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Too much of nothing

OUT NOW! Christoph Waltz's competent performance can't save THE ZERO THEOREM's kitschy existentialism and disappointing plot.

If Brazil was ahead of its time and still looks avant-garde nowadays, The Zero Theorem already feels outdated at the time of release.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.