in wires most of the time, those existential questions are sketchily raised and fail to forge any connection with the film’s aesthetics as a whole. Although Waltz’s performance is professional, he is unfortunately drowned in a kitschy mise-en-scène and a careless script. It is a pellmell of everything but at the same time full of void. As the film’s own tag-line accurately puts it: “Everything adds up to nothing, that’s the point.”
The Zero Theorem | Directed by Terry Gilliam (USA 2014) with Christoph Waltz, Mélanie Thierry, David Thewlis. Starts November 27.
Originally published in issue #133, December 2014.