The Zero Theorem (2013)
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One of the most underrated movies of last year. Agreed, you're never certain with Terry Gilliam. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was a bit of a let-down of which his reputation never really recovered (maybe that's one of the reasons why this movie didn't get a proper release in Belgium), but I must say that The Zero Theorem proves Gilliam's qualities yet again. The dystopian atmosphere of films like Brazil and Twelve Monkeys has returned (some have referred to those two movies and The Zero Theorem as the Orwellian triptych, which suggests a conceptual trilogy). Only this time bureaucratic and post-apocalyptic sceneries have been changed for post-industrialist computer addiction. In a world dominated by multinationalist dictatorship and communist business structures, The Zero Theorem takes on contemporary issues (like burn-outs, existential crises and capitalist wage-slavery) and puts them in sci-fi tragedy. Christoph Waltz' eccentric acting is a sheer delight and even the smaller roles (Matt Damon, Ben Whishaw, Peter Stormare, David Thewlis and especially Tilda Swanton) are carried out wonderfully. Never before has corporate managerialism been displayed so daunting and utterly repelling in a contemporary film, or not that I know of. This movie is without any doubt a gem that might grow everytime I see it.
I neither hated nor loved The Zero Theorem which leaves me smack dab in the middle with qualities I both liked and disliked. Most seem to hate this entirely or love completely, but I experienced equal problems and enjoyment throughout the runtime of the film.
Let’s talk the good. From a visual perspective, the sheer amount of variety in the first 45 minutes or so really kept me on my toes, the metaphors of modern day life were blatant and quick moving. The locations, the costumes, and the people inhabiting them were so tonally different from one another, that I found my attention being challenged from what I was seeing versus what I was hearing, a very important metaphor that Gilliam was trying to convey. Christoph Waltz’s character was an intriguing one that, while his arc was not entirely to my satisfaction, I always wanted to find out more; was he a savant, a result of a personality break in his past, or just a metaphorical conglomeration of man? The side characters were all very interesting and odd, and while representing facets of humanity, psyche, and modern technology were not particularly deep outside of their relationship to the main character. That being said, David Thewlis was way out there!
On the downside, I did not dig the downshift halfway through the movie. The Zero Theorem goes from a snappy, techno, futuristic sort of experience to a one-room stage play with subconscious superego/Id psychological characters and conversations. The change in tone was so jarring, it left me uninspired with what followed. That said, I did like the setting where we were forced to reside for the second half of the film, as it really gives some depth to the main character and his state of mind. The concept of the overall meaning of life within lives of meaningless activities, distracting technology, and work minutiae is one that ramps me up, but the execution and resolution of those ideas in The Zero Theorem did not adequately quench my mind. I was entertained enough by the setting, actors, and intent, but not much more than that.
If you extracted a syringeful of fluid directly from Gilliam's brain and smeared it on film, this would be the result. Peculiar, absurd and bureaucratically dystopian.
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